Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Get Out of Town - The Loop, One More Time

(June 18) For the third straight week, we’re going to discuss the Loop. I suppose it makes sense because it was three City Commissioners I kicked out two weeks ago. But there is now a fourth public official who has forgotten about his constituents.
But I promise that this is the last time (at least for awhile) that we’ll talk about this issue. I’ve done it to death, but there has always been new info for me to rant about. This week, not only will I talk about Monday’s City Commission meeting but a few other observations that have come to mind in recent days.
I’m going to start off with something positive. If you really think about it, if the Loop is the most pressing issue we’ve got going in this city, then we’re in pretty damned good shape. Really, this is a pretty great city…but it could be better.
This past weekend, my son and I spent some time downtown on both evenings. On Friday, we decided to hit Black Sheep Coffee (formerly Great Plains Coffee) around 10:30. With 14th Street an undrivable maze of construction, we took 10th Street to the coffee shop and 11th Street for the drive back home. Satuday, Alec went to a multi-band show at the Multi-Cultural Center, so again I had to make that same drive. On both evenings there were a handful of cops stationed on the main corners of the Loop. On both nights there were hardly any people loitering in the downtown area. It seems that Cade and I’s assertions that enforcing existing laws and maintaining a police presence would calm the storm.
But that didn’t stop Moe, Larry, and Curly from hosting a circus Monday evening. I didn’t attend as planned, but a good friend did make his presence known, and called me late Monday evening with his observations.
It seemed obvious to him that this was supposed to be a done deal, and they treated the citizens as such. In fact, they had obvious disdain for anyone who thought differently than they did. Business owners were treated like loyalty; ordinary citizens (both Loopers and non-Loopers) were treated like the Plague. When my friend testified that he was never a Looper but spent every weekend frequenting downtown businesses, they were incredulous. Because they would frequent restaurants in the early evening, there theory was that was the case for everybody else. Most restaurants don’t close their kitchens until after ten; most also stay open until they have to close.
This is the reason he was complaining about the idea of closing the streets. Downtown is a pain as it is; closing 2nd Avenue is a huge inconvenience for anyone coming from the Southeast side of town that is destined for Nitwits, the Brewery, Acme, and many others.
I have also stated through this entire debate that it’s my belief that the complaints of public urination and trash were not caused by the Loopers, but by the late-night bar rush and the local homeless population. This view was seconded by a taxi driver, who stated that he witnesses this sort of behavior on a nightly basis. Oh, no, says our elected officials.
And let’s take a look at the businesses whining the most. The jewelry store that had photo exhibits accompanying their cries sits next door to the pool hall which legally hosts both underage and drinking crowds. Shutting down the Loop will do nothing to help their situation. The old lady clothing store a half block farther down the street sits right next to Skelly’s. Drunk people do leave that establishement…and let’s not forget that the Arrow is only two blocks from both of those businesses.
None of that mattered to the Three Stooges, and their fourth Stooge, Shemp, aka Tim Kant. As I said before, they had nothing but disdain for anyone not of the suit and tie category. In fact, here’s what Kant said about the people hanging out downtown - "you guys are spending way too much time worrying about these kids," he said. "Get rid of them. I don't understand how they can stand around downtown doing nothing." Sorry, buddy, but they are also your constituents; some may eventually become customers of your wife’s business. They’re just as much citizens as your Fox News-loving supper companions.
And Mr. Kant became even more incensed when the entire package of laws were not immediately ratified. Throughout the night he kept stating that it was all or nothing. C’mon, Tim, you don’t get a free large fries by passing the entire set of proposals. As stated earlier, if a police presence is already easing the problems, maybe nothing needs to be passed. At the very least, let’s make some gradual changes before we affect everyone.
At the end of the evening, only one proposal was voted into law – the loitering ordinance. Despite the fact that the chief of police basically admitted that this unconstitutional law was bound to be selectively enforced, the commission voted to outlaw any groups of 10 or more from hanging out in the downtown area. As I said before, no law that’s selectively enforced is a good law, and if you’re going to arrest grungy-looking hard rockers, you have to also arrest the suit and tie crowd. When this does come into law, somebody has to put together a protest…I’m willing to take a ticket for the cause.
But since the silver-spooned commissioner didn’t get this way, he ranted and raved to the media yesterday that hid entire package didn’t pass. Sorry, Tim, but there are a few sensible thinkers among your colleagues. And then Carol Pagones had to chime in that without these changes an already struggling downtown would hurt even more. Excuse me, but didn’t her office recently send out a press release that for the first time ever there was 100% occupancy downtown? Just a few years ago the downtown area was mostly empty. Maybe this Loop situation isn’t such a deterrent for business.
You know, there are many other things that I could say – from complaining how our elected officials have learned the tricks of playing politics (such as the continuing use of words such as gangs and sexual predators) to Kenyon Gleason’s silly claim that no other cities have young adults converging downtown (been to Minneapolis laterl?). I think everyone gets the point…and I really do appreciate the comments that I’ve heard from people on the street. I have somehow struck a chord with a few people. Trust me, next week I’ll be back to pissing people off.
But let’s end with a positive note. Instead of creating new laws, why can’t we attempt something positive. There is a problem with young people having nothing to do. Our airwaves are filled with commercials pleading with them to stay in South Dakota. Why can’t we put together a section of town devoted to young adults. A block or two featuring bars for those old enough to partake; maybe an arcade or similar businesses for those underage; and kiosks selling pizza, burgers, tacos, and other snacks. Bands also have a tough time finding places to play; why not host some bands. Let’s give the kids something to do.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Get Out of Town - the Loop, Part Two

(June 11). Last week I attacked the idiocy of three of our esteemed members of the Sioux Falls City Council. Since my rant, four bills were introduced – a “first reading” as they call it in the guv biz. Like in prior discussions over the Loop, there was a lot of rhetoric about gangs, rapes, gangrapes and sexual predators…all without offering any proof. Next Monday they will debate these proposals, and probably will also vote on them.
So the story didn’t end last Wednesday when I booted Kenyon and Company to the curb. Because they didn’t come to their senses after hearing my open-minded, well-though- out ideas, I think it’s appropriate to babble on this subject one more time.
So let’s look at the four proposals (I’ve heard rumors of a fifth concerning car stereos but we’ll save that for another day):
• An anti-cruising ordinance that would fine drivers if they pass a checkpoint on The Loop three or more times in a one-hour period.
This is the idea that probably bothers me the most so forgive me if I repeat myself. This is asinine. Pure asinistic insanity. I can’t wait to see the rookie cop sitting at 10th and Phillips with his little counter. Blue Camaro – that’s one for you. Chevy Pickup – that counts as two for playing Skynyrd. Green Pimpmobile – I better call for backup. Silver Mercedes – you must be here for the Symphony. Keep passing through. We know you’re not a damned Looper!
I don’t think this scenario is too far from the truth. Let’s face it – this is a law that will only be enforced against people they want to pull over. The middle-aged business suit crowd will never get a ticket for driving without a destination, no matter how many times they circle the block waiting for that parking spot right in front of Minerva’s. And no law is a good law if the enforcement is selective.
• A tougher loitering ordinance to make it illegal for crowds of more than 10 people to gather without a valid permit.
Let’s go back to that couple in the Mercedes. They meet up four other couples for a few drinks and appetizers, and after indulging they rant about Hilary and Daschle outside the restaurant. Do you think they’ll be arrested? Uh, no…but ten feet away those grungy-looking shirtless bastards will be hauled in as soon as the tenth person is within peeing distance…which, keep in mind must be farther than you think if one is to believe that the anti-crusing ordinance will stop people from peeing on the sidewalk.
• Closing Mall and First avenues near the downtown bus depot at night to deter drivers from circling 10th and 11th streets…and
• Posting a "no left" turn sign on 10th Street and Second Avenue to stop drivers cruising downtown.
For the most part, I could care less about this idea. Although there are times when navigating downtown is next to impossible thanks to the multiple one way streets and stoplights on every corner. If I’m forced to go six blocks out of my way just to get to Skelly’s, I’ll be a bit pissed.
My question to Moe, Larry, and Curly is simple – where do you think these people are going? And why is selective enforcement the new rule of law in Sioux Falls? You still have dozens, if not hundreds, of local young adults with nothing to do and nowhere to go. They will go somewhere, I promise. Maybe it’s time for the rave scene to finally hit Sioux Falls…I don’t mean those fake raves that have popped up from time to time; officially sanctioned with permits and off-duty police chaperones. I’m talking about the kind you read about in the anti-drug commercials – held in big empty buildings and attended by those who obtain the super-secret flyer, called the super-secret phone number, and know the super-secret handshake. Think of the fun that KELO will have if and when that happens?
One more thing before I go. They city has themselves to blame for part of this problem. Part of the explosion of the Loop in recent years came after the city allowed a certain business to open right in the heart of the Loop. This business not only serves beer, but features an all-ages section. Maybe they should have denied that license, or at the very least begged them to find another location for their business.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

This Week's Get Out of Town
(June 4) On a typical cool Friday evening in May, the crowd began to gather in the early evening. Wannabe gangstas drove their daddy’s sports cars up and down the street, blasting 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg with the bass set at ten. Clems in pick-up trucks with 44 license plates admire each other’s Nascar shirts. Girls who shouldn’t wear tank tops expose way too much skin, chain-smoking while waving to any car that honks. Older guys compare the engines on their low-budget hot rods.
It’s another weekend night on the Loop, but tonight there’s one difference. Standing in the window of an office building, safely shielded from the so-called chaos, is City Council members Andy Howes, Darrin Smith, and Kenyon Gleason. They were “fact finding” in preparation for an assault on the future of The Loop.
Give me a break. If they really want to experience the loop, they should have been down there on the street with these silly young adults. They would have learned a lot more about these people, and why they have nothing better to do on a Friday night then hang out downtown.
I have to say right here that I like Andy Howes. I may not agree with his opinion on this topic, but anyone who likes Wilco, Son Volt, and the Replacements is okay in my book. Maybe it’s a fantasy, but I’d like to believe that the scenario between him and his co-horts was something to the effect that he wanted to hang with the homeboys, but that prissy little Kenyon told him it was too dangerous.
Days later, the City Council meeting turns into a mini-riot not unlike the recent heated exchanges between Bill O’Reilly and Al Franken. The Loop is not unlike Sodom and Gemorrah, claim the city leaders. No, it’s like a Bible reading, say the Loopers. Both sides couldn’t be more wrong, so of course nothing is accomplished.
Don’t get me wrong. I can understand the concerns of downtown business owners. I certainly wouldn’t like the daily tasks of picking up trash and cleaning up vomit and piss. I’d be upset if my building was vandalized. My family has had to deal with similar problems at times in our business, so we know the headaches.
But who really is puking and peeing in the doorways? Is it the Loopers, or do these activities actually happen long after the Loopers have stumbled home? Keep in mind that there’s a number of bars downtown – Skelly’s, Touche’s, Minervas, even bars as far away as Acme and the Top Hat are bound to have a few stragglers passing through the downtown area. It’s much more likely that these are the prime offenders. And then there’s the homeless population. Yes, it does exist in Sioux Falls.
And then there’s some of the other claims made at the City Council meeting. Rapes are rampant; sexual predators are searching for their next victim. Where’s the proof? And if something like that did happen does that mean that Wal-Mart should shut down since there was an armed kidnapping there? Or that any date rape that occurs should lead to the closing of the bar or restaurant they had earlier frequented. Maybe I’m offbase, but I’d guess that people are safer when they’re hanging with a crowd than in more intimate surroundings.
The silliest idea that has come out of the whole controversy is the planned introduction of a “driving without destination” law. Under this plan, if a person is to pass the same point three times in a certain time period they will possibly get a ticket. This is plain silliness, and will do nothing to decrease the pee and vomit. You’d have to have a pretty good aim to hit a doorway with any bodily fluid from a moving vehicle.
The biggest problem with this law is the selected enforcement that will inevitably come with it. Will that middle-aged couple circling the block looking for that perfect parking spot at Minerva’s be nailed? Nah. Sorry, but if the law is enacted it should apply to anyone.
What’s even scarier is the possibility of using this law to target people that have done nothing wrong. I know we don’t like to think anything bad about our police, but I can see a car full of black dudes being pulled over for “driving while black”.
And there’s also the reality that closing the Loop will just make these people find a new place to congregate. Falls Park, the mall parking lot, any large open area could become the new hangout. Or everyone could head outside the city limits, where violence and other illegal activity could flourish. Private parties will also flourish; again a potential for big problems.
What can be done? It’s pretty simple – enforce existing laws. Have a constant police presence downtown; and I just don’t mean bicycle cops. Arrest those that break even the most minor law. Hand out traffic tickets to those that can’t figure out turn signals, speed limits, or the volume control of their stereos. Make anyone caught littering (or worse) come downtown the next morning to clean up the whole area. Concerned citizens can help by coming up with events so kids have something to do - putting on hip-hop and rock shows would be extremely helpful. But let’s be real – the Bowden Youth Center serves a purpose, but throwing more money into it is a waste as it’s way too controlled of an environment for the majority of young adults. There has to be some sort of perceived edge and freedom to any city-sanctioned activity.
I must once again say that I’m willing to give Andy Howes the benefit of the doubt in this controversy. But Kenyon Gleason – this is just another in a long line of pushing his personal value systems on an unsuspecting public. It’s time for that good little Catholic boy to go back to a church gig; I hear there’s some Catholic priests looking for some fresh meat.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I haven't posted here in quite awhile, except for the occassional Get Out of Town rant that I read on KRRO. But I just have to babble a bit tonight. Thanks to Michael Powell, the concept of democracy has died a bit today. Think I'm overreacting? I'm not; and all you have to do is look at the media blackout over the FCC story to prove that point.

In case you're one of the millions who don't know what I'm talking about, today the FCC voted to expand the deregulation that began with 1996's Telecom Bill...you remember that one don't you? Led by our worst Senator of all time, Larry Pressler, that bill led to the rise of Clear Channel and Viacom and national playlists. Accompanied by a blind eye to monopolistic company-grabbing in the entertainment biz, we now get almost all of our music and news from a handful of companies.

I know what you're asking - how does this tie in with democracy? The fact that a handful of companies own the media affects the quality and quantity of the news you and I receive everyday. To borrow a cliche, the media is supposed to work as a watchdog of the government. When the number of media outlets is limited, one never sees the full picture...or can trust the media to provide us with the full picture.

Look at how this controversy was covered...it wasn't, outside of some token network mentions and a series of interviews on NPR. Of course they didn't cover the story. Rupert Murdoch and his Fox conglomerate looks to greatly profit from this decision, and we all know they don't have the public's best interests in mind. CBS and UPN are owned by Viacom, along with a ton of radio stations, and they also look to become an even bigger company. I could go on down the line, but even the few remaining independantly owned radio and tv stations will stand to profit by selling out. So the decision was made to not report the story...what the public doesn't know won't hurt them, after all.

And it's my belief that it also will hurt the economy. A good case can be made that the problems in the music industry have more to do with Clear Channel then Napster and Kazaa. Less music is being aired than ever before, and most of what does get radio and tv airplay are media company creations that are tolerated more than enjoyed. Look what happens when an artist does speak out - the Dixie Chicks scandal was not the grass roots campaign that was portryaed...it was a Clear Channel-controlled backlash designed to get on the good side of Bush and his buddies.

Take a look at the war coverage - while one was to expect Fox to bang the war drums, none of the other news outlets dared to criticize Bush or the war effort. Even the slightest non-positive newspaper headline was treated as a Communist plot.

I especially loved Powell's often-babbled line that "new media" outlets make the old rules unnecessary and anti-business. Obviously, he's talking about the internet but take a look at who the major players are in the online community. It's many of the same companies, and it's my prediction that the Wild West mentality of the web will be tamed within the next few years. And there's also one major difference - the majority of citizens stil get all of their news the old-fashioned way; from newspapers, television, and the radio. It's a passive environment; you get in your car and the radio is on or you come home and turn on the television. Even the best-known internet news sites take a bit more of an effort; finding non-mainstream views takes even more work.

On a lighter, but on-topic, note, check out this week's South Park, which deals with the inanity of not only the pro-war crowd but the peaceniks. Of course, they both end up singing a rewritten version of Donny and Marie's "A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock 'n' Roll".