CPC gets an earful from downtown business owners

by Walter Pierce

The introductory ordinance banning open containers from downtown Lafayette and elsewhere passed unanimously Tuesday night at the City-Parish Council meeting.

The introductory ordinance banning open containers from downtown Lafayette and elsewhere passed unanimously Tuesday night at the City-Parish Council meeting. It's unclear, however, how the measure will fare when it's voted on as a final ordinance; it was voted on Tuesday in globo, meaning the council voted on the "go cup" ordinance and 11 other ordinances at once. But unlike two weeks ago when the ordinance failed on a 5-4 vote and the majority of residents who addressed the council did so in opposition to the measure, councilmen on Tuesday heard mainly from downtown business owners who support the ordinance.

Supporters of the ordinance included Jaci Russo, owner of a marketing/branding firm; Cathy Webre, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority; Thomas Guilbeau, an attorney whose firm is located on Jefferson Street; Julie Calzone, an ad agency owner; and Acadiana Center for the Arts Executive Director Gerd Wuestemann, among others.

"When I come to work Friday morning, Saturday morning, Sunday morning, there is quite a bit of litter from the go cups, but I think that's a very small detail," Russo told the council. "When we look at the open alcohol ordinance, what I see it doing first and foremost is preventing the bums who hang out in the park all day drinking, from being able to do that anymore. There are no rules right now that give police the power to move those people on, and at times there will be 13, 14, 15 men, and occasionally women, sitting in the park drinking alcohol in the middle of the day. And that really keeps families from using this asset that is a taxpayer public park."

Russo also referred to what police have characterized as "trunk drinkers" - people who drive downtown with alcohol, which they consume on the sidewalks without ever patronizing the bars. Supporters of the go cup ban argue that the prohibition would significantly reduce this population, thereby addressing the overall problem of large, unruly crowds on weekends.

Hector LaSala, an architecture professor at UL who has editorialized eloquently in The Daily Advertiser on the need for embracing smart growth principles in our urban core, characterized the revitalization of downtown Lafayette as "halfway there," and suggested that downtown Lafayette becoming a Bourbon Street, which it closely resembles after midnight on weekends, isn't what the community envisioned more than a decade ago when the revitalization effort began.

"Vibrant downtowns, which is our goal, have clubs and bars," LaSala acknowledged. "But they also have retail, offices and more especially housing. And as long as our downtown is known as just party town, I think that we are basically preventing the downtown [from becoming] what actually all the effort has been about - to make it a full-time, 24/7 place where people of all ages can live, play, shop and have a great community to live in."

"Are any of us going to move out or take our businesses out if you don't pass this ordinance? No. But I do think what happens is, more residents will not come to the district, more people will not come to the district, more businesses will not come to the district," said Calzone, who also lives downtown. "And the perception is, the situation we have downtown on some nights, on weekend nights, really does create a negative impact for the district. So again, it's not the cure-all, it's not the panacea. But it's an important first step in helping us do what we need to do in the downtown area."

The council did hear from a few residents opposed to the ordinance, some of whom used a "slippery slope" argument: First we ban go cups. What's next? One asked rhetorically whether a ban on open containers could lead us to a "police state." Others enshrined go cups among the pantheon of cultural touchstones that make Acadiana unique.

"I feel like my rights are under attack," observed Jacob White, a 20-something resident who opposes the proposed ban. "Now I can't carry my drink. What's next? Now I can't use my cell phone when I'm on the sidewalk? I don't know. I just find this to be an assault."

District 1 Councilman Purvis Morrison took exception with information provided to The Independent from a source who said Morrison is now in favor of the ordinance. (He was one of the five-member majority that voted against the ordinance two weeks ago.) "It's not a done deal to say that I'm supporting the ordinance or not supporting the ordinance," Morrison said.

The public comment portion devoted to the go cup ordinance took the better part of an hour and a half. Council Chairman Jay Castille was evidently so ready for the meeting to conclude, he accidentally gavelled its adjournment before the council voted.