Council adopts social host law

Laguna Beach is now the fourth city in Orange County to enact a social host law, aimed at stopping adults from providing alcoholic beverages to minors.

The City Council on Tuesday approved the hotly debated ordinance that will penalize adults caught knowingly supplying kids with booze. First-time offenders will receive a civil citation and be required to attend counseling sessions. Those who refuse will be fined $1,000. Subsequent violations will be misdemeanors, which could lead to jail time as well as a $1,000 fine set by state law.

The law, which has split the community, also split the council, with newly elected Mayor Kelly Boyd and newly installed Councilman Steven Dicterow opposed.

"I can't support this ordinance tonight, and I am sorry about that," Dicterow said. "There can be no greater service to the community than stopping teenage drinking, but I don't think this will do it."

Boyd, who voted for the ordinance as presented in November, reversed his position, partly because of the limited number of Laguna families believed to routinely supply alcohol to minors.

"There is a drinking problem in Laguna Beach," Boyd said. "We know that, but I am having a hard time with this. We keep passing laws that don't work. Unless you can show me that this will work, I am not going to vote for it."

A six-month review will be held to review the efficacy of the ordinance, which was solidly supported by the Community Coalition and the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

"We can't solve the problem by ourselves," said District Supt. Sherine Smith, one of the 32 members of the audience who spoke at the hearing. "It is not our responsibility to teach kids to drink responsibly. I don't hear as much comment about reducing drinking as about adverse consequences to adults."

More audience members opposed the ordinance, but supporter Pam Estes said it is one way to reduce minors' access to alcohol.

"Bottom line — teenage drinking is illegal, and the No. 1 way kids are accessing liquor is from their own homes," Estes said.

She said it comes down to risking the effects of alcohol consumption on children or taking a stand against illegal behavior and supporting the ordinance.

Student Schuyler Vanderveen, who equated the ordinance with advice on sexual abstinence, said neither works.

"Kids still do these things," said Vanderveen, whose mother, father and brother also spoke against the ordinance.

Opponents raised the specter of unintended consequences.

Resident Emil Monda said he shut down a party at his home when he discovered minors were imbibing vodka. One of the guests, who refused his offer of a ride home, drove off and got into a traffic accident.

Monda was sued by the victims.

"The case was dismissed, but we were dragged through a court case, " Monda said. "This ordinance will give attorneys another arrow in their quiver."

Opponents also voiced concerns that the ordinance would have a chilling effect on calls for help for incapacitated minors. Laguna's ordinance deals with that by making 911 callers for medical assistance immune from prosecution.

The goal of the ordinance is to stop alcohol consumption by minors, but it may have the opposite effect and worse, opponents said.

Laguna Beach High School sophomore Guiles Clemente, 16, predicted that the ordinance would increase teenage drinking during the school year.

"If you want to prevent something, you must attack the demand for that thing, not the supply of it," said Adam Redding-Kaufman, a Laguna Beach High School graduate, now attending Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

Besides, opponents said, state law makes Laguna's ordinance redundant.

Police Chief Paul Workman rebutted that statement.

The ordinance gives the city more local control, Workman said. However, he assured the council that officers were not going to be overzealous, barring pressing circumstances.

"Yes, there is a state law, but if we want to prosecute, we are at the bottom of the priority list," said Elizabeth Pearson, who was elevated Tuesday to mayor pro tem. "We don't want to be at the bottom. We want to take control."

The law is due to go into effect 30 days from Tuesday.

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