About 40 people gathered to discuss their concerns about the proposed social host ordinance at a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday.
Chief of Police Paul Workman and Capt. Jason Kravetz explained issues raised about the ordinance, which would prohibit adults hosting parties where alcohol is knowingly served to minors.
Parents asked questions about kids sneaking alcohol into parties or being at parties where adults are drinking. Workman emphasized parents would have to have knowledge of underage drinking. He gave an example of one mother they encountered who held a party for underage kids and hid in her closet when police arrived. Parents who arrived home from a night out to find children drinking would not be cited, he said. The police would have to have evidence that the parent had knowledge.
Prescription drugs will be exempt. There will also be exceptions for religious services that include alcohol and a parent or guardian serving alcohol to their child.
He also cleared up questions of police authority, civil liability and existing law.
Penal code 272, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, is the current code they use to crack down on underage drinking.
"It's an extremely cumbersome criminal code," Workman said Thursday.
It's a misdemeanor, which means they'd have the right to a jury trial. If the ordinance passed, officers would still have to use their judgment and decide whether they'd want to file it as a misdemeanor or civil citation, he said.
Andrew Landsiedel, a Laguna Beach High School junior, has been a vocal opponent of the ordinance, organizing protests at past City Council meetings.
Andrew, an aspiring attorney, questioned why police couldn't use the current laws in place.
"If you have a competent district attorney then it shouldn't be hard to prosecute them," he said.
Police are considering whether hitting the pocketbook with a citation might be more effective than filing a misdemeanor, Kravetz said. Due to the complicated wording in a CPC 272, it's not easy to prosecute, Workman said.
Andrew also brought up the issue of 911 callers who might feel scared to call the police in the event of a medical emergency related to alcohol or drugs. Underage callers are protected under Business and Professions Code 25667 and Good Samaritan Law, Workman said.
Workman said they'd most likely only issue five or six citations a year. Irvine issued six in the past year, Kravetz pointed out, and it is nine times the size of Laguna Beach. Workman said they don't expect it to affect numbers for DUIs or drinking in public but do believe it will address a certain type of behavior that field officers do encounter.
"I don't understand — if we have laws in place, and it's only used five or six times, why are we even here?" said Jeannette Morck, a parent.
David Vanderveen, who attended with his son Schuyler, a Laguna Beach High School senior, questioned what juveniles are doing in Laguna Beach. He said he didn't see an enormous amount of parties or juvenile DUIs in the blotter.
Kravetz said that juvenile information is redacted from the dispatch log. The Coastline Pilot also refrains from including juvenile information in its police files.
While many members of the public questioned whether underage drinking is an issue in Laguna, school board member Theresa O'Hare, a member of the Community Coalition, said the issue has been on her radar for more than 10 years.
"Consistently since 1999, we've heard time and time again — whether from the high school, police force or from the city — that this is a consistent problem," she said. "We hear it from kids on the committee from the last 10-12 years."
O'Hare said she didn't believe it is the answer but it is a tool.
"They're going to drink alcohol — that's the bottom line. They're going to find a place to do it," she said. "It's been the same for millions of years. We can only be there for them. We can't prohibit them. It's like sex. It's going to happen whether we like it or not."
Kurt Knepper, a local defense attorney who represents juveniles, called the language of the ordinance ambiguous and said it would open the city up to litigation. He had concerns with not addressing medical marijuana and noted that there are emancipated adults or tourists who aren't familiar with U.S. law or the language He questioned whether the law could give police officers additional suspicion.
Workman said he's taking all the criticisms into consideration and that the city attorney has looked at the other 94 California cities with the ordinance. Their research shows cities aren't running into a lot of legal challenges and he re-emphasized there would likely only be a few citations issued a year, Workman said.
The chief said it would not allow additional authority to search and seizure on private property that does not already exist under the 4th Amendment.
Tija Hamilton, a parent and resident, questioned how they would know the age of her children. Kravetz said it has to be obvious that the children are underage. Workman said most of the time, they come across the same children in the community drinking alcohol and can recognize them.
During large parts of the two hour meeting, conversation started to center on distrust of the police and not about the ordinance itself. Residents showed concern that police might come into their homes or cite their children without proper cause, based on prior bad experiences or the experiences of others.
Workman encouraged residents to issue complaints on officers when an issue arises. Officers' belts and vehicles have recording devices for this reason, he said.
Tammy Keces, who is running for school board, gave examples of sober parties she hosts at her home during the meeting. She said she thinks the focus should be on prevention, education and giving kids safe activities to do.
"Right now the state already has laws in place for people that serve alcohol to minors," she said after the meeting. "I think that's sufficient."
Only a few members of the Community Coalition attended, such as school board member Jan Vickers and Jennifer Dinicola of Mission Hospital. Workman said he wanted the meeting to address concerns since the council was in favor of the ordinance, which the coalition had introduced.
The first reading of the proposed ordinance will be at the Nov. 13 City Council meeting. It can be viewed at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net/howdoi/view/social_host.asp.