GARY — Should the city ban anyone from playing basketball in the streets?

That was the question posed at Tuesday night’s Public Safety Committee meeting, where outgoing Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade, D-6th, is sponsoring legislation that would ban portable hoops if they impede traffic flow in the streets.

Sparks-Wade and code enforcement officials say the ban is necessary because hoops are typically placed in darkened areas, away from street lights, and disrupt neighborhood traffic.

Code enforcement staff said far too often, kids aren’t paying attention and neither are drivers so the risk of injury is great.

Despite safety issues raised, some members appeared somewhat reluctant to endorse the ban, saying the city needs to get a handle on many of the city’s parks that have courts with missing backboards, or torn or missing nets.

“We need to be careful with how we do this. If we’re going to enforce this, we certainly need a plan to ensure our young people have somewhere to play ball,” said Councilman Mike Brown, D-3rd.

Council President Ron Brewer, D-at-large, recalled receiving a letter from a 9-year-old Gary boy asking council members to put up backboards at his neighborhood park so he can play.

“When kids get in trouble, we wonder why. They don’t have the things that we used to have. We used to be able to play in the street,” Brewer said.

He urged that the ordinance be reworded so that it is largely complaint-driven, versus police issuing tickets to individuals found playing in the streets when the gameplay is not bothering anyone.

“I don’t want young people thinking the police are just the bad guy,” Brewer said. “I understand (the issue) but I’m just saying we are in a unique situation in this city because we have our own, separate issues that other communities don’t have.”

The proposed ordinance states it shall be unlawful for any person to place or maintain in the public right-of-way any portable basketball hoop in “such a manner that the basketball hoop is impeding the flow of traffic or that persons using the basketball hoop are impeding the flow of traffic.”

After lengthy discussion on the proposal, Sparks-Wade and others agreed to amend the ordinance so that hoops are fair game in driveways, yards and alleyways and that a first infraction will amount to only a warning.

The initially proposed bill fined $50 on the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $500 for the third and subsequent offenses.

Gary resident Jim Nowacki, of the 1st District, cautioned council members against banning portable hoops if city parks stay in the shape they are in.

“If we had well-lit playgrounds, with safe equipment in good shape, this might be an easier argument to make. But if I wanted to play basketball in Gary, and I went to a park, I would find the equipment in not good repair, the lighting nonexistent and in a hazardous location,” Nowacki said.

Ultimately, members agreed to push the ordinance to the full council, as amended.

The council will take up this issue at its next meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 17 at Arthouse: A Social Kitchen.

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