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University City drops proposal to fine loiterers

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Delmar Loop
A mannequin in a display window at Avalon Exchange second hand clothing store reflects shoppers on their way for ice cream in the Delmar Loop on April 12, 2011. Robert Cohen

UNIVERSITY CITY • Visitors to the Delmar Loop won't have to worry about being fined up to $1,000 for hanging out, or paying to park at city-owned lots there.

The City Council and mayor voted unanimously at a special council meeting Monday to kill the anti-loitering bill. Councilman Byron Price proposed voting down the measure once and for all instead of postponing the decision for what would have been a third time.

The bill would have penalized people for "obstructing or interfering with (the) use of sidewalks and streets."

The proposal had been aimed at crowds of what some say are unruly youths who congregate in the Loop. Officials came up with the idea after a St. Louis police officer was injured in a fracas on the St. Louis side of the Loop, which bridges St. Louis and University City. Business owners feared the crowds of youths scared off potential customers, and some owners had argued in favor of the law.

But since the incident, University City and three other jurisdictions have ramped up police presence, and weekends have been quiet. The city imposed last year a 9 p.m. curfew for people 16 and under.

Critics had said the anti-loitering law could discriminate against young people and particularly young African-Americans.

Joe Edwards, often credited for his work to help turn the Loop into one of the region's most popular entertainment and restaurant centers, said Monday that he thought city officials had acted wisely on both the parking and loitering issues. The large presence of law enforcement had eliminated problems, he said.

"It has been very peaceful," Edwards said. "The Loop is safe and it's fun — for everyone."

Ed Reggi, a St. Louisan who champions equal rights issues, had opposed the bill from the start. "I applaud them for doing the right thing," he said after the vote.

He said the anti-loitering law had been ill-conceived and called it "a snap reaction."

The city also had received letters of opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and a group against discrimination called the Fairness Campaign.

City Manager Lehman Walker announced that he was dropping his idea of charging $1 a night for parking at the city's Loop lots. The lots have been at no cost to patrons for years.

Walker, who joked that it wasn't his most popular idea, had suggested the move as a way to help balance the city budget, but the proposal had riled business owners who feared it would drive away customers.

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