Social Host Ordinance

A Social Host Ordinance is needed to address the problem of underage drinking facilitated by adults. Recent events in our county continue to emphasize that underage drinking is a problem.

(The full text of the proposed ordinance is available at the end of this document.)

Purpose of Ordinance

The Social Host Ordinance has two purposes:

  1. To make it an infraction or misdemeanor for social hosts who knowingly allow minors to obtain, posses, or consume alcoholic beverages at parties held at private residences or private premises,
  2. To recover costs of law enforcement response, and litigation if applicable.

Background

The Social Host Ordinance is being developed as a part of the Drug Free Communities Program, a project of the Interagency Steering Committee (ISC). The ISC is a collaborative of public sector agencies with representation from community and faith-based organizations serving children and families in Imperial County (http://isc.icoe.org/). The development of the Ordinance in Imperial County began with the sample cities ordinance used by 13 of 18 cities in San Diego County. Update 03-09-06. The ordinance format has been edited from the sample. The most significant changes are:

  • The ordinance targets alcohol only-not controlled substances because of advice from our District Attorney’s Office regarding jurisdiction issues related to drug arrest,
  • Penalties are applied only when responsible adults know of the illegal conduct involving minors and alcohol, all reference to “or should have known” have been removed based on a recent court ruling involving a San Diego County case, and
  • The ordinance has a broader range of penalties that are described in the following section.

Penalties

The Social Host Ordinance proposes the following penalties:

  1. Any person who knowingly sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to a minor is guilty of an infraction/misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.00 and shall be required to perform not less than 24 hours of community service.
  2. Any person who knowingly violates subdivision (1) above and the minor thereafter consumes the alcoholic beverage and thereby proximately causes great bodily injury or death to himself, herself, or any other person, is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a term not to exceed one year, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine.
  3. Any act of willful misconduct of a minor that results in injury or death to another person or in injury to the property of another shall be imputed to the parent or guardian having custody and control of the minor for all purposes of civil damages, and the parent or guardian having custody and control shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor for any damages resulting from the willful misconduct.
  4. A social host who knowingly serves alcoholic beverages to a minor guest may be held liable for injuries sustained by third parties, including County law enforcement personnel, as a result of the minor guest's negligence.

Enforcement

This Social Host Ordinance is for the unincorporated area of the county which proposes that enforcement and prosecution be the Sheriff and District Attorney. (The version of the ordinance for the cities would be changed to the police department and city attorney.) This ordinance has been changed based on law enforcement input to reduce the enforcement and litigation burdens.

Why the Ordinance is Needed

The ordinance is needed for two reasons: law enforcement has inadequate enforcement authority to respond to underage drinking on private property and the damage underage drinking does to developing brains. In California, there is no law that makes it illegal for a minor to consume alcoholic beverages or to have alcoholic beverages in a place not open to the public. Without a law or ordinance, underage drinking in private places is difficult for law enforcement to address.

This proposed ordinance would fill the gap in the law by prohibiting consumption of alcohol by minors in both public places and places not open to the public (with named exceptions: i.e., religious services and with a parent). The proposed ordinance has the additional deterrence of violations being up to a misdemeanor offense with possible fines up to $1,000, community services of at least 24 hours, and jail time up to six months; and with cost recovery for law enforcement response to rowdy parties involving minors and alcohol; and recovery of cost in case of litigation.

Underage drinking is a part of our local culture from birthday celebrations to after football game parties. Local police chiefs’ report multiple call outs each weekend to rowdy underage drinking parties during the school year especially after football games. Many parents speak about the safety of having their children partying at home. It is all part of the general acceptance that kids will experiment with alcohol that perpetuates the underage drinking problem.

How big is the problem of underage drinking at parties hosted at private homes? The City Chief's of Police tell us it is a significant recurring problem. The ISC wanted to know if this was an issue of concern to the community. We surveyed 343 local adults at the 2005 Fair about underage drinking and the social host ordinance. Adults were asked if they supported the concept of a social host ordinance - 69% did, 11% did not, and the balance were uncertain. (click here for Fair survey results)

We can also look to local California Healthy Kids Survey information collected from 4,403 local 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th grade students to see whether students used “experimented” with alcohol in the last 30 days. Their responses are summarized below and compared to the national responses from “The Monitoring the Future Study” conducted by the University of Michigan in 2003. This local data shows a lot of experimenting with alcohol.

2003 Alcohol Use Last 30 Days in Imperial County compared to National Averages

Grade Level Imperial County % of Alcohol Use last 30 Days National Averages, (Monitoring the Future Study) % of Alcohol Use last 30 Days
5th 7%  
7th 8th 16% 19.7%
9th 10th 30% 35.4%
11th 12th 45% 47.5%

(Click this link to access more local data and information about brain development.)

Beyond the issue that local youth are experimenting with alcohol, there is new research on brain development providing convincing evidence that the process continues well into our twenty’s. The brain continues to go through dynamic change during adolescence, and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes. Frontal lobe development and the refinement of pathways and connections continue until age 16, and a high rate of energy is used as the brain matures until age 20. This damage from alcohol can be long-term and irreversible. In addition, short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. Research shows that adolescents need only drink half as much to suffer the same negative effects. Higher brain functions continue to develop well into the mid 20s and it is also adversely impacted by alcohol consumption.

To put brain damage-development in perspective with underage drinking trends, researchers have found that the average age of a child’s first drink is now 12 (7th grade), and that nearly 20 percent of 12 to 20 year-olds are considered binge drinkers (5 or more drinks in 2 hours), and that youth who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics.


Underage Drinking is a D.U.M.B. Decision
(Drinking Underage Maims the Brain)
Fact Sheet from an American Medical Association Report on Alcohol’s Adverse Effects on the Brains of Children, Adolescents and College Students

Harmful Consequences of Alcohol Use on the Brains of Children, Adolescents, and College Students is a compilation and summary of two decades of comprehensive research on how alcohol affects the brains of youth. The report’s aggregation of extensive scientific and medical information reveals just how harmful drinking is to the developing brain and serves as a wakeup call to parents, physicians, elected officials, law enforcement, purveyors of alcohol – including the alcohol industry – and young drinkers themselves.

Why is this report important?

The average age of a child’s first drink is now 12,1 and nearly 20 percent of 12 to 20 year-olds are considered binge drinkers.2 While many believe that underage drinking is an inevitable "rite of passage" that adolescents can easily recover from because their bodies are more resilient, the opposite is true.

The Adolescent Brain

The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence, and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes. Frontal lobe development and the refinement of pathways and connections continue until age 16, and a high rate of energy is used as the brain matures until age 20. Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible.3 In addition, short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much to suffer the same negative effects.4

Drinkers vs. Non-Drinkers: Research Findings

  • Adolescent drinkers scored worse than non-users on vocabulary, general information, memory, memory retrieval and at least three other tests5
  • Verbal and nonverbal information recall was most heavily affected, with a 10 percent performance decrease in alcohol users6
  • Significant neuropsychological deficits exist in early to middle adolescents (ages 15 and 16) with histories of extensive alcohol use7
  • Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence
  • Alcohol affects the sleep cycle, resulting in impaired learning and memory as well as disrupted release of hormones necessary for growth and maturation8
  • Alcohol use increases risk of stroke among young drinkers9

Adverse Effects of Alcohol on the Brain: Research Findings

Youth who drink can have a significant reduction in learning and memory, and teen alcohol users are most susceptible to damaging two key brain areas that are undergoing dramatic changes in adolescence:

  • The hippocampus handles many types of memory and learning and suffers from the worst alcohol-related brain damage in teens. Those who had been drinking more and for longer had significantly smaller hippocampi (10 percent).10
  • The prefrontal area (behind the forehead) undergoes the most change during adolescence. Researchers found that adolescent drinking could cause severe changes in this area and others, which play an important role in forming adult personality and behavior and is often called the CEO of the brain.11

Lasting Implications

Compared to students who drink moderately or not at all, frequent drinkers may never be able to catch up in adulthood, since alcohol inhibits systems crucial for storing new information as long-term memories and makes it difficult to immediately remember what was just learned. Additionally, those who binge once a week or increase their drinking from age 18 to 24 may have problems attaining the goals of young adulthood—marriage, educational attainment, employment, and financial independence.12 And rather than “outgrowing” alcohol use, young abusers are significantly more likely to have drinking problems as adults.13

For full text go to: http://www.alcoholpolicysolutions.net/pdf/brain3.pdf

1. Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Results from the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Volume I. Summary of National Findings.” 1998.

2 .Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Results from the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Volume I. Summary of National Findings.” 2002.

3 .Brown SA, Tapert SF, Granholm E, Delis DC (2000). Neurocognitive functioning of adolescents: Effects of protracted alcohol use. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 24(2): 164-171.

4. Pyapali GK, Turner DA, Wilson WA, and Swartzwelder, SH (1999). Age and dose-dependent effects of ethanol on the induction of hippocampal long-term potentiation. Alcohol. 19(2): 107-11.

5. Brown SA, Tapert SF, Granholm E, Delis DC (2000). Neurocognitive Functioning of Adolescents: Effects of Protracted Alcohol Use. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 24(2): 164-171.

6. Id.

7 .Tapert SF and Brown SA (1999). Neuropsychological correlates of adolescent substance abuse: Four-year outcomes. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. 5: 481-93.

8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Alert, No. 41: Alcohol and Sleep. July 1998.

9 .Seppa K and Sillanaukee P (1999). Binge drinking and ambulatory blood pressure. Hypertension. 33: 79-82.

10. DeBellis MD, et al (2000). Hippocampal volume in adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry. 157(5): 737-744.

11. Crews FT, Braun CJ, Hoplight B, Switzer RC, Knapp DJ (2000). Binge ethanol consumption causes differential brain damage in young adolescent rats compared with adult rats. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 24(11): 1712-23.

12. Schulenberg J, O’Malley PM, Bachman JF, Wadsworth KN and Johnston LD (1996). Getting drunk and growing up: Trajectories of frequent binge drinking during the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 57(3): 289-304.


Review of Ordinance to Date

The Local Coordinating Committee, Interagency Steering Committee, Local Law Enforcement Coordination Council, Superintendents of Schools, County Counsel and the District Attorney’s Office have reviewed and been part of refining the ordinance.

The review to date has revealed that there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of underage drinking. The Police Chiefs said that their departments regularly responded to rowdy house parties with underage drinking. It was not uncommon to make more than one response to the same party and it was not uncommon to have multiple parties going on in an evening. Law enforcement agreed that there is definitely a problem in the valley with underage drinking. There were, however, serious concerns that there were no resources to enforce the ordinance and that it would create unreasonable expectations in the community. The prosecution aspect was even a bigger issue. The DA, County Counsel, and City Attorneys do not have the resources to complete their current workloads. The ordinance would need to be very carefully crafted to be enforceable with minimal additional burden or threat of litigation.

As a result of the review, many changes have been made in the ordinance. The “absent parent-social host” and the social host that unknowingly provided alcohol to minors initially was one of the debated issues. It was resolved through research of case outcomes in San Diego County where the court clarified that the social host had to know. The enforcement and litigation costs; infraction versus misdemeanor; fines and amounts of community services and or jail time have been other points of concern for some of our reviewers. The ordinance has been refined to address consensus concerns.

What Else Have We Planned in Connection with the Ordinance

Once we receive Board approval of the ordinance, we will have teams of people to take the ordinance to each of the cities for approval. The teams will be lead by volunteers from the Local Coordinating Committee (LCC-http://www.icoe.k12.ca.us/ISC/Local+Coordinating+Committee-LCC.htm) who will recruit parents, students, school personnel, and law enforcement to support the presentation of the ordinance to the city councils. The ordinance will be provided again to the chief of police and the city manager for review and scheduling for the city council. The education component for this ordinance will consist of fliers for high school students/parents, media kits for the press, schools, law enforcement, and the public.


The proposed ordinance for Imperial County was taken from an ordinance originally drafted by San Diego County. The proposed ordinance has been changed to:

  • apply to alcohol only (drug and other substance abuse has been eliminated based on advice from the Imperial County DA’s Office about jurisdictional enforcement complications); and
  • be enforced only when the social host knew that minors were engaged in illegal conduct.

AN ORDINANCE OF THE COUNTY OF IMPERIAL IMPOSING LIABILITY ON SOCIAL HOSTS WHO ALLOW MINORS TO OBTAIN, POSSESS, OR CONSUME ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES

ORDINANCE NO. _____

The Board of Supervisors of the County of Imperial ordains as follows:

Section 1. The Board of Supervisors finds and determines that minors often obtain, possess, or consume alcoholic beverages at parties held at private residences or private premises that are under the control of an adult who knows of the illegal conduct but fails to stop the conduct. The Board of Supervisors further finds that underage drinking results in an increase in alcohol abuse by minors, physical altercations, and violent crimes including rape and other sexual offenses, accidental injury, neighborhood vandalism, and excessive noise disturbance, all of which may require intervention by law enforcement. This ordinance imposes civil and criminal liability on adults who own or control the private residence or private premises and fail to properly supervise or stop minors from obtaining, possessing, or consuming alcoholic beverages. It further requires reimbursement for the costs associated with enforcement including reasonable attorneys' fees in the event of litigation.

Section 2. A new Chapter 8.77 of Title 8 is hereby added to the Codified Ordinances of the County of Imperial to read as follows:

CHAPTER 8.77: SOCIAL HOST ORDINANCE CONCERNING CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES BY MINORS

Section 8.77.010 FINDINGS AND INTENT.

The Board of Supervisors of the County of Imperial finds and declares that:

(a) Minors often obtain, possess, or consume alcoholic beverages at parties held at private residences or private premises that are under the control of an adult who knows of such conduct but fails to stop it.

(b) Underage consumption of alcoholic beverages poses an immediate threat to the public health, safety and welfare in that it increases alcohol abuse by minors, physical altercations, violent crimes including rape and other sexual offenses, accidental injury, neighborhood vandalism, and excessive noise disturbance, all of which may require intervention by local law enforcement.

(c) When law enforcement responds to a disturbance involving underage consumption of alcoholic beverages at private parties, extensive resources are often used to manage the incident. Further, a large social gathering that requires law enforcement attention takes away valuable resources from other service calls in the community, thereby placing the community at increased risk. Law enforcement is not currently reimbursed for their expenses when called to a private party.

(d) The prohibitions found in this chapter are reasonable and expected to deter the consumption of alcoholic beverages by minors by holding responsible adults who know of the illegal conduct yet fail to stop it. In addition, the revenue received by the County after cost reimbursement will be directed toward alcohol and controlled substance abuse and prevention education programs in the community.

Section 8.77.020. DEFINITIONS.

The terms used in this ordinance have the meaning provided by state law except as expressly provided herein.

(a) "Adult" means any person twenty-one (21) years or over.

(b) "Alcohol" means ethyl alcohol, hydrated oxide of ethyl, or spirits of wine, from whatever source or by whatever process produced.

(c) "Alcoholic beverage" includes alcohol, spirits, liquor, wine, beer, and every liquid or solid containing alcohol, spirits, wine, or beer, and which contains one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume and which is fit for beverage purposes either alone or when diluted, mixed, or combined with other substances.

(d) "Enforcement services" means the actual amount of time spent by law enforcement personnel in responding to, or in remaining at, a party, gathering, or event at which a minor obtains, possesses, or uses alcoholic beverages including, but not limited to, the salaries and benefits of such personnel; the actual cost of medical treatment incurred by such personnel; administrative costs attributable to the incident; the cost of repairing and/or replacing any damaged County property; and any other allowable costs related to the enforcement of this ordinance.

(e) "Family gathering" means a gathering where each minor present is supervised by his or her parent or legal guardian.

(f) "Legal guardian" means a person who is lawfully vested with the power and charged with the duty of taking care of a minor.

(g) "Juvenile" means any person less than eighteen (18) years of age.

(h) "Minor" means any person under the age of twenty-one (21) years.

(i) "Parent" includes any person who is a natural parent, an adoptive parent, a foster parent, or a stepparent.

(j) "Party" means a gathering or event at which a group assembles for a social occasion or activity at a private residence or private premises.

(k) "Person(s) responsible for the event" includes, but is not limited to: (1) The person(s) who owns, rents, leases, or otherwise has control of the premises where the party, gathering or event takes place; (2) the person(s) in charge of the premises; or (3) the person(s) who organized the event. (If the property or premises is rented, the landlord is not covered by this ordinance unless they are described in (2) or (3) in this paragraph.) If a person responsible for the event is a juvenile, then the parents or guardians of that juvenile will be jointly and severally liable for the costs incurred for enforcement services pursuant to this chapter.

(l) "Private residence" means the place where one actually lives or has his or her home.

(m) "Private premises" means privately owned land, including any appurtenances or structures on the land.

(n) "Social host" is an adult who permits a party where one or more minors consume one or more alcoholic beverages on property owned or controlled by the adult.

Section 8.77.030. PROHIBITION.

No adult who owns or controls a private residence or private premises shall allow a party to take place or continue at said residence or premises if a minor at the party obtains, possesses, or consumes any alcoholic beverage and the adult knows that the minor has obtained, possesses, or is consuming alcoholic beverages at the party.

Section 8.77.040. PROTECTED ACTIVITIES.

This ordinance shall not apply to legally protected religious activities or family gatherings.

Section 8.77.050. SEPARATE VIOLATION FOR EACH INCIDENT.

Each incident in violation of section 8.77.030 shall constitute a separate offense.

Section 8.77.060. ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITY.

The District Attorney and the Sheriff are authorized to administer and enforce the provisions of this chapter. The District Attorney and the Sheriff may exercise any enforcement powers provided by law.

Section 8.77.070. ENFORCEMENT REMEDIES.

(a) Any person who knowingly sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to a minor is guilty of an infraction/misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.00 and shall be required to perform not less than 24 hours of community service.

(b) Any person who knowingly violates subdivision (a) above and the minor thereafter consumes the alcoholic beverage and thereby proximately causes great bodily injury or death to himself, herself, or any other person, is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a term not to exceed one year, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine.

(c) Any act of willful misconduct of a minor that results in injury or death to another person or in injury to the property of another shall be imputed to the parent or guardian having custody and control of the minor for all purposes of civil damages, and the parent or guardian having custody and control shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor for any damages resulting from the willful misconduct.

(d) A social host who knowingly serves alcoholic beverages to a minor guest may be held liable for injuries sustained by third parties, including County law enforcement personnel, as a result of the minor guest's negligence.

(e) A social host shall be liable for the cost of providing enforcement services in response to a party in which minors have obtained, possessed, or consumed alcoholic beverages. Such costs include reasonable attorneys' fees in the event of litigation.

Section 3. This ordinance shall take effect and be in force thirty days after its passage, and before the expiration of fifteen days after passage, a summary hereof shall be published once with the names of the members of this Board voting for and against it in a newspaper of general circulation published in the County of Imperial.

PASSED, ADOPTED AND APPROVED by the Board of Supervisors of the County of Imperial this ______ day of ___________________________, 2005.

shall be liable for the cost of providing enforcement services in of this Board voting for and against it in a newspaper of general circulation published in the County of ____________________.