To cut down on underage drinking, county officials will begin enforcement of a new ordinance next month that allows officers entry into residencies if they suspect minors are drinking on the premises.

The Social Host Liability Ordinance grants law enforcement the ability to issue citations to hosts knowingly permitting the consumption of alcohol by minors on their property. Although officers are scheduled to begin enforcing the ordinance Dec. 1, officials may postpone enforcement until administrative measures are ready.

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The Social Host Liability Ordinance — set to be enforced on Dec. 1 — gives law officers the authority to enter a residence if they suspect minors are consuming alcohol. The ordinance aims to keep residents and landlords accountable.

The ordinance defines a “host” as any person either owning, renting or in control of the property, and a “party, gathering or event” as a social gathering of five or more persons, at least one of whom is a minor. Hosts violating the ordinance for the first time will be fined $500 and required to complete a mandatory educational class. Second-offenders are handed a $1,000 fine and subsequent offenses result in a $2,000 fine.

Fifth District Supervisor Joseph Centeno said the ordinance aims to hold residents and landlords accountable for what occurs in their homes.

“We were trying to also ensure that people who rented properties to youngsters and knowingly condoned the booze parties, that they were going to be held responsible,” Centeno said. “We also want to protect absentee owners who are not on their properties and knowledgeable of what is happening.”

Although critics of the ordinance have voiced concerns that police may use the ordinance as an excuse to enter a house, Centeno said officers will enforce the ordinance only as needed, like situations when law enforcement responds to noise complaints and other calls.

“I do not think the sheriff’s department will look for these things going on,” Centeno said. “When they respond to a complaint they will make the appropriate response [if they are in violation of the ordinance].”

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr provided the single vote against the Social Host Ordinance, based on the implications the ordinance has on her district, which includes Isla Vista — where student residences may have numerous youth and adults age 17 to 24 or older living under one roof.

“Of course, it will be much more problematic in Isla Vista, where many household units do not have typical families and are groups of students, some who are underage and some who are not,” Farr said. “How are you going to correctly assess if someone is actually furnishing alcohol to a minor or is simply living in a residence with alcohol in it?”

In addition to enforcement concerns, Farr said she voted against the proposal because it lacked the administrative planning necessary for effective implementation.
“The other part was it did not come to the board’s agenda through the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, it came from Supervisor Centeno on the request of members of the community,” Farr said. “It did not come with a full analysis of how this would be administered.”

County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services has been charged with the ordinance’s administration. Interim Program Manager John Doyle said ADMHS will work alongside local officials on an education program prior to the start of enforcement. Additionally, Doyle said, the county has allocated additional time and resources for these efforts to be carried out in Isla Vista.

“It is a countywide ordinance, but it has the potential to affect Isla Vista the most, and we really need to protect the district who voted against, very strongly I might add, the Social Host Liability Ordinance,” Doyle said.

 According to Doyle, outreach efforts have included the distribution of pamphlets and other informational outlets both on campus and throughout the county.