Your Town Now: The Month that was November 2010

Moods swung and curses were muttered throughout downtown as the 21 ordinance stood the test of a public vote. The scene outside the Sports Column–which was to host a victory party for the anti-21 crowd–spoke volumes: people sulked out, a young man got to speak to reporters and the joint was empty by 11.

Previous efforts to allow underage drinking in Iowa City bars were better-funded and more generously conceived. Mike Porter doesn’t exactly have money to spare, though, and by focusing on a single argument–safety–the anti-21 contingent opened itself up to demonstrations that it was full of baloney.

In the past, pro-underage-drinking campaigns focused on the changing nature of downtown I.C. and the need to develop a more diverse entertainment profile. This time around, nary a peep of all-for-one economic-development talk. These were kids who wanted to drink in large groups without worrying about staining the furniture, and bar owners who wanted to sell them alcohol. the council didn’t much care for that and, more importantly, the voting public didn’t care much about it.

Can’t get high

Iowa City shot high and low and ended up missing out entirely on $12.2 million in federal transportation-infrastructure grants. $12 million was to go to replacing the Park Street Bridge and elevating a section of Dubuque Street and the other $200,000 would have funded a study toward a rail system connecting I.C. and Coralville, with plans to extend all the way to North Liberty. Er, Cedar Rapids; make that Cedar Rapids. Des Moines won a $10 million grant for a transit facility and Urbandale received $2.2 million toward planning a sustainable community. Dubuque Street, meanwhile, remains sullenly unelevated. Plans are still in the works, though, to raise it above the 500-year flood line.

Get around (round round) the round table

If the above has got your blood pumping, here’s your chance to make yourself heard: The Johnson County Council of Governments is holding an open meeting to discuss the future of transportation in the region. This is a big deal, part of the JCCOG’s development of a Long Range Multi-Modal Transportation Plan that will influence how everyone–pedestrians, bikers, automobilers, truckers–gets from here to there in our region. Bring your ideas, opinions and whacked-out delusions to Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library on Dec. 6 at 6 p.m.

Speaking of train wrecks… Television!

The cost of shovelling visual manure into your living room is about to go up. Mediacom announced rate increases of more than 19% on its leanest cable package and more than 5% on its most lard-infused offerings. “This is all part of our Iowa City Customer Appreciation Event,” a Mediacom spokesman did not say. “As you can see, customers can save an impressive 14% by upgrading their cable subscriptions today. And look for your chance to stop by Mediacom’s offices this April and whitewash our fence,” he did not add.

Prudence Unrewarded

Iowa City received $15,781,015 in federal disaster-aversion money to be used on a system of levees. Coralville received $5 million and Cedar Rapids more than $27 million. Statewide, Iowa received $84 million, more than any other state in this round of funding. All because we invested more flood-mitigation money in advance, on our own, than any other state. Thanks for making us look prudent, Chet, but your sweaty desperation is no match for the “MasterCard Governor’s” (thanks, Gopher!) glassy-eyed self-assurance.

Local Losers

Following up on an item from last month, Tricon General Construction of Dubuque was awarded the contract for Phase 2 of the Terry Trueblood Recreational Area project. Tricon’s bid of $1,192,089.00 was some $51,000 lower than that of McComas-Lacina of Iowa City; the project will be funded by a $200,000 REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection) grant, and by bond proceeds.

Underserved (again)

Towncrest wants tax increment financing for neighborhood improvements. Good for Towncrest. Well, good for some of Towncrest, as it’s generally considered; the Towncrest Urban Renewal Plan extends north of Muscatine to include Hy-Vee, Walgreen’s, and…you get the picture. Some heavily residential areas of Towncrest aren’t included in the plan’s estimated $15 million in city money for “initial anticipated projects,” but several non-Towncrest business properties are. Which seems an interesting approach to helping a neighborhood described in the city’s agenda as having “conditions of slum and blight,” a neighborhood for whom serious action is needed “in the interest of the public health, safety or welfare of the residents of the city.” You had us at slum and blight, councillors.

Not that Towncrest is a bad little neighborhood at all: I’m there a few times a week, and never the worse for wear. I’d move there myself, gladly, provided my neighbors didn’t take the tip, too. But the plan’s first seven goals all have to do with economic development, and the eighth feels like a throw-in: “Foster strong community neighborhoods with a mix of housing, churches, schools, recreation facilities, commercial areas, and historic landmarks.” Which seems a bit yadda-yadda. Economic development can be a lynchpin of community cohesion–the southeast side would benefit if folks there were able to buy their kids’ shoes from Mary’s store down the block rather than having little recourse but to buy them from a chain store on Highway 6, for example–but this looks less like a considered, responsive investment in a particular community than an Iowa-City-inflected pitch for infrastructure improvements geared toward retaining existing corporate entities.

Your Village

Finally, a polite request to get off your duffs and help run our city. As of this writing, the city was looking for folks to serve on the Board of Appeals, the Youth Advisory Board, the Airport Commission, the Public Art Advisory Commission, all sorts of fun boards and commissions and such. The list of opportunities may have changed by the time you read this, but it’d still be a fine idea to hit the city’s web site ( or visit City Hall, where announcements of vacancies are posted in the lobby. Thanks.