Law goes after underage drinking

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate May 20, 2013 05:30 pm

City and county leaders will discuss proposal on Tuesday 

County and city elected officials on Tuesday will discuss an ordinance that would target party hosts who allow underage drinking to occur on their property.

Students involved in Del Norte High School’s Friday Night Live Council teamed up with local law enforcement, county and city officials to draft a social host ordinance. If passed, the ordinance would fine adults who own, rent or lease property who knowingly allow underage drinking to occur. It would allow the city and county to charge for emergency and law enforcement response costs and authorizes officers to issue citations.

Gary Blatnick, the county’s director of Health and Human Services, and Holly Merrifield, a student representative of the Friday Night Live Council, introduced the ordinance to county supervisors at their May 14 meeting. Following Tuesday’s discussion, the ordinance will be on a Crescent City Council agenda in June.

“We’ve been working on this social host ordinance for about a year and a half,” Merrifield said. “So it’s been a long time in coming. It’s nice to have the support of the Board of Supervisors and City Council.”

More than 40 California counties and cities have passed social host ordinances, according to Blatnick. Social hosting is defined as adults in private settings providing alcohol or allowing underage drinking among underage people who aren’t part of their families. Even though underage drinking is already illegal, these laws can provide an extra deterrent through fines, community service and even jail time, Blatnick said.

The ordinance would specifically target people who knowingly permit underage drinking to take place, said City Attorney Bob Black, who helped draft the ordinance. They could include landlords, tenants and anyone else who controls access to the property, he said.

“It can’t be you’re out of the country for a month and some kids break in,” Black said. “There has to be an element of knowing.”

 The ordinance proposes fines of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $500 for the third offense and beyond, Black said. 

People violating the ordinance could also face misdemeanor charges, which could include probation or county jail time, said County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr. Whether an adult is charged with a misdemeanor or not would depend on the circumstances of the case and how cooperative the participants are, she said.

“We are encouraging monitoring by a responsible adult who will step in and not allow alcohol,” Stuhr said. “Based on my conversations with the sheriff, we don’t get a lot of these calls.”

The ordinance does not address underage drinking on public property, such as at the beach or in the state parks, Black said. 

Crescent City Mayor Rich Enea, who helped draft the ordinance, said he also worked on a similar social host ordinance when he was a police officer in Clayton. Even though underage gatherings with the alcohol flowing aren’t as much of a problem in Del Norte County, when it does happen it can be a problem for the neighborhood.

“When kids have huge parties and alcohol becomes involved the neighbors don’t want to call because they have to be the ones to file a report with the police,” Enea said, adding that the Friday Night Live Council approached the city and county with the proposed ordinance. “With the social host ordinance, no one has to file a report, the police can. He doesn’t need to have the neighbors sign a complaint.”

Also Tuesday, city and county leaders will discuss the future of the Solid Waste Authority Board. 

They will meet jointly at 5 p.m. at the Flynn Center, 981 H St. A meeting agenda is available on the city’s website at www.crescentcity.org. Meetings are streamed live at http://media.co.del-norte.ca.us/.

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