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Social Host Ordinance Arrives

How Now?


The Social Host Liability Ordinance went into effect December 1. It became law with little fanfare, and just a few newspaper articles, which is surprising. I would expect more of an outcry. The ordinance puts into play new regulations that could have a dramatic effect on student life in Isla Vista. Big parties and drinking indiscriminately might not be so popular.

Cat Neushul

The ordinance says that a person or persons who knowingly permit, allow, or supply a minor (someone under the drinking age of 21) with alcohol at a social event or party at their residence can be penalized and fined. You can even be fined for failing “to take reasonable corrective actions upon learning of the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages by any minor” in your residence, according to the ordinance.

A party or gathering is defined as a social event in which more than five people are present. With this being the definition of a party, many of the houses and apartments in I.V. would be on the road to a violation every night. Most of the residences contain at least five people, often many more. And I would bet that you could find an underage drinker in quite a few of these houses.

Violation of the ordinance can result in a fine that no one would want to pay. The penalties are stiff. A person who is deemed responsible for supplying a minor or minors with alcohol could be fined $500 for a first offense, $1,000 for a second, and $2,000 for a third. The first offense would also require that violators enroll in an education program.

Santa Barbara County isn’t the first to institute this type of ordinance. Other areas, Ventura for example, already have this type of ordinance in place. What makes Santa Barbara County unique is the Isla Vista factor.

Police in I.V. are kept busy on weekends trying to stem the problems caused by drinking. On a regular basis they are called to break up parties, enforce noise ordinances, and sort out disturbances. It’s going to be interesting to see how this ordinance affects things. While certain aspects of the ordinance are very clear, such as what is considered a violation, it’s not so clear who the responsible party would be when law enforcement enter a residence. In another area, say Hope Ranch, an officer would penalize the owner or renter of a property. It would be fairly clear who is the “host.”

In I.V., however, the issue becomes more confusing. Would the responsible party be the roommate who happened to be sitting next to the underage drinker when the police officers arrived? Would all the people who were of age in the household be fined? What if your roommate was in another room drinking and you weren’t even aware of it?

And how could anyone determine whether you allowed the underage drinker to drink or not? It’s clear if you are standing at the keg pouring beer for underage drinkers, but in other cases the issue may be hard to determine.

These are some of the questions that need to be ironed out as law enforcement officers begin to explore how the ordinance will be enforced in a place like I.V.

It’s hard to say how this new ordinance will affect I.V. It could cause students to change their partying style. People who regularly have big parties, or invite a ton of friends over, might not anymore. Students worried about a fine might make an effort to keep their parties mellow so police aren’t called. Chances are the police will set their sights on residences they’ve received complaints about, so if you are not too loud, or too violent, or too anything, you might avoid having officers check ID’s and search for underage drinkers in your house.

Weekends in I.V. might become noticeably quieter, and the partying might be done with the goal of not being noticed.

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