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Students plan to protest social host ordinance

Laguna Beach High School students are challenging a proposed municipal law that would hold adults responsible if underage drinking takes place in their homes.

The proposed social host ordinance would fine adults whether or not they are present when teens drink.

LBHS students opposed to the proposal say they are not advocating for underage drinking — quite the contrary. They argue that the proposed city law does little to combat the root problems of underage drinking and that the community needs to provide more activities for minors.

The City Council, citing other cities adopting similar ordinances, directed staff to draft the ordinance May 1. The ordinance does not refer to parents, only to anyone 18 or older who controls the property where underage drinking occurs.

Groups such as the PTA, local principals and the city's Community Coalition spoke in support. Out of the 17 speakers, 13 were in favor.

Opponents included students and resident Bruce Hopping, who cited the failures of Prohibition.

LBHS sophomore Andrew Landsiedel, the son of school board member William Landsiedel, started a Facebook group dedicated to the issue last week because he felt all perspectives weren't being heard.

"Have kids work with police instead of two warring groups," Landsiedel, 16, said. "This sort of law would just move the parties to beaches and parks, where kids could potentially hurt themselves."

Andrew believes the most troublesome parties have happened in Emerald Bay, outside the Laguna Beach city limits. He thinks the ordinance would teach kids to fear the Police Department, which he says regularly enforces curfew.

As of Wednesday, 685 people joined the group, which is comprised of fellow LBHS students, parents and local supporters. The page includes research that the students compiled, posts of support and Benjamin Franklin quotations extolling liberty.

The group of organizers — which includes Andrew, junior Schuyler Vanderveen and seniors Adam Redding-Kaufman and Macklin Thornton — plan to speak at every council meeting that has the ordinance on its agenda. They have a protest planned for the May 15 meeting.

They also asked students to dress in suits and ties Thursday during a high school demonstration to show the council that they want to be taken seriously. However, late Wednesday night, an on-campus protest was called off, but no reason was given.

Adam spoke at the May 1 City Council meeting. He pointed to UC Santa Barbara, which had a successful "Just call 9-1-1" campaign for minors to report drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning.

He cited the success of the campaign was dramatically shifted when a similar ordinance was adopted, essentially making "hosts" afraid of being liable or responsible for partygoers.

Adam, whose father is a psychiatrist, said the psychology behind alcohol needs to change from a substance abused in secret to something to be enjoyed responsibly with family, as it is in Europe. He pointed to a 2008 Time magazine article "Should You Drink with Your Kids?" at the meeting, which echoed that sentiment.

"The culture that comes with alcohol needs to be changed," Adam said. "There's no law or solution that's going to immediately stop the underage drinking problem."

He said underage drinking is going to take place no matter what, but that the city can implement changes to help kids make responsible decisions and keep them from being tempted by "forbidden fruit." He also called for healthy alternatives.

"If you go downtown, what is there to do for people the ages of 13 to 18?" he said in an interview Tuesday. "There's only three high school dances a year. There needs to be more activities centered around 13- to 18-year-olds, like events or concerts."

Twitter: @joannaclay

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