Local Currents: Where’s the Fire?

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“I support the pro-active support programs, education and activities dealing with teenage drinking and drug abuse but oppose the social host ordinance.” –Steve Dicterow, former Laguna Beach mayor and city council candidate.

It’s been a bit wild to watch the railroading of the local social host ordinance (SHO). No matter how much good-intention and perfume our school board and Laguna Coalition members spray on SHO, it still stinks.

Worse than the real and dangerous problems that SHO legislation has created in communities around the United States (primarily the documented decline in calls surrounding drug and alcohol emergencies), is the process that is being used to force it on Lagunans.

Laguna police Chief Paul Workman and Lt. Jason Kravetz presented their work on the SHO legislation. Workman was dismissive of significant, documented cases where SHO has proven to be dangerous.

No evidence of unusual drinking or drug abuse by teens was presented in the meeting. SHO targets a few Laguna families and is not anticipated to produce more than a handful of citations per year. Kravetz stated that the police don’t disclose the identity of minors cited for underage drinking, but that only 40% of the violations in Laguna Beach involve minors who live here.

Where’s the fire?

Then Kravetz let the audience know that Workman had discouraged pro-SHO supporters from attending the meeting that was billed as a public discussion of the issue. While the transparency was refreshing, some attendees excused themselves from the room at that point.

Howard Hills stated, “We were brought here on false pretext that this was a town hall meeting. Now we find out we are just talking to ourselves and the police department. We came hear to listen to supporters of the SHO and be heard by them, but this is a political ploy not a town hall meeting.”

It seems like the police have much better things to spend their time on than drafting SHO language and running PR efforts for it.

Only two local candidates, Steve Dicterow, who is running for City Council, and Tammy Keces, a school board candidate, have stated opposition to the SHO while proposing much stronger education and prevention programs.

Tammy pointed out that supporting SHO is like putting a band-aid on a tumor; it might look good but it does nothing. She believes that there needs to be more support for the Boys & Girls Club programs and implementation of school anti-drug curriculum.

But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Our school board has a problematic history with decision-making.

MTV’s “Real Laguna Beach” and Viacom substantially damaged the image of this town while both celebrating high school drinking and profiting from it. What’s most troubling is that two of the current Laguna Beach school board members, Betsy Jenkins and Jan Vickers, voted to bring MTV into Laguna Beach High School. Bob Whalen, a school board member at the time, negotiated the contracts and the access to our schools. He also voted to bring MTV into Laguna Beach High School. Even after the school board rescinded the invitation to MTV, Whalen continued to encourage kids to audition.

School boards should be focused on education. Entertainment deals and police jurisdiction are outside the boundaries of school governance.

The MTV show featured Laguna Beach High School students drinking from red party cups, getting drunk and hooking up. As I travel the world, that is the universal perception of Laguna Beach, a place for teens to party.

SHO is a political maneuver by local politicians to look good in the face of a problem they helped create while not having to address the real issues of substance abuse.

“Why are we proposing ineffective legislation before we’ve exhausted all the positive measures of after school programs, teen centers, skate parks and more positive activities for young people in this town? Why is the first answer from city authorities confrontational rather than engagement?” asked local mother, Tijana Hamilton.

There is a fast-growing group of discontented Lagunans who are tired of the lack of trust and transparency in our small town. They are circulating petitions and organizing opposition to SHO as well as support for effective and proactive solutions to teen drinking and drug abuse. Just say, “No” to the SHO.

David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].

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  1. Well said, David. The SHO, while probably well intentioned, is full of too many gray areas that do not actually affect change but instead create more problems for our community.


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