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University City Council Kills Loitering Bill

6-0 vote taken at special June 6 meeting

A bill that would have imposed a fine of up to $1,000 for people obstructing sidewalks and streets in University City was killed at a special council meeting held Monday, June 6. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
June 17, 2011
Five minutes. That was how long it took for the University City Council to kill a proposed ordinance dealing with obstructing sidewalks and streets, and aimed at addressing problems in the Loop.

At a special meeting on June 6, the council voted unanimously 6-0 to kill the bill. Ward 2 Council Member Lynn Ricci was not present.

The bill had been discussed at several previous meetings and postponed twice, as the council sought additional input from the city attorney and police chief.

Mayor Shelley Welsch said that the meeting was originally going to be just a discussion session regarding the city's budget. However, because council members felt that the budget discussion would not take a long time, they decided to add the sidewalk bill to the agenda to address it once and for all. They had originally planned to address the issue at the next regular meeting, which was held on June 13.

Initially, Ward 3 Councilman Arthur Sharpe Jr. made a motion to postpone the bill again indefinitely. He said that after consultations with University City Police Chief Charles Adams, it appeared that the city had "enough tools in the tool box" to address issues in the Loop, and that an increased police presence in the Loop over the last few weeks had led to "peace and harmony" there.

Following Sharpe's motion, the other Ward 3 councilman, Byron Price, asked if the indefinite postponement meant that the bill was "essentially killed."

Mayor Welsch said that an indefinite postponement meant the bill was still available for discussion if the council felt it was needed, but that bills that were postponed indefinitely "generally don't come back."

Price then offered an amendment to officially kill the bill instead of postponing it again.

"I have no problem with killing the bill," said Sharpe. "I believe that the concept of postponing it indefinitely basically kills it, but if Councilman Price feels that that is not strong enough, I have no problem with that."

Ward 2 Councilman Michael Glickert also voiced his support of killing the bill.

The council took no public comment during the special session. The unanimous vote was met with applause from citizens in the audience.

The bill, had it passed, could have imposed a fine of up to $1,000 for violators. It had been the subject of much debate during those meetings, with citizens and the ACLU suggesting that the ordinance could potentially be used to target some groups unfairly.

The bill was inspired by incidents earlier this year, in which large groups of youths were congregating in the Loop, harassing shoppers and business staffs.

A number of alternate solutions had been proposed during those meetings. Those included increasing police presence in the Loop and looking at ordinances that the city already has in place, and enforcing them in a stronger manner.

Budget Discussion

The council also had the budget discussion that was originally planned for the meeting to review items that City Manager Lehman Walker was suggesting be added to or taken out of the proposed budget.

One of the items that Walker was proposing to take out was also Loop related. In a draft of the budget which had previously been passed out to the council, city staff had included an item which would have imposed a $1 fee for evening parking at several Loop parking lots, which are currently free.

One example is the lot bordered by Kingsland Avenue to the west, and Leland Avenue to the east. Cicero's is at the southwestern edge of the lot. City staff had estimated that the fee would bring in the city over $200,000 a year in additional revenue.

Business owners as well as Loop patrons had voiced their opposition to the proposed fee at previous council meetings, fearing that it would drive customers away from the Loop.

The council made no formal decisions on the budget at the June 6 special meeting. At its subsequent June 13 meeting, the council approved a balanced budget with a 6-0 vote (Ward 2 Councilman Michael Glickert was not present). The proposed $1 parking fee in the Loop was not included in the final budget.

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