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Bleak prospects for I.C. drinking change


The Gazette

October 12, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

The recommendations of a group charged with changing the drinking culture in Iowa City won’t change the drinking culture in Iowa City. Good ideas are being suggested, but they are mostly the same ideas that have been suggested year after year. They’ve been ignored before, and without a change in other circumstances, they seem likely to be ignored again.

  The report Monday from the task force of the Alcohol Awareness Working Group sounds familiar because it is. We’ve heard for years that the solution to the community’s drinking problems lies in cooperative action that involves local government, law enforcement, the University of Iowa, the business community, the school district, parents and others. We’ve heard for years about how severe the problem is in our community.

  And we’ve heard for years all but one of the task force’s suggestions.

  That doesn’t make them bad suggestions.

  They are, in fact, actions that would make a difference in the number of underage people who are drinking in Iowa City and other cities in the area, and in the number of people who drink to excess in businesses that have liquor licenses. The task force calls for ordinances that limit entrance to bars for those under 21 years of age; for public and private cooperation to develop entertainment venues that don’t serve alcohol; for more education of parents, children and college students; for enforcement of laws and for mandatory training for bartenders and servers.

  That’s all great, but the same recommendations have been ignored before. It wasn’t necessary for the task force to tell the public that ‘‘the time has come to stop winking at this problem.’’ That time came a long time ago.

  The time is also long past for the Iowa City Council to pass a 21-only ordinance for entrance to bars. It works in other cities, including many college towns, whereas allowing 19 year-olds into bars has not worked well here and rarely works very well anywhere else, either.

  One bright spot in the task force report was the call for tying alcohol taxes to sales volume instead of revenue. That might reduce the drink specials bars offer, like all-you-candrink for the price of a cup, dollar refills and the popular 21st birthday ‘‘treat’’ of 21 pitchers for $21. The change would take legislative action, and the task force urges people to lobby their legislators.

  Unfortunately, the Legislature likely will not act any faster on that proposal than the city has acted on a 21-only ordinance. Avoidance of controversy still seems to be more important than reducing downtown drinking problems.

  University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, a member of the task force, said, ‘‘Change does not happen quickly sometimes, sometimes it’s going to be a process, but we’re in agreement that further dialogue is needed for this.’’

  The issue already has been discussed for years and years. How much more dialogue does the city need before it takes appropriate action? How much time has to pass for something to be done?