CEDAR RAPIDS — A recommendation to ban alcohol in Greene Square is expected to hit the desk of the Cedar Rapids City Council by its next meeting July 10, followed by a report within the next 30 days on banning smoking and drinking in all city parks.
Mayor Brad Hart requested, at the end of a special council meeting Tuesday, that city staff pull data and historical information about smoking and drinking in parks. If police say alcohol in Greene Square is an issue, it makes sense to ban it, he said.
“We want Greene Square to be a friendly place where everyone feels safe, and if this is an issue, it seems like a relatively easy fix,” Hart said.
The special session included the discussion about smoking and drinking in parks as well as how to handle a request for funding for a full-time position to advance recommendations of the Safe, Equitable, and Thriving Communities, or SET Task Force, which studied the systemic issues behind youth gun violence.
While there seemed to be support to act quickly to ban alcohol in downtown’s Greene Square, the level of support for passing an across-the-board ban on smoking and drinking in the other parks and golf courses was less clear.
A working group of police, city, library, downtown and social services officials had recommended a ban on smoking and drinking in Greene Square after an increase in disturbances there. Police still are investigating a homicide stemming from an incident at 4 p.m. June 5 at Greene Square, which occurred after the recommendation was made.
Past attempts to ban smoking in Cedar Rapids parks have gained staff support but failed at the City Council under protests from residents. A key point of opposition was the desire of golfers to smoke cigars at the four city-owned golf courses. Policies on alcohol varies by park.
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“It’s a tool that we’d have that we have the ability to fairly enforce, but you have to be realistic,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said of a ban. “Police are busy with many, many matters. So it’s not going to be all the time. But we have that tool and we can utilize it when police believe it is appropriate.”
Hard alcohol is not allowed by state law, but Cedar Rapids allows beer consumption in most parks from containers of no more than one quart. A permitting process exists for kegs and other drinks for special events.
Beer has been banned in 27 of the city’s 97 parks generally based on proximity to schools or based on problems in the park.
Lt. Cory McGarvey, who participated in the working group, attended the special session. He said there was a desire for “a more consistent approach to rules across all parks.” It can be difficult for officers to know the specific rule for each park on the spur of the moment when there are so many, he said.
Council members expressed a desire to wait and incorporate input from the city’s new parks and recreation director, Scott Hock, who is set to take his post July 9.
On the SET Task Force, there was not a consensus to help fund the position requested by Linn County supervisors — at least not yet.
Instead, most council members supported the draft of a resolution calling to establish a joint committee with at minimum members from the city, the county and the Cedar Rapids school district focused on making “concrete progress” on each of the 30 SET Task Force recommendations.
The city along with the committee “will work to determine the best way to advance these recommendations, and is committed to providing appropriate funding to whichever organization(s) or agency (ies) can best deliver the appropriate services,” the draft resolution states.
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The task force was created after a surge of youth gun violence, including a fatal shooting involving teens. Members spent two years researching the links between poverty and gun violence before making recommendations.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors approved $100,000 in startup money to hire someone to advance the recommendations, and an ongoing commitment of $50,000 to sustain it.
Supervisors asked Cedar Rapids to match the funding level in February.
Some council members expressed frustration the panel had not acted more quickly, but others noted the city already has spent at least $3 million trying to address issues tied to youth and gun violence.
“It is important to recognize we are not sitting idle,” council member Ann Poe said. “We have been working” on the recommendations.
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