County law enforcement will begin enforcing the recently approved Social Host Ordinance — which punishes county residents who knowingly provide underage party-goers with alcohol — starting in the fall.
Approved in its final form by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on June 15 in a 4-1 vote, the new law holds homeowners and renters liable for civil penalties if minors consume alcohol on their property when five or more people are present at a social event. The law also states that party-throwers must verify their guests’ ages if they are drinking.
Isla Vista Foot Patrol Lieutenant Brian Olmstead said county law enforcement officials were instructed to wait until the fall to enforce the new ordinance so that regional residents could be made more aware of its passage.
“We made a commitment to the Board of Supervisors that we would ensure that there was an education period before we start actively enforcing it,” Olmstead said.
First offenders of the new ordinance face fines of $500 and are required to attend a correctional educational course, while repeat offenders are charged $1,000 for a second violation and $2,000 for any additional breaches of the SHO. Individuals who wish to contest citations will be able to appeal to a county examiner.
According to Olmstead, the Sheriff’s Dept. plans to sponsor education campaigns about the law until an unspecified date in November. Although particular plans aren’t in place, county authorities said they will work closely with student populations to educate students returning from summer vacation about the new law. Specifically, county officials said they plan to work with UCSB’s Associated Students as well as university entities to promote awareness of the SHO in I.V., a notoriously rowdy college town.
The Board of Supervisors also stipulated that the county Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services oversee the new ordinance. As such, all revenue from the civil penalties will be incorporated into the ADMHS budget. This amendment marked a significant adjustment to the ordinance’s previous June 1 draft, which had not selected a county department to oversee the ordinance.
Supporters of the SHO such as Mary Conway, coalition coordinator with the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition to Promote Drug Free Youth, said the new law will help curb alcohol use among county minors.
“It is really intended to be a deterrent to underage drinking,” Conway said. “We’re excited about the fact that it’s on the books.”
3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr — who represents Isla Vista and cast the lone vote against the bill — said she had doubts about the ADMHS’s ability to oversee the new ordinance, since the department recently lost over $1 million in state funding. Farr said she also had doubts about the law’s efficacy, saying she didn’t think the SHO’s proponents had proven that the ordinance could significantly decrease underage drinking in the county.
In a time of such tight county finances, Farr said, she would rather not spend money on a new, untried program.
“They had no statistics [from other counties] to prove that it really did what they hoped it would do,” Farr said. “If it’s something that has a proven track record that’s one thing, and then we can get to the issues of how does it work.”