LANCASTER – The City Council approved a Social Host Ordinance at Tuesday evening’s meeting, addressing not only the problem of local underage drinking but adults who supply alcohol to youth.
The council voted at its meeting to amend Lancaster municipal code by adding a chapter addressing nuisance gatherings and creating social host accountability.
The new Social Host Ordinance goes into effect Aug. 13, 2015, and seeks to penalize adults who knowingly host, permit, or allow youth under age 21 to consume alcohol in a social setting.
Adults, whether family members or other adults, will think twice about providing alcohol to underage youth now that a local ordinance supports a fine of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second offense.
“The Social Host Ordinance makes it illegal to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place, regardless of who provides the alcohol,” Jennifer Galarze, a health educator and outreach worker for the non-profit Tarzana Treatment Centers in Lancaster, stated. She clarified that “the Social Host Ordinance does not make it against the law to furnish alcohol to individuals under the age of 21 – that’s already illegal.”
According to the language of the new ordinance, its purpose is to “protect the public health, safety and general welfare by reducing the occurrence of inadequately supervised and unruly gatherings, by holding persons responsible who allow, encourage, are aware of or should be aware of such gatherings, including but not limited to those where alcoholic beverages are consumed by underage persons.”
The ordinance defines “persons responsible” as an owner or tenant where a gathering is taking place, a person organizing or hosting the gathering, or even a person who is receiving money or consideration for granting access to the gathering.
Galarze said the ordinance is necessary because teens and young adults still find it easy to access alcoholic beverages in social settings – despite laws already in place to prohibit minors from obtaining alcohol.
“Such gatherings have been shown to provide easy access and availability for underage and binge drinking,” said Galarze, who helped advocate for the ordinance along with the Antelope Valley Alcohol Prevention Coalition. “The adoption of the Social Host Ordinance will penalize adults who willingly provide an environment for underage drinking within the City of Lancaster.”
Galarze said the AVAPC has worked with the Lancaster City Council to pass the ordinance since late 2012. The Lancaster-based coalition, which aims to prevent and reduce underage drinking in the Antelope Valley through community awareness, realizes how seriously underage drinking affects public health and safety.
Information provided by the group shows just how much of a problem underage drinking has become in the Antelope Valley.
A March 2012 Substance Abuse Prevention & Control youth survey, which polled 95 Lancaster youth between 12 and 17 years of age, revealed that 54.7 percent of local youth report that “it is easy to obtain alcohol.”
Youth from the survey reported multiple ways of getting alcoholic beverages, including parties, their own homes, from adults at friends’ homes, or from friends or other teenagers.
Additionally, the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station in 2013-2014 responded to 7,095 calls related to unruly gatherings that cost the city $360,000 annually.
Public opinion appears to embrace the new Social Host Ordinance. According to Galarze, a 2015 Antelope Valley Community Survey of 104 local residents revealed 95.2 percent (99 respondents) would “support a law that penalizes adults who illegally provide alcohol to youth,” while 1.9 percent (2) said no, and 2.9 percent (3) said they were unsure.
Out of the same pool of respondents, 70.2 percent (73) said they would report to authorities a gathering that served alcohol to youth if they knew about such activities, whereas 4.8 percent (5) said they would not report the party to authorities, and 25 percent (26) said they were unsure.
Aside from the immediate negative impacts to public health and safety, the coalition is also concerned with alcohol’s association with problem behaviors that include “risky sexual activity, fights, vandalism, drinking and driving, poor academic performance and illicit drug use,” Galarze stated in a media release.
Adopted in 2008, Lancaster’s Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance was designed to reduce the number of law enforcement service calls concerning disruptive social gatherings.
The ordinance was intended to deter property owners and others responsible for disruptive gatherings by charging them for the cost of law enforcement services associated with such service calls.
Now amended to include social host accountability, the financial penalties associated with the ordinance’s administrative citation program are expected to “streamline the procedures of the chronic nuisance property ordinance while continuing to focus on reducing the number of LASD calls for service concerning unruly gatherings.”
The citation is a misdemeanor, and responsible persons may file a written appeal with the City Manager within 10 calendar days from the date of being cited.