Momentum is building to do something

June 1, 2010 

The March 1 Views headline read, “We have the power to curb the problem,” and 10 solutions were put forward to turn the tide of irresponsible, dangerous drinking downtown and in the Centre Region.

The public response has been overwhelmingly positive, and significant progress has been made on nine of the 10. Momentum is clearly building.

These 10 by no means represent all or perhaps even a majority of the efforts under way. There are many smart and dedicated people who have and are working from a variety of angles on the same problem. Dozens of people have had input into and are working on these 10.

Yes, it will take two years for these 10 and their variations to be fully implemented and for us to know what is working. By then, there should be hard numbers, tangible evidence and some good stories to tell us how we are doing.

Perhaps you have an idea or would like to help or report what you or your group is doing. If so, send an e-mail to a new address, help@doingourpart.org. That’s right, we don’t have to do everything; just our part. Now the update on the 10 solutions:

Increase fines

Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, has pulled together a fine group of judicial, law enforcement, Penn State, Tavern Association and community leaders to work on legislative solutions to the problem concerning fines for underage drinking, public drunkenness, urinating in public, etc.

We have met three times. His staff is drafting legislation. At this time, it appears the new legislation would include a proposed increase in the maximum fine to $1,000 plus an additional $100 in new court costs. (You may recall that these fines were set in 1972 at a maximum of $300 and have not been increased since.) The extra court cost revenue would be mandated to cover local alcohol education and enforcement expenses.

It is reported that the District Justices Association would have a positive view on increasing the maximum fine to $1,000. This is significant because it is the district judges who have major responsibility to handle summary offense issues.

When this legislation passes, we will need to educate and market the consequences of irresponsible drinking behavior.

A campaign to solicit letters of support from around the state should begin after the legislation is introduced. We’d want to include associations representing chiefs of police, district judges, municipalities, university presidents, private and charitable groups and more.

Community service

A community service program does not have to be included in the state statute in order to be enacted. The use of community service as part of the penalty, education and “restitution” in a summary offense is at the discretion of the district judge and is effected by the options made available to him or her by their community.

There are several excellent community service options available now to our district judges, but none addresses this niche issue and strategy of connecting more closely the offender and the cost to the community — having the person clean up downtown streets or neighborhoods after a party weekend, for example.

Meetings have been held to discuss a new community service program. The Downtown Improvement District board endorsed the concept in principle, but a mechanism must be found so that DID cleaning staff are not “baby-sitting” offending students. A least one of our district judges has expressed interest in working on a new program.

An organizational meeting to work on the concept will take place after meetings related to the campaign for change (below) are completed. It seems reasonable that a pilot program can be in place by late fall.

Harsher consequences

Reverse our approach of mild consequence for first offenses and then gradually tougher consequences for subsequent offenses.

From the steps being worked on by various entities around these 10 and other solutions, it appears a more balanced approach is coming to this issue. There is certainly a greater openness to consider tougher consequences for first offenses.

Campaign for change

A coordinated campaign around the theme taken from Penn State’s alma mater, “Why Shame the Name,” is coming together. Graphic samples have been produced.

The DID board adopted the concept, and a presentation has been made to State College Borough Council. There will be a meeting to discuss a joint effort between the borough and DID.

A team of Penn State student government leaders, led by new president Christian Ragland, had already come up with a similar idea, and efforts are being coordinated. The Penn State Alumni Association board has reviewed the concept and has appointed a subcommittee to move forward.

Each entity would customize its campaign. Other parties or entities will certainly jump in.

In addition to posters, website banners and e-newsletters, a video is being made of interviews of local victims of irresponsible alcohol behaviors, including victims of property damage and home invasion. It would be great if this could to be shown to new Penn State students and at regional high schools.

Other specific values will be marketed and alcohol myths debunked over time.

Profanity is not ‘free speech’

Disgusting language is not “free speech.” This is part of the campaign for change initiative.

Community covenant

Last year’s Responsible Hospitality Institute and its dozens of participants did significant work on this idea.

A community covenant will state our simple shared values, commitments and standards.

A draft committee has continued this work and added new members.

The goal is to have the document ready to circulate to groups and residents by early fall. A significant public ceremony needs to be planned to make our declaration.

Educate

Our suggestion is to require a one-credit course for all new Penn State students to teach on what it means to be a Penn Stater, including showing the latest data on dangerous drinking and the legal, academic and social consequences of irresponsible behavior.

No formal work is being attempted at this time.

Promote entertainment

The idea is to form a Downtown Arts Consortium to promote and further develop State College as an art and entertainment destination.

Last month, the Centre County Chamber of Business and Industry held a “Before Hours” breakfast with a panel discussion titled “Art, Culture & Commerce.” About 75 business and art community leaders attended.

It was reported that this was a first for the business and art communities and a significant step toward linking the cultural and economic relationship of art and business.

An “art summit” is being proposed to follow. The summit would gather local artists, musicians, venue operators, art organization leaders, art educators and tavern associates to discuss ways to strengthen the local art community and art economy.

Provide restrooms

The borough is exploring options for restroom facilities downtown, as is the Downtown Improvement District.

Clean up

Let’s start trash pickup downtown on the busiest Friday and Saturday nights.

The concept was adopted by the DID board. Work needs to be done this summer on some approaches to try in the fall.

Perry Babb is co-pastor of Keystone Church. He can be reached at help@doingourpart.org.

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