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City Council Sends Social-Host Booze Ordinance to a Five-Month Rehab

The planned law holding parents responsible for teenage drinking was tabled until November, when a reworked version will be up for a vote.

The Social Host Ordinance is coming to Laguna Beach, whether anyone likes it or not.

That’s the proposed law which would hold parents liable for any underage drinking that goes on in their homes, particularly when it comes to parties that escalate to the point where cops have to be called in.

Plenty on both sides love and hate the SHO, evidenced this week once again when——the City Council chamber was packed to overflowing with people who spoke for over two hours of the SHO’s benefits and evils.

The SHO was tabled then, until this week. But instead of starting the voting process that would eventually enact the SHO by holding a first reading, the Council instead decided on a 3-1 vote (Kelly Boyd was out sick) to postpone any progress on it until November 13, so a number of kinks can be worked out.

Among them: If a first-time offender would be allowed to take a class instead of pay a fine, which, as proposed, would range between $500 and $1,000; and what the term “knowingly” means, in regards to any parents who “knowingly” serve alcohol to the under-21 crowd, as opposed to teens who raid their liquor cabinet while mom and dad are out of town.

By slowing the process down a bit, the Council was essentially following the advice of parent Barbara McMurray, who addressed the Council earlier in the session.

“As it is now, its language and intent are quite unclear,” McMurray said. “If passed, we will all have to live with it for a very long time. What are the goals of the Social Host Ordinance? How do we measure these goals? What does it do that no other law already covers? We need to make this more data-based, so we can measure its impact. Laguna Beach shouldn’t adopt a law just because everyone else is doing it. We all need to get more information.”

Will the SHO ever not pass when it’s finally voted on? Not likely, considering all the officials from various agencies who spoke Tuesday in support of it, a partial list that included a representative from Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office, Sherine Smith of the Laguna Beach Unified School District, and reps from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Laguna Beach Community Coalition, Mission Hospital, the Top of the World Parent-Teachers’ Association, and assorted social workers and drug counselors.

One pro-SHO speaker, Laguna Beach Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Pam Estes, could have illustrated her point in a less-stereotypical manner when she said “Teens don’t just drink, they drink to excess, and it’s not OK to deny the risk that it brings to them and others.”

Really? All teens drink? Every single one between 13 and 19? And all to the point where they’re kneeling at the porcelain altar? Estes’ statement seemed to slam youths simply for the fact that, y’know, they’re young, and therefore completely irresponsible, and every second of their lives needs to be tightly controlled. It’s fine to support the ordinance, but minus the broad brushstrokes, please.

On the anti-SHO side was Laguna Beach High student Andrew Landsiedel, who, as he did last month, eloquently stated his strong POV.

“I beg you to not look at us as children, but as young adults,” said Landsiedel, who stated that the way a SHO had been enforced in Santa Barbara made teen drinkers too scared to phone 911 to report an inebriated comrade, which he said resulted in deaths.

“This ordinance could very well kill someone,” Landsiedel continued. “Kids became too afraid to call the police. It may very well happen again. I do not want to find out that a classmate has died because he was too afraid to call the police.”

Councilmember Verna Rollinger, who proposed the SHO in the first place, wanted to have a first reading of the law right there and then, and later come back to it if any changes needed to be made. She lost, the lone dissenting vote.

In the end, the Council requested input from a coalition of parents, students and police to fine-tune the SHO before it pops up again for the now-rescheduled first reading at the November 13 meeting. Suggested amendments and alterations can be emailed to Police Chief Paul Workman at pworkman@lagunabeachcity.net by October 16.

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