City to draft ordinance to curb underage drinking

Pros and cons of the social host ordinance aimed at curbing teenage drinking in private homes was debated Tuesday in a packed City Council chamber.

The council voted unanimously to direct staff to draft an ordinance after listening to remarks from 17 speakers, 13 of them in favor of the proposed ordinance requested by the Laguna Beach Community Coalition. Speakers included students, parents, school district officials and medical professionals.

"A growing number of cities and counties have adopted social host accountability ordinances," Bill Landsdal said at the meeting. "Such ordinances vary, but generally hold the host of underage drinking parties, or residential host who allowed the party, accountable for any drinking or loud and unruly behavior that takes place."

Bruce Hopping opined that laws don't stop drinking, citing the spectacular failure of Prohibition.

"We need to teach kids to respect their bodies," said Hopping.

However, family members are the most frequent supplier of alcohol to underage drinkers, according to the California PTA.

"We need to help parents raise their children to be the best they can be," said student Haleigh Burnett.

The state PTA also stated that most private homes are the primary site for underage drinking.

Homes are a lot safer than other locations for teenagers to drink, said high school senior Schuyler Vanderveen, who opposed the ordinance. But that was not the primary reason for his opposition.

"I'm going to ignore that all this ordinance accomplishes is moving parties out of homes and into dangerous locations like beaches and the hillsides of Laguna Beach," said Vanderveen. "I am going to urge you to allow minors to take responsibility for their actions."

Vanderveen said high school students are aware of the risks related to drugs and alcohol. He said blaming parents for their children's risky behavior won't solve the problem.

The ordinance does not refer to parents, only to anyone 18 or older who controls the property where underage drinking occurs, Police Chief Paul Workman said.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman voiced concern about older siblings supplying alcohol to younger friends and siblings.

"I have a problem with kids going overseas, fighting for us, and then they come home and their parents say you can't have a drink or we will be breaking the law," said Iseman, a retired educator, whose concerns were shared by Mayor Jane Egly, an attorney.

Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger, who sponsored the agenda item, said she hopes the city can draft an ordinance that focuses on education.

"The ordinance puts the onus on the person buying the keg and inviting the entire graduation class to come on over," said Workman.

The Police Department participates in the Community Coalition that asked the city to adopt a social host ordinance.

Other Laguna Beach coalition members include the Boys & Girls Club, the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, the Presbyterian Church, the school board and district, Mission Hospital, Rollinger, Capistrano-Laguna Beach ROP and CSP Inc.

Their position was supported by the Laguna Beach High School PTA.

"Our PTA speaks with one voice tonight, on behalf of several hundred parent members and, more importantly, their children," said President Kathleen Fay. "Our PTA thanks you for taking up this issue that is so important in protecting the health and safety of our youth."

Research has shown that youthful drinking has a deleterious effect on children and on their futures, Laguna Beach High School Principal Joanne Culverhouse said.

"A child who begins to drink at the age of 15 has a 40% change of suffering from alcoholism or dependence in his or her lifetime," said Culverhouse.

The state PTA blames underage drinking for 5,000 deaths a year and links it to two-thirds of all sexual assaults.

Dr. Tom Bent, director of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, said the ordinance would be a tool to combat underage drinking that has been a problem in Laguna for 40 years.

"It was a problem even when I was in high school," said Councilman Kelly Boyd, a Laguna native.

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