A New Tool Considered to Curb Underage Drinking


An ordinance that would prohibit hosts from serving minors alcoholic drinks or controlled substances in private homes and impose penalties on violators will be considered by Laguna Beach’s City Council on Tuesday, May 1. This week, the school board unanimously voted its support for the proposal.

The measure aims to dissuade parents from allowing underage drinking under their roof, since three quarters of those under 21 say they obtain alcohol at parties in private homes, according to a county Health Care Agency’s 2006 study.

If the ordinance is enacted, Laguna Beach will be the fourth city in the county to do so, following Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills in 2008 and Irvine last December.

“A social host ordinance would send a powerful message to our community about how strongly we value our young people,” Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger said in the agenda bill she submitted for consideration by fellow members. “It would provide law enforcement with an additional tool to prevent parties where underage drinking and other risky behaviors will likely occur. Adults should be held responsible for underage drinking on property they control.”

Calls for service to police over juvenile parties in July 1 and Aug. 31 alone escalated last year to 19, about 20 percent of total party calls, compared to an average of seven calls in the same two month period when school is out during the previous four years, according to statistics compiled by Lt. Jason Kravetz.

The ordinance’s principal booster is the Laguna Beach Community Coalition, whose members include the school district and Mission Hospital Laguna Beach. Rollinger is also a member of the coalition.

Voicing her support for such an ordinance, school board member Theresa O’Hare said that people will often turn a blind eye when they see a party with underage drinkers in their neighborhood, and “that’s not okay.”

School board member Bill Landsiedel emphasized that the district supports the concept of a social host ordinance provided the language, which would be drafted by the police department, is not overly broad. Such a measure should not invade the privacy of parents interacting with their own children, but should simply “make sure parents aren’t serving kids who aren’t their own,” he said.

Promoting adoption of social host ordinances and a campaign to educate parents and young adults about the health consequences of underage drinking were both recommended actions of the county’s 2006 survey.

Mission Viejo’s model ordinance includes language to clearly exempt religious activities that might involve alcohol as well as activities involving alcohol that occur exclusively between a minor and his or her parent or legal guardian, and provides an administrative hearing appeal process.

First time violators in Mission Viejo receive a warning, with subsequent violations considered as a misdemeanor criminal offense incurring a fine of up to $1,000 and a possible six months jail sentence. The ordinance permits the city attorney discretion to reduce the charge to an infraction and substitute other penalties, such as community service.

The county’s study found that while kids and parents generally recognized the dangers of excess drinking, few believed alcohol consumed in moderation was harmful to minors. Most concern arose over drunk driving rather than adverse health effects.

Those promoting the adoption of a social host ordinance generally cite the 2007 Surgeon General’s Call to Action, which reports that alcohol use may alter adolescents’ still developing brains.

Laguna Beach High School’s PTA also supports the proposed measure, said Council president Susan Brown.

Underage drinking became a district priority in 2002 when the superintendent convened an advisory task force comprised of parents, staff, a high school student, police, and elected officials. Now known as the Laguna Beach Community Coalition, its 35 members span 15 local agencies intent on pursuing proven strategies to reduce imbibing by youth. Relying on results of the California Healthy Kids Survey of students in grades 7, 9, and 11, the coalition targeted three areas linked to alcohol use: increasing children’s problem solving skills; improving relationships at home; and reducing access to alcohol.

Before pressing for passage of the ordinance, the coalition consulted Police Chief Paul Workman. He polled the city’s sworn officers, who believe such a regulation might be a useful enforcement option. He also queried sheriff’s deputies, who patrol Mission Viejo but have made use of the citation sparingly.

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