The Orange County Board of Supervisors ended 2013 with a principled demonstration of government restraint. As reported in the Dec. 18 edition, at the Dec. 17 meeting none of the other supervisors chose to second a motion by Supervisor Todd Spitzer to impose a deeply flawed “social host ordinance” (SHO) on thousands of Orange County residents living in Emerald Bay and other unincorporated areas under county jurisdiction.
The sloppily written version of a SHO law being pushed by Spitzer would have made it a crime for any adult present at a social gathering on private premises to fail to perform a vaguely defined legal duty to prevent possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages by any minor at the gathering. If police go into a private home or yard for any reason and decide any adult on the premises had the ability to prevent teen drinking but failed to do so, that adult could end up in jail.
Unlike the model SHO endorsed by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and SHO laws adopted by many states and cities, Spitzer’s SHO would not apply to adults who allow teens to abuse prescription drugs, marijuana, hallucinogens and other controlled substances. That is because Spitzer’s alcohol-only SHO is a political gimmick pandering to frustration we all share about loud parties and teen drinking.
The ill-conceived solution Spitzer advocates is to give police broad discretion to arrest adults for not detecting and stopping teen drinking. Instead of supporting police in targeting irresponsible adults who knowingly endanger kids in violation of existing state law, the Spitzer SHO confers power to arrest in private settings based on subjective opinions of police about what any adult present “should have known” and “should have done.”
Fortunately, our Board of Supervisors did not act impulsively based on political optics Spitzer created by wrapping himself in the victimology of tragic drunk driving cases. Instead, Supervisors Nelson, Bates, Moorlach and Nguyen thoughtfully balanced the unproven deterrent effect of SHO laws on drunk driving by teens with the inevitable impact of the ordinance on family rights, privacy and due process standards for law enforcement.
Even though the Laguna Beach City Council improved the SHO before adopting it, the local version adopted in 2012 is still more of a political stunt that a serious criminal law, and it should not be on the books. Like Spitzer’s SHO, if ever enforced the Laguna Beach version will result in botched arrests, as well as unintended civil and criminal liability for the city, private property owners and adults charged under these laws.
Adults who endanger minors in private homes or settings by enabling teen drinking should be held criminally liable under existing state law, but adults in private homes should not be made agents of the government, like bar tenders in licensed public bars.
Not surprisingly, the witnesses Spitzer recruited to lobby for his SHO at the Board of Supervisors did not represent the neighborhoods in unincorporated areas where OC Sheriff deputies would be enforcing the new untested criminal law. Instead, Spitzer’s cohorts included local elected officials and public employees who want to be seen as part of his crusade.
OC residents from across the political spectrum were taken aback by Spitzer’s version of a SHO, which would force many responsible parents to close their doors to at the most at risk kids to avoid intrusions by police and legal liability. College student, political science prodigy and SHO opposition leader Adam Redding Kaufman is right, in the name of “keeping kids safe” the SHO will put more kids in cars with booze out on the road looking for a place to drink in secret.
The SHO promoted by Spitzer politicizes local policing; so does the Laguna Beach version. The last thing we need in our city or county is a law enforcement establishment eager to politicize law enforcement to promote a political agenda.
Howard Hills is a third generation native of Laguna Beach, and with his wife raised five teenagers in Washington DC and Orange County. He is also the newly elected president of Laguna Beach Republicans.