Students, Iowa City, UI Officials Square Off in 21 and Over Forum


Before a large crowd of neon-yellow 'vote yes' shirts, supporters and opponents of the 21-ordinance disagreed over whether the rule that bans people from being in bars after 10 p.m. has changed Iowa City for the better. They disagreed on statistics and what they represent, and they disagreed on whether students are more safe since it was passed in 2010.

During roughly one hour of debate during a forum hosted by the University of Iowa Student Government and the Daily Iowan, representatives from the anti-21 group Young Adults for Equality and Safety (YES) said statistics point to a failure in the ordinance. Michael Kessler, with YES, said he believes disorderly house tickets have gone up and PAULA tickets have gone down not because students are adopting better drinking habits, but because they're being forced out of bars and off campus to drink, where police later ticket only party-hosters, and not their guests. Kessler also said this move puts students in a position of vulnerability, where few people are around to help if something bad happens.

"If you keep them (students) in the downtown area past 10 all night, there are safe people there. If something goes wrong there is someone there to take care of them," Kessler said. "As soon as you get off campus and something goes wrong, there is no one there to take care of you."

Tom Rocklin, University of Iowa vice president for student services and co-founder of pro-21 group 21 Makes Sense, said statistics gathered by police, the fire department, UI physicians and UI health and wellness speak to the ordinance's success.

"There really isn't any question that the safety and health of our students and other young people has been improved by the ordinance," Rocklin said, going on to site statistics that indicate healthier drinking habits among students, reduction in assaults and fights in progress, and criminal mischief downtown.

Rocklin also said people have to leave the bars some time, and he feels they're safer leaving at 10 p.m. than 2 a.m.

A recent Gazette analysis of six years' worth of police data indicated several categories of alcohol-related police charges have decreased since the ordinance was put in place in 2010.

When asked how Iowa City's downtown has changed since the ordinance, Kessler said he does not believe downtown has gotten quieter.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said he disagreed, adding many bar owners who previously opposed 21-only have since changed their minds on the issue. He also said the ordinance has not had a negative effect on off-campus neighborhoods and that complaints from non-student residents to the city have dropped.

Students don't live in neighborhoods where there are only students, there are non-student residents in those areas that happen to be very concerned about balance between renters and owners and they watch this all the time and they call the police," Hayek said.

He also said downtown is more economically vibrant than ever before, adding the Downtown District, which represents a swath of local businesses, has endorsed keeping the 21-ordinance in place.

YES-supporter Kaleb Hays said he feels the 21-ordinance is an issue of human rights.

"One of the reasons I love this city is because it's progressive and an open-minded place. That's why I came to college here, and to think we can't make our own decisions here… the fact they're taking away our right to choose on our own, which would teach us responsibility, I think it's a freedom that's taken from us as students and we deserve it back," Hays said.

The forum comes just one night after University of Iowa Student Government chose not to take a position on the 21-ordinance during a meeting. The 21-ordinance goes to a vote on Nov. 5.


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