Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Social host ordinance moves along

BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

A proposed social host ordinance that would levy civil penalties on those responsible for parties where underage drinking occurs sailed through the city of Santa Barbara’s Ordinance Committee with relative ease yesterday.
Much of the discussion revolved around fee amounts and how they fit in with an educational component. After leaders settled on a $1,000 base fee with escalating penalties for repeat offenders, the committee unanimously forwarded the legislation on to the full council.

Officials lauded the proposed ordinance as an added layer of authority for police officers above and beyond criminal citations.
“It gives us that tool in the toolbox for law enforcement,” Santa Barbara Police Lt. David Whitham said. “…Now we’ll have something that we can actually do about it.”
Currently, officers can’t walk into a residence and hand out citations for underage drinking, he said, as minor-in-possession violations can only be cited in public.
“Time and time again, we’ve gone to these parties where there are underage drinkers and haven’t been able to take any action other than breaking up the parties,” Lt. Whitham said.
Even then, officers have to wait until they receive complaints about a loud or unruly party before they can break it up.
With a social host ordinance, officers can enter a residence, determine who is responsible for the property or party and send a report on to the city’s attorney office, which can weigh the evidence and issue a civil citation.
Once a violation notice is sent, the offender can choose to pay a $1,000 fine or participate in an educational program in lieu of the fine under the proposed legislation.
Repeat offenders will still have the incentive of taking the educational path in order to receive a reduced fine. However, that fine could increase with each additional violation in order to provide a stronger deterrent.
Chris McDermut, chair of the Santa Barbara Youth Council, pressed for the higher fees with an escalated fine for repeat offenses after city staff noted a similar program in Carpinteria with lower fines had no takers on its educational component.
“That would indicate we have the higher fine,” City Councilmember Das Williams said, echoing McDermut’s support of the $1,000 base fee.
Carpinteria also has a rising fee scale, starting at $500 and increasing to $1,000 for future violations, said Roberta Payan, coordinator of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Teen Coalition.
In its first year, the Carpinteria social host ordinance saw more than 40 violations, she added. The following year, the city only issued two citations, suggesting the program is effective.
Nonetheless, Councilmember Grant House emphasized the importance of tracking the effectiveness of such an ordinance if approved by the council.
Lt. Whitham said the police department’s new record system has a much-increased capability for tracking how many violations occur.
Launched by local youth more than a year ago, the effort to establish a social host ordinance in Santa Barbara has involved surveys of local teens, as well as discussions with policy leaders and nonprofit groups such as the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and Teen Court.
“It started with a focus group and now it’s all the way to being approved by the Ordinance Committee,” McDermut said as he thanked his fellow teens and others involved in the process of putting together the legislation.
The proposed ordinance should come before the full City Council in the next few weeks.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What the hell? How is it the fault of the host if a guest gets illegally drunk? We aren't parents or babysitters to 20 year olds looking to party. What is a host to do, ask every person who comes in the door "hey, are you over 21?" It is NOT the responsibility of adults of drinking age to manage other adults of non-drinking age! I mean, what if some kid comes to your party and lies to you, claiming to be 21? What are you supposed to do, ask for some I.D.? Each individual is responsible for themselves, regardless of age, and it's ludicrous to let stupid kids off the hook for underage drinking by blaming and penalizing law-abiding adults having house parties. How unfair! Instead, we should fine the 16-year olds the $1000, take away drivers licenses, stuff like that, to deter the source of the problem. As adults of legal drinking age, we have the right to have parties with alcohol and have no obligation to babysit the so-called grownups who drink illegally. It's their fault, not ours.

gigi said...

Of course teens thought up the idea! The ordinance provides no penalty for the underage drinker other than the ever-present MIP (A.K.A. a slap on the wrist).

Anonymous said...

"With a social host ordinance, officers can enter a residence, determine who is responsible for the property or party and send a report on to the city’s attorney office"
Does this mean that officers can just walk up into your house without consent if they THINK there may be minors drinking. You know that with this in place that police will abuse this to the fullest!! How wrong is this!!!