Parents may be on the hook for teen drinking

Huntington Beach parents could potentially be fined for serving alcohol to minors at gatherings.

Council members voted Tuesday night to add a social hosting ordinance to the city's "loud party" law, giving police the ability to fine those who knowingly serve alcohol to underage persons.

Preliminary approval of the item, submitted by Councilman Joe Carchio, passed in a 5-2 vote, with Councilwoman Jill Hardy and Mayor Pro Tem Matt Harper dissenting.

"The kids in high school are begging for something to be in place," Carchio said, believing that teens will feel safer going to parties knowing that a law would deter parents from serving alcohol. "This is just another tool for the police."

If passed in a future meeting, hosts could be fined a flat fee of $250, but administrative fees could possibly tack on up to $750 for first-time violators.

Hardy said she doesn't want to encourage underage drinking, but thinks adding on another layer to existing laws isn't necessary.

"The potential for a parent being accused of hosting [a party with alcohol] when they're not just seems too strong here," she said. "I can come up with a lot of scenarios where parents genuinely have no idea but then they get accused of serving alcohol to minors."

Harper shared the same concerns Hardy had, with his biggest concern being the amount of "unintended consequences" this ordinance could possibly have.

Of the 21 speakers at the meeting, only one person raised concerns about the issue, asking the council not to pass the ordinance.

"The issue of serving alcohol to children is covered by state criminal code already, contributing to the delinquency of minors," said Howard Hills, a resident who was a former navy officer and worked in the National Security Council during the Reagan administration.

Hills added that since the amendment focuses on alcohol consumption only, it could possibly create reasons for "irresponsible adults who want to party with kids to use marijuana and prescription drugs."

"We haven't had a cross-section of stakeholders or interested parties comment on this," Harper said. "If this were to be proposed at the legislative level, there would be a wide variety of people that would take an interest."

Harper believes it isn't just the city's responsibility to stop underage drinking and that parents and residents need to work with police to curb the issue.

"It isn't just about the police department, it's about who approaches the police department; how do people react with each other," he said. "This isn't just a situation for the city to tackle. It's a situation for all of us to tackle. The disagreement here is simply: do we need another law in order to tackle this or how do we approach the existing law?"

The mayor pro tem also had concerns that the item was brought forth by a council member and not someone from city staff, but Carchio argued that he submitted the item after being approached by "many people in the community and also members of the PTA."

"We're policy makers. We can help this situation," Carchio said. "We should be arguing about whether we're taking rights away. We're not taking any rights from anybody. Follow the law. Don't serve alcohol to kids."

Hardy was ready to face the backlash she anticipated to receive from angry parents, but she was firm about her decision to not agree with the amendment. As a teacher, she said she approaches this issue with her students on a daily basis, but thinks the ordinance will not help the situation.

"You can go ahead and label me any way you want about this, but it's because of my thoughtfulness that makes me concerned about this ordinance and that's why I'm voting against it," she said. "That's my vote. It's going to be real easy to label me poorly. Feel free, people have. I'll be OK."

The item will be up for final approval at the March 4 meeting.

Twitter: @acocarpio

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