County Delays Action on Hosts Who Allow Underage Drinking

'Social Host Ordinance' would fine first-time offenders $750, and future offenses would be misdemeanor criminal charges.

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer (right) has proposed an ordinance holding responsible adults for allowing underage drinking on their property. Photo/OCGov.com
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer (right) has proposed an ordinance holding responsible adults for allowing underage drinking on their property. Photo/OCGov.com
By City News Service

Orange County supervisors, concerned about encroaching on civil liberties, postponed action Tuesday on holding adults accountable for underage drinking on their property.

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a former police officer and prosecutor, proposed an ordinance and lined up testimonials from supporters, including Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and a woman whose daughter was killed by a drunken driver.

The Social Host Ordinance would provide for fining offenders $750 for a first offense and handling future offenses as a misdemeanor criminal charge.

Property owners who lease their land or act as landlords would not be held accountable for underage drinking if they were unaware of it.

Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo and Orange have similar ordinances. Other counties with similar ordinances include Contra Costa, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Ventura.    

Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson and Supervisor Patricia Bates raised questions about the potential for violating civil liberties. The supervisors voted to keep working on the legislation to address those issues and schedule it for a vote Dec. 10.

Spitzer recalled the death of his chief of staff Steve Ambriz, a former Orange City Councilman killed by a drunken driver in 2006.

"I vowed from then on I would focus a lot of my elective office energies on what I could do to reduce drunken driving," Spitzer said. "This is one more approach. ... It's not the ultimate solution. It's not a magic pill. There's no such thing."

Garden Grove police Chief Kevin Raney said a similar ordinance approved in his city four months ago made it easier for officers to enforce against underage drinking laws.

"There's a gap in the law" against underage drinking, because (the state statute) requires officers to witness an adult giving liquor to a minor, Raney said.

Marilyn Ellis of Mothers Against Drunk Driving told the supervisors how her daughter, Kimberly, was a casualty of a drunken driver in 1997.

"The pain never goes away," Ellis said.

Ellis, a former high school teacher, told the board that some of her students would rationalize their drinking by saying they did it at home with the blessing of their parents, and that enabled them to avoid arrests.     A coach would give his football players booze after a game if they won, she said.

"I feel, as a personal victim of this, that this needs to be passed," Ellis said.

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach raised the question of whether new laws were needed.

"Don't we already have laws prohibiting minors from drinking?" Moorlach asked.

Bates noted that the county has a problem in the coastal cities with minors having prescription pill parties, using narcotics often taken from their parents. She asked why Spitzer's ordinance did not extend to prescription narcotics.

"I didn't want to give more off-ramps at this point," Spitzer said. "I didn't want to bite off more than I could chew at this point."

Nelson took a more libertarian view of the issue and emphasized that existing laws regarding substance abuse were enough.

"I have a real concern when we start talking about making one adult responsible for the behavior of a minor," Nelson said. "Providing alcohol to a minor is already illegal. Drinking and driving is already illegal .... Our system is not set up to give police unbridled authority to go into people's houses. There are civil liberties for a good reason. What's next? I thought I saw someone drinking?... If more laws were the answer then we wouldn't have a drug problem in this country. There's a drug problem in prison for God's sakes."

Sam Mamola November 06, 2013 at 01:21 AM
What is the definition of "allow"? That's the Achilles heel. Parents go on vacation for a week, and the kids throw a little party and someone brings a bottle, a case, or a keg. Is that "allow"? Or the parents go out, turn a blind eye, and say, "Do whatever you want." Is that "allow"? They need to be very clear on if it is a specific intent crime, or a general intent crime.


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