Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The St. Louis Beacon and CBS St. Louis covered the growing number of people against University City proposed bill 9112 at the City Council meeting last night.

Staff writer Robert Joiner

Most speakers were against a proposed University City ordinance to make it illegal to stand or walk on a public sidewalk or street in a way that impedes others from using the sidewalk or street.

Among those urging the council to reject the initiative, which was tabled, was Sara Ferrill (right), a former University City resident who now lives in Jefferson City. She told the audience of her own days when she and youngsters such as herself were "persecuted" because of the way they dressed. She recalled it was not unusual for her to have magenta hair, an eyebrow pierced, striped stockings and cut-off pants.

"I'm now 32 years old, a very responsible mother and contributing to society. These kids are disenfranchised, too. They have nowhere to go, nothing to do after school. They are not thugs. We need to offer them a chance to engage in our community rather than turn them away."

She urged merchants and others to have more dialogue with youngsters about why they visit the Loop, their parents and what their home environments are like. Getting to know the youngsters will help them engage in positive activities, she said.

The public criticism of teens and young adults in the Loop began the weekend of April 9 when warm weather drew many people to the area. Merchants and some others complained that some of the young people were rude, harassing customers and impeding traffic on crowded sidewalks and streets. The criticism quickened after a St. Louis police officer allegedly was assaulted by a 21-year-old man when the officer attempted to make an arrest at the Metro Station just east of the Loop.

Reports of arrests this spring, since April 8, show that juveniles aren't the only people causing disturbances in the Loop. During the past five weekends, police have arrested 17 people in the Loop, 11 adults and six juveniles. Some merchants have accused juveniles of taking items from sidewalk tables. Two such incidents have been reported to police in five weekends. Both occurred on April 8 and 9.

In one of the incidents, police say a large group of males ran past an outdoor table and took a wallet and cell phone. In the other incident, police say a cell phone was also taken from a sidewalk table. The police reports don't indicate that juveniles were involved in either incident. Most of the juveniles taken into custody in the Loop this spring have accused of fighting or curfew violations. A University City police spokesperson reviewing the crime statistics said the volume of incidents this spring seemed no different from last year.

Many of those who spoke against the proposed new ordinance said the plan raised constitutional issues because the law would end up targeting African-American youths. Ed Reggi (right), who describes himself as an entertainer, told the council that he was troubled by the proposed ordinance. "I come to the Loop two or three times a week to eat, shop or go to the Tivoli," he said. "These laws are usually created in cities that can't deal with crowds, and they are used to target African-American youngsters."

University City Police respond that they do not target anyone but merely confront or apprehend anyone who is caught breaking the law.

William Schwulst, who lives in University City, argues that the proposal as written is too broad and too vague. When in the Loop last week, he said he saw instances where the ordinance would have applied to law-abiding people "blocking my way, children and families pushing strollers and window shopping. But they were blocking my personal way to the sidewalk. This law is a little bit overkill."

Mayor Welsch says growing public opposition was behind the council's decision to table the measure and perhaps take up a revised proposal in two weeks.

"I came in today and had lots of email from people around University City and St. Louis" against the proposed ordinance, the mayor said Monday. "The issue that resonated with me was whether the ordinance was specific enough on how the police could enforce it. This ordinance is not directed toward one group. It in no way mentions children, does not mention the color of their skin. We were thinking of a way to try to keep traffic moving on nice days when we have hundreds of people coming to the Loop."

She said the city attorney would take another look at the proposal "just so we are clear that what we are proposal is in fact constitutional."

U. City Reconsiders ‘Move Along’ Measure
Michael Calhoun

UNIVERSITY CITY (KMOX) - University City leaders are holding off on proposed hefty fines for sidewalk obstructors — a.k.a. loitering teenagers. The restriction is meant to quell a surge of teenagers, flocking in packs and jamming passageways along the Delmar Loop. Shop owners have claimed they chase away customers on Friday and Saturday nights. The fine for ”interfering with the use of sidewalks or streets” would be $1-thousand per violation.
Council members agreed to postpone the issue, in part due to concerns raised by a majority of speakers at Monday’s night council meeting.

Civil right activist Ed Reggi pointed out a series of relevant laws, already on the books, including failure to comply with a law enforcement officer, interference with city officers or employees, fighting in public, panhandling, unlawful assembly, harassment and noise.
But the most appropriate, he said is disturbing the peace, which deals with ”physically obstructing vehicle or pedestrian traffic,” extremely similar to the language in the proposed new ordinance.

To that end, he questioned whether the ordinance is designed to overtly target African-American teenagers. “That will be by far a bigger public relations nightmare that University City will never be able to fight,” he said. “For us to say that we’re going to target one particular group, just really hurts my heart as a member of this society,” former resident Sarah Farrell added. ”These are kids. They are not thugs. They simply are wanting something to do and we need to offer them a chance to engage in our community rather than turn them away.”
She said she was once a rowdy teenager in the Loop, and noted techniques which were effective in the mid-1990s to battle the loitering: beautification projects, planting trees and flowers, street art, music performances.

Council members, after discussing the legality of the proposal with the City Attorney and the set of already-existing laws with the Police Chief, will reconsider the matter at their next meeting.