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February 10, 2010 > Social host ordinance introduced

Social host ordinance introduced

By Dustin Findley

On January 5, Milpitas Police Chief Dennis Graham presented Council with various initiatives to curb the incidence of teenage binge drinking. He was directed to present a "social host" ordinance for Council's consideration.

Such an ordinance holds people liable for holding, or allowing others to host, events involving underage consumption of alcohol on property they own, lease or control liable. At least, 29 cities and counties in California have such ordinances. In Santa Clara County, Gilroy, Los Gatos, Palo Alto and Morgan Hill have such ordinances.

Council introduced a social host ordinance on February 2. It imposes criminal liability and recovery of City response costs.

Adults, who knowingly host an underage drinking party or who reasonably should have known such an event would occur, could face criminal prosecution for a misdemeanor or infraction. Misdemeanor convictions carry fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Infractions will attract fines up to $500 with no imprisonment.

The city will be able to recover the direct costs associated with complaints and/or injuries and damage to public property arising at an underage drinking party, viz. the costs of police, firefighters and other public services.

In the event that a property owner does not pay fines or city costs, the city will record them as liens against the property.

The social host ordinance will take effect 30 days after its introduction.

"I believe the ordinance is needed to deter drinking parties involving minors and juveniles less than 21 years of age," stated Chief Graham.

"The new ordinance itself not only deters adults, homeowners and landlords from 'looking the other way,' and holds them accountable for holding or allowing these parties, but the act of creating the ordinance also helps to publicize this issue and remind the public of the dangers of underage drinking.

"As we've seen in other cities, those dangers range from death from alcohol poisoning to assaults (by intoxicated suspects or victims rendered helpless by alcohol, or both) to acts of vandalism committed by intoxicated juveniles, along with a whole host of other social problems caused by underage drinking.

"I think it's great that our city is addressing this problem before one of these incidents becomes a newspaper headline, rather than as a result of such a headline," concluded Chief Graham.

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