Social Host Ordinance Produces Unintended Consequences

The Social Host Ordinance, a countywide regulation that would impose civil penalties on residents that provide alcohol to minors, should not have passed in its present form.

The SHO is supposedly intended to prevent high-school-aged minors from gaining access to alcohol at private parties. However, it lacks clear guidelines to prevent the law from being unduly directed at the Isla Vista community and will primarily affect UCSB and SBCC students.

Admittedly, the availability of alcohol at parties in Isla Vista poses a number of dangers and creates challenges to police and emergency personnel who work overtime to ensure the safety of the community. Isla Vista is an easily accessible college town — with the size and number of parties on any given weekend, underage students and out-of-towners frequently stumble into open festivities and have easy access to generous amounts of alcohol. The unfortunate reality is that random, unidentified minors frequently enter large parties and could cause problems for responsible tenants of the legal drinking age.

So, let’s face it — Isla Vista has a drinking problem, a drinking problem that could probably be remedied. But the SHO, despite its best intentions, will create more problems than it solves.

The IVFP has made a tremendous effort to reach out to the Isla Vista community and communicate their honest intention of guarding the safety of UCSB students. One example of that is the “Just Call 911” campaign, which encourages students to call 911 if someone displays the signs of alcohol poisoning or drug overdose.

But what the Board of Supervisors has failed to consider are the unintended consequences of this far-reaching regulation.

The SHO requires that residents take steps to ensure minors do not consume alcohol on their property. Failure to do so on a first offense will result in a $500 fine for each of the property owners and a 90-day educational training session. Unfortunately, what the SHO would also likely do is drive a wedge between Isla Vista’s residents and its law enforcement and emergency personnel.

It’s not too far-fetched to imagine that the presence of an intoxicated minor at a party would discourage residents from contacting the proper authorities in the case of an emergency. The significant fines spelled out by the SHO represent a noteworthy hit to a typical college student’s finances and would likely make students increasingly fearful of the consequences local authorities will levy on them once they notify the authorities that a minor has been drinking at their residence.

There are already a number of laws in place that punish and prevent underage and irresponsible drinking, such as Open Container, Driving Under the Influence and Minor in Possession citations. These laws constitute a generally accepted framework for what is permitted by people imbibing alcohol. However, Santa Barbara’s Social Host Ordinance falls a far cry behind because it fails to consider that Isla Vista is a unique region of the county that would be disproportionally affected by its implementation.

Upholding current laws is understandable, but the reasoning behind this new ordinance is anything but.

We encourage the County Board of Supervisors to reverse their position on this ill-conceived piece of legislation.