Tuesday, November 13 , 2018, 8:16 am | Fair 43º

 
 
 
 

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.

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