To applause from both sides of the issue, an ordinance fining adults for hosting parties where minors are drinking and using drugs was tabled for additional tweaking in a 3-1 vote by Laguna Beach’s City Council on Tuesday.
Known as the social host ordinance (SHO), the proposed city law was sent back to the police department as well as interested high school students and adults to include revisions, such as an amnesty clause so that a person calling for emergency medical assistance at a party would not be penalized.
Council members also agreed with critics of the ordinance that it needed clearer wording, as in defining adults who “knowingly” host parties where they distribute alcohol or drugs to minors. A counseling session for first-time offenders in lieu of a fine was also suggested.
“What triggered this is a sense in the community that there’s a handful of parents who…want to be cool,” said council member Toni Iseman, “who want to be part of the party and they want to see their kids’ friends like them.”
Council member Elizabeth Pearson said the amnesty contingency would “defeat the purpose of the Social Host Ordinance,” because making a 911 call would cancel the citation and fines provided as deterrents. “It’s not that we’re driving around looking for people, we get a phone call,” Pearson later added, reiterating police protocol to respond to disturbance reports.
Council member Verna Rollinger disagreed with delaying the ordinance, saying she wanted to formally introduce the law and return with revisions rather than start the process over. Rollinger initiated the ordinance in May at the request of the Community Coalition, a group representing various service organizations that promote the slogan “Minor Drinking, Major Problems” as part of its efforts to lessen youth alcohol abuse. Council member Kelly Boyd was absent due to illness.
Suggested changes can be sent to Police Chief Paul Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org by Oct. 16; the ordinance will return to the council’s agenda for a first reading on Nov. 13.
A group of high school students initially opposing the ordinance, said it will create a backlash by inhibiting 911 calls for dangerously intoxicated minors due to a fear of being fined.
“Make it as good as you possibly can,” Iseman told high school junior Adam Redding-Kaufman. Kaufman said students had already made improvements on the trial ordinance as a class project, adding that the revision included educating parents about the consequences to themselves and their children.
Hearing from students, parents, psychologists, pediatricians and other experts both pro and con, comments continued for more than two hours from a full-house of residents split on whether the ordinance will be effective in protecting the welfare of minors.
“It’s the culture,” said Frances Naude, an LBHS senior planning on attending Chapman University this fall. “As much as no one wants to admit it, young adults are going to continue to do what they do.” Naude said she’s seen students running to hide in the bushes stopped in their tracks by police taser guns.
“If you’re not allowed to be in the street and you’re not allowed to be in a home, I’m just confused as to where we’re supposed to go,” she said. “If we’re drinking down at the beaches, students could be going into the ocean and drowning. Will the parties just be relocated to homes in Emerald Bay (an unincorporated gated community outside city jurisdiction)? It’s the culture, it is,” she said. Naude said teens, not adults, are providing alcohol at parties, buying it with fake ID’s.
Pediatrician Gary Jenkins, a local resident, said new research indicates that earlier consumption of alcoholic raises the risk for alcoholism later. “We do have a problem in this town,” he said. “There’s more drinking and drugs than there are other in other communities around us. The school can’t do it alone. It will take an entire community effort.”
Penalties under the ordinance could require counseling or taking a special class much like driving school. Fines were preliminarily set at $500 for a first violation, $750 for a second and $1,000 for additional violations. Illegal underage consumption was defined as 20 years old and younger. Irvine, Laguna Hills and Mission Viejo have social host ordinances; Manhattan Beach is the only city in Los Angeles County to enact a similar law to penalize adults for hosting underage drinking and drug parties.
Providing several months to rework the ordinance joined the pro and con contingencies in a common purpose and joint meetings were suggested by council members.
“We need to instill in our children respect for the beauty of the human body,” said long-time local Bruce Hopping, 90, who said he exercises daily. “We had the war on drugs, we spent billions on that and we have more people in jail than in any other nation in the world. It doesn’t work, my friends.” He suggested a citywide mission to “imprint the values of the beauty of the human body.”