U. City Council Postpones Reading On Loitering Bill
Ordinance targets problems in the Loop
May 20, 2011University City officials have put on hold their decision on an ordinance that would impose penalties for people blocking streets or sidewalks. The city, residents and business owners continue to debate other ways to handle the issue, and the impact that the bill could have on the Loop.
The city council was to have held a second reading and a potential vote at its May 9 meeting. However, Mayor Shelly Welsch said the bill was going to be tabled so that the council and City Attorney John Mulligan could further review the bill. She said this was due to concerns expressed by residents and non-residents of University City.
First Ward Councilman Stephen Kraft suggested that the bill only be postponed until the next meeting on May 23, instead of letting the bill sit indefinitely due to the tabling. The remaining council members agreed, setting the second reading for the May 23 meeting.
Despite the delay, the council still heard from over a half-dozen people who had come to speak about the bill, many of them against it. Among their concerns were that the bill would be unfairly used to target teens, and primarily black teens. There were also suggestions that instead of enacting more ordinances, the city should focus on enforcement of existing ones.
The views of many of those in opposition to the ordinance were expressed by St. Louis City resident Ed Reggi, who had spoken against the ordinance at a previous meeting.
"I spoke to the city attorney and he told me the ordinance would not be used in a discriminatory manner, but how is it going to be enforced?" said Reggi. "(If it is used to) target African-American youth, that will be a bigger public relations nightmare than you have now. Criminalize bad behavior, don't criminalize groups of people. If it passes, you might as well take out the walk of fame (along Delmar in the Loop), because it encourages people to obstruct the flow of people."
Reggi suggested that the council and city police look at stronger enforcement of existing city ordinances dealing with such issues as interference with city officers, panhandling and disturbing the peace.
While many in the audience agreed with Reggi's opinions, there were some that expressed support for the ordinance.
"It is not an issue of race or youth, but of behavior issues," said Jessica Bueler, owner of HSB Tobacconist, and president of the Loop Special Business District. Bueler and other Loop business owners had also appeared at previous meetings, with concerns that large groups of people, typically youths, were creating issues in the Loop.
"It doesn't matter if they are white, black or purple, everyone is welcome in the Loop as long as they are kind, courteous and respectful to others. I do not believe that this is targeting a particular group," Bueler said.
Commenting that all sides had valid points, Third Ward Councilman Byron Price said, "This issue (of large groups in the Loop) didn't just happen this year, it happened last year also, and I understand people's fears... but I'm hesitating (about the ordinance) because of the possibly discriminatory nature of who may get stopped," Price said.
Price also asked if increased police presence in the Loop may make a difference, and he also requested that City Manager Lehman Walker look at current city ordinances to see if any could impact the situation. Walker said he would talk with the city's police chief, and try to get answers to the council.