Student, city leaders rub elbows, hobnob, etc.
In an unprecedented meeting on Feb. 26, representatives of the City of Iowa City and the University of Iowa student government (UISG) sat down to discuss student concerns, namely with city safety provisions, student-landlord relations and all things downtown.
The town hall-style meeting, which was reportedly the first of its kind, was attended by UISG members, concerned public and several local government luminaries including Mayor Matt Hayek, Councilman Rick Dobyns and Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird.
Questions from student leaders skewed heavily toward student-landlord relations, a perennial concern among students.
For years, anecdotal evidence has been mounting of a small group of similarly named evil enterprises run by profiteering managers who prey on first-time renters and live to squeeze every penny out of students. Companies like Apartments Downtown, which also goes by Apartments Near Campus, Associated University Realty and Michael’s Properties, have drawn the ire of students for allegedly exploitative practices and for purportedly avoiding legal liability by frequently changing names.
City representatives had few concrete solutions for UISG members, who no doubt feel pressure from the student body to take action against unsavory practices by landlords.
Mayor Hayek said that the city had limited ability to restrict behavior by property management companies, particularly with regard to their practice of changing names.
Nevertheless, student leaders received an assurance from Mayor Hayek that city officials would at least informally investigate the issue of illegal landlord practices.
“This meeting was a great first step in identifying city and university issues and concerns,” UISG liaison to the City Council, Alec Bramel said.
“I personally will be working with the city to investigate these concerns in further depth. If tenant-landlord relations are an issue, perhaps it’s time we start investigating it.”
Predictably, the 21-ordinance, and downtown affairs more generally, also garnered significant attention at the meeting.
At their Feb. 19 meeting, the City Council unanimously voted to remove some of the more onerous restrictions of the 21-ordinance prohibiting underage students from being present in entertainment-focused venues after midnight.
In response, UISG members sought to learn more about City Council rationale for restrictions related to the ordinance.
As reported by the Daily Iowan, Councilman Dobyns stated that the City Council acted to recognize “the people who are doing a good job”, in reference to establishments such as The Mill that have a solid track record for focusing on entertainment (presumably over things like FAC drink specials).
One might be inclined to dismiss the gathering as an obligatory nod from the city to the students, or perhaps simply an opportunity for aspiring politicians to rub shoulders with the local bigwigs. But in fact, the meeting represents an important step for students, who collectively have few allies in the local community when it comes to hot-button issues like off-campus student housing and the 21-ordinance.
Establishing a precedent for regular dialogue and cooperation between students and city officials may not only give students a bigger role in city decision-making, but also take a step toward addressing the misconceptions that exist between some more established community members and the student body (read: students as a drunken menace, students as leeches on limited housing, students as destroyers of historical identity, etc.). Kudos to the City Council and UISG, Iowa City’s newest best buds.
A garbage solution to a trashy problem
The City Council moved on Feb. 19 to indefinitely table a proposal to impose a ban on exposed trash cans, an issue that some in Iowa City believe to be a big deal.
The proposed ordinance would mandate that Iowa City residents stow their garbage cans, yard waste receptacles and recycling containers along the side or rear of their house or building or some other place where the general public will not have to see them, save for on garbage day.
Some see the ordinance as a logical step toward beautification in a world where slovenly neighbors can be an unfortunate fact of life; others see the proposed rule as just another in an overly long list of rules and regulations governing life in Iowa City.
Supporters of the can ban, heretofore known as the Anti-Trashers, are made up primarily of concerned parties within various Iowa City neighborhood associations. They believe that too many people around town leave their receptacles in their front yards for days on end; it makes the neighborhoods look, if you’ll pardon the obvious pun, trashy.
One member of the College Green Neighborhood went so far as to spend her Saturday afternoon documenting no fewer than 25 addresses with trash cans in the front yard before taking her complaint to the city.
The ordinance’s opponents, let’s call them the Canarchists, believe that a ban on visible trash cans is problematic for a few reasons. First, the rule could be difficult to enforce equitably given that it may be difficult to differentiate between a trash can properly stowed and a public nuisance in some cases. Second, not everyone’s trash circumstances are the same.
It’s also possible that government oversight could lump some innocent people who forget to hide their trashcans immediately after trash day in with serial offenders, causing more harm than good in the long run.
Both arguments have their merits, of course. If there are people fouling up Iowa City neighborhoods with their unsightly trash cans, then the city should take action to make the place look nicer for everybody. Then again, the city also has to consider the potential unintended consequences of a new rule that could be tough to fairly enforce.
There must be a third way, a happy medium. In fact, the third way may already be on the books in Iowa City, strangely enough.
A 2003 document available from the city of Iowa City titled “Neighborhood Calming:
A guide to understanding and utilizing Iowa City’s Nuisance Ordinances” outlines the city’s existing trash policies and how to lodge a complaint against a non-compliant neighbor.
According to the guide, trash cans “should be removed from the curb on the same day that the collection occurred and should be returned to a location near the side or back of the building.” If a neighbor leaves their trash cans out, the guide instructs Iowa Citians to call in a complaint to Housing & Inspection Services.
Jann Ream, the code enforcement assistant at the city’s Department of Housing & Inspection Services said that when a complaint is filed, the city will send an inspector to verify that the cans have been left out. When and if an infraction is verified, the city will contact the trashcan offender and remind them to put their cans away.
The neighborhood guide suggests talking to your neighbors before going so far as to file a formal complaint. (Doesn’t that sound less passive aggressive and draconian than new legislation?) It reads, “No one wants to complain about their neighbors, however, the City of Iowa City needs the assistance of your watch- ful [sic] eyes to help identify problem properties in your neighborhood. Iowa City’s Nuisance Ordinance will not be effective if is not enforced. If we all work together we can make Iowa City a more inviting place to call home.”
It seems that we may already have the tools to fix Iowa City’s trash problem.
Skaaren Cossé is an undergraduate at the University of Iowa studying Finance and International Studies.
Zach Tilly is an undergraduate studying Journalism and Political Science. He also writes for The Daily Iowan and the Washington Post’s swing-state blog, The 12.