The city council in Iowa City is scheduled to discuss a new ordinance tonight that would prohibit various activities in the outdoor Ped Mall downtown. That’s where many of the city’s homeless congregate. City Manager Tom Markus says complaints about aggressive panhandling and grocery carts of possessions in the Ped Mall have raised concerns for the city.
“It’s not about writing tickets, it’s more about having the strength of the law to be able to say ‘that’s not acceptable behavior, you have to move along,'” Markus says. The proposed rules would prohibit a list of actions, like the storage of personal property in walking areas, lying on elevated planters or on benches at certain hours, and using electrical outlets without permission.
Markus says the ordinance is not intended to forbid the homeless from gathering there, but it restricts certain behavior, like aggressive panhandling and sleeping on benches. “I think the behaviors are getting to the point where there’s a concern over whether everyone feels comfortable going into and enjoying the Ped Mall,” Markus says.
Laura Schurr sells handmade bracelets to passerby on the Ped Mall. She says some restrictions “would be a good thing,” but she’s seen too many initiatives that have unintended consequences. “Every time they pass stuff, it seems to hurt the business of the Ped Mall and the conditions get worse, instead of better,” Schurr says. For 55-year-old Allen Woods, the ordinance would prohibit him from asking for money at the entrance to the Ped Mall.
“Here, I’ve got traffic in four directions. But with this new ordinance coming up, it’s taking away my livelihood,” Woods said. The ordinance would prohibit lying on benches or planters between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., limits the storage of personal property, and restricts soliciting in certain areas.
The ordinance is on the city council’s agenda for first consideration tonight. Markus says the city is considering a separate initiative that would allow people to work community service hours instead of pay fines for the violations.