I attended last night's City Council meeting and it brought out a new understanding of how Iowa City's "diverse" downtown commercial interests are ruling the roost in Iowa City. In discussing the second reading of a more stringent ordinance to limit panhandling on the Ped Mall, the majority of city council members pooh-poohed 1st amendment concerns in supporting the ordinance, the current version of which has yielded zero citations or arrests by Iowa City's Police Department. An ordinance which has resulted in council member and Ped Mall business owner, Terry Dickens in saying "things have gotten much better".
However, in the effort to continue aesthetically purifying the Ped Mall, the city council continued to support this measure to save "fragile businesses" in Iowa City, in the words of Regenia Bailey from people who are scary to their customers. And yet, DTA members also tout how safe downtown is and kid-friendly, as they did on a recent community program. Apparently taking the tack, the business of city government is business, the council voted 4 to 1 with Dickens "abstaining," Connie Champion going home sick, and Mike Wright reconfirming his vote in the negative.
In my call to make a more data driven decision, the council elected to vote with the DTA, which will not release the vote they took of their membership to push for additional restrictive measures on the public space or "commons" as David Smithers referred to them in his call for the council to reject this measure. This type of blind obedience would be par for the course several years ago, but with at least three self-described progressives on the council, it defies logic.
This defies logic in that the Ped Mall itself is a public space that has been developed as a for-profit center by the city in cooperation with business owners. By continually allowing businesses to sprawl out into the walkway area and permitting food carts, the overall effect is to limit the walking area. In so doing, the city and the businesses have, in part, been responsible for the environment they are now convinced needs to be changed.
Despite the efforts of several people, including US Senatorial candidate Tom Fiegan, the city council, members of ICCI, student organization members from the University of Iowa, the council chose to ignore the unwashed masses to dance with the ones who brung 'em. Oddly they were able to ignore the charge that other downtown businesses are equally challenged and that a likely outcome of this ordinance is to send panhandlers to other areas of the city where they are less likely to be hassled.
However all is not lost, the third and final vote will take place at the next scheduled formal council meeting which is June 1. This allows those who have been sitting on the sidelines to jump into the fray and contact their city representatives with their comments and to show up at the final vote to stand and be counted. By creating a solution in search of a problem, the city will likely get what they are saying they want to avoid--a downtown devoid of vibrancy.