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Sunday, December 9 , 2018, 11:07 pm | Fair 51º


County Poised to Adopt Law Targeting Underage Drinking

The social host ordinance would fine those who let minors consume alcohol in their homes

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to adopt the first reading of a long-awaited social host ordinance.

Intended to hold responsible those who knowingly allow minors to consume alcohol in their homes — with the exception of legally protected family religious ceremonies — the ordinance would assess fines for violations. A first offense would carry a $500 fine and the requirement to complete a county-recognized counseling, educational or other program within 90 days. The second and third offenses would be $1,000 and $2,000, respectively.

According to statistics compiled by the county’s Department of Drug, Alcohol and Mental Health Services, most teens reported that when they binge drink, it occurs most often in private residences. A number of city and county governments around the state — including neighboring Ventura County and a host of cities within its borders — have already adopted a social host ordinance, which Santa Barbara County staff said is an effective public policy tool for dealing with the problem of underage drinking.

ADMHS data also showed that as reported, underage drinking in Santa Barbara is on the rise, with nearly 200 more incidents recorded over last year. The Sheriff’s Department issued 54 citations for providing alcohol to a minor last year, and more than 1,300 to minors in possession of alcohol.

Some Isla Vista residents whose living situations differ greatly from those in other areas of the county expressed concern about the potential impacts of the proposed ordinance, saying that determining who is at fault when multiple people are listed on the lease could be tricky.

“They don’t want to be held responsible for the actions of others in the house when they weren’t involved,” said Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, the lone vote against the ordinance.

Farr said her main problem with the ordinance is that its potential fiscal impacts haven’t yet been studied in enough depth. Furthermore, she suggested that as written, its language is too broad, and should be more sharply focused on the situations law enforcement officials may encounter.

“Clearly we have very serious issues to deal with concerning alcohol, but we need more specific programs rather than something broad. I would rather see the money spent that way,” Farr continued, noting that she hasn’t seen statistical data that the ordinance would be effective in the way that the county needs.

A few lingering questions remain as to how the educational portion of the ordinance would be administered. While ADMHS may be best suited for the task, the department recently received the most severe recommended cuts from the County Executive Office in this year’s budget recommendations.

A public information campaign, originally intended to be carried out this summer, may have to wait until fall, as most minors are dispersed away from school campuses for the summer. The campaign would allow the county to explain how the ordinance works before the Sheriff’s Department begins enforcement.

A second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for the board’s June 15 meeting, and it could go into effect as soon as 30 days later.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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