This week, the Laguna Beach City Council unanimously passed an agenda item that, if it goes on to become an ordinance—and from the looks of things, it’s heading that way—will outlaw the consumption of alcohol by people under 21.
Ummm … isn’t that already illegal?
Yes, but no, but kinda.
More to the point: the proposed ordinance would target parents who supply alcohol for their kids—and sometimes other parents’ kids—when they throw parties. The parents or adult supervisors would be held responsible for underage drinking that takes place on property that they control, punishable by a range of penalties, including fines.
Somehow there’s no state or federal law already on the books about this, which is why many cities in Orange County, such as Newport Beach and Mission Viejo, have adopted similar laws, usually referred to as “social host ordinances.”
And now the city council wants one of their own.
*TO READ THE SOCIAL HOST ORDINANCE AGENDA ITEM THAT THE COUNCIL PASSED ON TUESDAY, CLICK THE PDF FILE IN THE BOX TO THE RIGHT -->
The crowd that showed up at Tuesday’s council meeting was overwhelmingly in favor of the ordinance, stacked heavy with the kind of folks you’d expect to be in favor of such things. There was Kathleen Fay of the Laguna Beach Parent-Teacher’s Association, and Laguna Beach Unified School District Superintendent Sherine Smith.
“We’re not after anybody but the wild parties where kids are being served alcohol,” assured school board member Bill Landsiedel.
A few Laguna Beach High School students spoke against the ordinance. But they weren’t opposed because they wanted to preserve their right to get blotto, which is what some would probably think.
Instead, Adam Redding-Kaufman complained that the law would just drive underage drinkers away from houses and instead to beaches or parks, which, with no adults around, could be a more dangerous and deadly scenario if things get out of control.
Student Schuyler Vanderveen was a little more … dramatic.
“This ordinance allows the police to enter our homes without a warrant!” he pontificated.
Not true, Laguna Beach Police Chief Paul Workman later made clear.
“This ordinance doesn’t empower the police to hunt the parents down and cite them,” Workman said. “This is more for the individuals who make a conscious effort to provide alcohol to persons under 21 … you can’t create laws that violate Constitutional protections. We can’t just boot a door down because we think (underage drinkers) are having a party inside.”
Student Macklin Thornton had a more thought-out argument against the S.H.O.
“I’m fervently against parents giving alcohol at parties for the purpose of being the ‘cool parents’ or trying to live vicariously through their children,” Thornton said. “It’s despicable.”
We hear that. Instead, Thornton went with the European-with-a-shot-of-Libertarianism approach.
“Drinking with parents cancels out the need for teens to binge drink because they no longer feel that alcohol scarcity,” Thornton proclaimed. “Thus, I advocate an Italian or French system, where parents drink with their kids. We need to change the culture. The solution is not more government.”
Then it was the council’s turn at the mic.
All five councilmembers supported a version of the ordinance, but it was Toni Iseman who wondered what to do when there are people drinking in a house who are older than 18, but under 21?
“After school age, I think the S.H.O. ordinance shoud stop,” Iseman said. “We have young people we are sending overseas who are dying for our country, and we’re going to bring them home and … I’m not saying they should be provided alcohol, but if their parents choose to have a party and say ‘I’m sorry, you can’t drink because we’re breaking the law’ … I wish this didn’t go to 21.”
The vote was 5-0, and now city staffers will draft a version of the ordinance, which will then go to the council for first and second readings. If those are approved, it will become law after a public education period that could be up to six months.