Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 5:29 pm | Fair 58º


New County Ordinance Makes Party Hosts Liable for Minors Caught Drinking

Anyone caught providing alcohol to underage guests at a social event will face fines under the Santa Barbara County law that took effect this week

If you host a party attended by underage drinkers, you’re now responsible for more than just the cleanup.

Santa Barbara County’s Social Host Liability Ordinance went into effect Wednesday, and it calls for fines for anyone caught hosting a gathering where minors are drinking alcohol. Any party, gathering or other social event of five or more people counts, as long as one person younger than age 21 is drinking alcohol. The ordinance also applies to all private premises — including anything from a yard and a home to a hotel room.

Counties and cities all over California have passed similar laws in an attempt to curb underage drinking, mostly among high school and college students.

In the South County, Isla Vista most likely will see the most citations, according to Lt. Ray Vuillemainroy, who heads up the Sheriff’s Department’s Isla Vista Foot Patrol station.

“I think over time, though, (citations) will drop off once students realize this is serious and will be addressed,” Vuillemainroy said.

Officers will respond if they get calls for a loud party or residence disturbance, or come across something in a basic foot patrol, he said. Once at the door, deputies will determine who rents or owns the property, and whether there are minors present through questions or entering the residence — if the situation deems it necessary.

The first offense will come with a $500 fine and an educational class, and the second and third offenses have increased fines of $2,000 and $3,000, respectively.

Exceptions include legally protected religious practices and family gatherings where alcohol is being consumed by a minor whose parent or legal guardian is present.

County-approved classes are offered online and in person with options through the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Fighting Back, a four-hour online course, and the UCSB Student Health Center, which will handle the Isla Vista area.

The county Board of Supervisors adopted the ordinance in June, with Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr casting the lone dissenting vote. She represents the college student-heavy area of Isla Vista, which could bear the brunt of increased citations.

In the June board meeting, Farr said the fiscal impacts hadn’t been studied thoroughly enough, and that students had concerns of determining the host of a party with multiple people on a lease.

At least in Isla Vista, deputies will be issuing written warnings for the first few weeks of enforcement to further the education period, though there have been multiple meetings and a forum among county officials, UCSB student groups and law enforcement.

For massive events such as Del Playa’s Halloween festivities, where there’s no designated host, the ordinance will be enforced on hosts of house parties.

The basis of the ordinance is to reduce underage drinking and protect minors from access to alcohol, as well as holding people responsible for allowing minors to drink, said John Doyel, interim manager of the county’s Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services.

“A lot of research indicates minors get most of their alcohol from home,” he said. Though it’s protected for parents to allow their own children to drink, they would violate the ordinance by allowing anyone else to drink under their roof. “We’re talking about parents who mistakenly believe that if their children are going to drink and get drunk, it’s better that they do it in the home. It’s misguided because it gives the impression that it’s OK to drink.”

There’s an appeals process, in which someone can challenge the citation and argue for a fine reduction, but the education component won’t reduce the fine, according to Doyel. If the citation is upheld, the county can add administrative fees onto the fine.

San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties have such ordinances, and a host of other cities have shown that ordinances do work to limit the availability of alcohol to minors and send the message that they shouldn’t drink at the same time, Doyel said.

The countywide results for the California Healthy Kids Survey taken from fall 2007 to spring 2009 show that 76 percent of seventh-graders, 52 percent of ninth-graders and 36 percent of 11th-graders have never had alcohol. Within the last 30 days of taking the survey, 16 percent of seventh-graders, 29 percent of ninth-graders and 37 percent of 11th-graders had had at least one drink.

San Luis Obispo County’s ordinance was adopted in January 2009 and holds hosts accountable regardless of who furnishes the alcohol, as does Santa Barbara’s ordinance.

Ventura adopted its law in 2006, and a three-year report found that 129 citations had been written in Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Ventura — the three cities studied. Their fines are higher than Santa Barbara County, and three out of four law enforcement officers questioned said the ordinance was an effective tool at reducing underage drinking parties.

The majority of hosts were underage themselves, and most party sizes busted had 10 to 50 attendees, according to the report’s statistics.

Santa Barbara County’s ADMHS will handle the administrative side of the ordinance, while county and city law enforcement officials will oversee enforcement.

Click here to read the full text of the ordinance.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >