LAGUNA BEACH : City, Schools, Clinic Join in AIDS Effort

Expanding a campaign to protect teens from the deadly AIDS virus, the City Council has agreed to join forces with the school district and community clinic in what leaders say is an unusual communitywide effort to boost AIDS awareness.

The goal is to reach the city's middle and high school students, some of whom have already complained that they need to know more about AIDS prevention.

"I'm very worried about the fact that teen-agers are becoming exposed to this virus at a rapid rate," Mayor Robert F. Gentry said. "We have a history in Laguna Beach of knowing how to deal with it and we should be on the forefront in trying to prevent the spread of the virus."

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to become a partner in the program, designed to intensify AIDS education in schools and inform students about services available at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, including family planning and AIDS education counseling and HIV testing. Students can get condoms at the clinic only if they sign up for one of the counseling classes.

While one resident who spoke before the council said condoms should be more readily available, a senior from the Laguna Beach High School AIDS Committee disagreed.

"I don't think that would be beneficial because people need more education," Emily Hobson said. "If people want to get condoms themselves, they can buy them."

The program will emphasize that sexual abstinence and refraining from intravenous drug use are the most effective ways to avoid contracting the virus, said Nancy Hubbell, director of special services for the Laguna Beach Unified School District. The program has had strong support from parents, she said.

"We're very pleased the city has completed that final link by approving the plan," Hubbell said after the council's vote. The city's HIV Advisory Committee, which includes members of local AIDS service groups, has been involved in shaping the program since talks began in January.

Program backers say the plan is unusual because it will harness the educational capabilities of the schools, the medical services of the clinic and, possibly, the financial support of the city. The city was not asked to provide money now, but organizers said they want to reserve that option for the future.

"I'd be very surprised if we have to ask the city for money for the next six months to a year," clinic director Gary Erb said. The partnership could also make it easier to obtain grants to help finance the program since some foundations favor funding joint projects, he said.

"I think it's a fantastic thing that a city like Laguna Beach can be a national leader in developing a program like this," Erb said.

Laguna Beach has the highest per capita incidence of AIDS in Orange County and one of the highest in the nation. A May survey conducted by the Laguna Beach High School newspaper revealed that 59% of the seniors questioned were sexually active, along with 34% of the juniors, 29% of the sophomores and 15% of the freshmen.

In other action Tuesday, the council gave unanimous preliminary approval to an ordinance that would allow permanent lifeguards and summer beach patrol staff to cite violators of California Department of Fish and Game laws, such as taking an undersized lobster or out-of-season marine life. Final approval of that measure is expected on Oct. 20.

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