San Luis Obispo’s new social host ordinance may cause some party planners to rethink who they’ll be including on their guest list starting next month.
Starting May 8, San Luis Obispo’s revised social host ordinance will hold party hosts legally and fiscally responsible for underage drinking at their home. This modified ordinance states that any host of a party where three or more minors are present , and at least one minor is drinking alcohol, will be charged with committing a misdemeanor and could face jail time along with a fine.
The first citation issued to a host includes a $350 fine, plus a “penalty assessment” and a number of additional fees that typically make the total fine considerably higher, San Luis Obispo Police Department Operations Captain Dan Blanke said. The second offense within a 12-month period raises the fine to $700 and the third offense hits $1,000. Under California state law, minors who possess alcohol are also guilty of the misdemeanor and can be arrested or cited.
The original ordinance, passed in 2001, enabled police to issue an infraction and a first-citation fine of $100 to people who hosted parties with five or more minors in attendance with at least three consuming alcohol. However, in the past eight years, only five infractions have been issued. According to Blanke, officers had a difficult time identifying five minors within a reasonable period of time.
“The new ordinance is expected to be much more enforceable from our perspective,” Blanke said. “The new requirement of identifying only three minors means it can be accomplished with fewer officers.”
When the ordinance was first approved, the Associated Students Inc. Board of Directors issued a statement in opposition to such a law, placing the responsibility of underage drinking on the minor.
ASI’s current Board of Directors has not yet released a formal statement regarding its position on the issue, but ASI president Angela Kramer said that everyone is “on board” with the new ordinance. She said she supports the recent regulations.
“I’m not in any way an abstinence advocate,” Kramer said. “In my opinion, the goal is not to stop underage drinking altogether; it’s to create a safe and responsible environment.”
The new ordinance aims to control the “free-for-all” parties around Cal Poly that sometimes result in people getting hurt, she added.
Frank Warren, prevention programs supervisor for San Luis Obispo County Drug and Alcohol Services, agreed that the main focus of the new ordinance is to crackdown on the larger parties where people are getting injured.
“The point is not to punish a group of roommates watching the Super Bowl, where one of them is 20 years old and holding a beer,” Warren said. “Parties where high-risk behaviors occur will be most affected, he said.
“The parties that the social host ordinance will actually affect are the ones where we’re actually seeing the most high-risk behaviors that sometimes end up with violence, fights, sexual assault, rape, memory loss and then unfortunately sometimes overdose and even death.”
Warren related the adult and minor’s responsibility to the responsibility of a bartender, saying that both bartenders and party hosts are held responsible for serving alcohol.
“(Bartenders) are trained to know when a person has had too much and is potentially dangerous,” Warren said. “A party host needs to be held to some accountability since they are providing the same drug — however, without training or regulation.”
Cities throughout California have adopted similar ordinances, some with harsher consequences. Violating Santa Barbara’s social host ordinance results in a $1,000 civil penalty for the first citation. A second offense totals a fine up to $2,000.