Council in favor of social host ordinance

After hearing from about 40 residents, the Laguna Beach City Council agreed this week to move forward with a controversial law that penalizes parents who allow minors to use alcohol and drugs in their homes.

The so-called social host ordinance, which was sent back to city administrators for minor revisions, would require first-offenders to take an alcohol-awareness class and levy $1,000 fines for subsequent misdemeanor-level offenses.

If passed at an upcoming second reading, Laguna Beach would join Irvine, Laguna Hills and Mission Viejo as Orange County's fourth city to pass such a law. About 100 California cities have similar laws, according to Laguna Beach Police Chief Paul Workman.

Many speakers who addressed the council were against the law, which they say doesn't properly address the larger issue of teen drinking and drug use.

Opponents also asserted concerns about the law sidestepping Fourth Amendment rights protecting against unreasonable searches and a decrease in necessary 911 calls because callers would be afraid to alert police because adults could be held accountable.

"We do not support minor drinking, but we don't think it's helpful to burden the police with the role of parenting our children," said Glenn Rogers, a vocal opponent.

Sarah Koops Vanderveen, who called the law "anti-family and anti-community," alleged parents serving alcohol to their kids would be able to evade detection while parents who don't know alcohol is being served on their property would be punished.

Michael Maxsenti, a local coach, said the ordinance would protect children from irresponsible parents.

"What this ordinance addresses is the fact that you as a parent have the right to deal with your children," he said.

County Supervisor-elect Todd Spitzer, Orange County Deputy District Atty. Anna McIntire, the Community Coalition and a representative from Mothers Against Drunk Driving also spoke in favor.

McIntire prosecutes DUIs and vehicular crimes. The ordinance is not redundant and would bridge the gap with state law, she said.

Spitzer added that Laguna Beach has the highest number of DUI arrests per capita statewide.

However, police pointed out that the ordinance targets irresponsible parents, not drunken driving specifically.

Ordinance supporter Kim de St. Paer, who is on the HIV Advisory Committee at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, said alcohol abuse is a contributing factor when some Laguna-area students test positive for HIV.

Resident Mary Dolphin lost her brother to alcoholism and noted that drinking was introduced to him at a friend's house.

Ordinance opponent Tijana Hamilton said wording in the law is confusing, such as hosts being recommended to I.D. their guests and control the amount of alcohol served in their homes during gatherings.

Andrew Landsiedel, a Laguna High School senior and son of a school board member, questioned whether students are really having an issue with drugs and alcohol and the ordinance's potential effectiveness.

"Although I love my son, I disagree with him," his dad, William Landsiedel, said. "We as adults need to be held to a higher standard."

Council members advised their staff to revise the ordinance with specific wording, including that the host to be 21 or older and draft an immunity clause for 911 callers. Language addressing Fourth Amendment protections are in the current wording.

They also asked for more specificity in the ordinance regarding a class as an option for a first offense. The fine would be $1,000 for the second offense, which would constitute a misdemeanor.

"I wish we could handle this with personal responsibility but not everyone is being personally responsible," Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said.

This is not a penalty against the children, this is a penalty against adults, Mayor Jane Egly said.

The second reading is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 4, according to the city.

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