County strengthens social host ordinance

 

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved
revisions to the social host responsibility ordinance Tuesday.
Amendments clarify language to support the one-year-old ordinance’s
main purpose: to deter underage drinking.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved revisions to the social host responsibility ordinance Tuesday. Amendments clarify language to support the one-year-old ordinance’s main purpose: to deter underage drinking.

The ordinance enables sheriff deputies to respond to complaints about raucous parties and imposes administrative penalties on persons responsible for organizing these social gatherings where there are four or more persons and at least one underage person who is drinking or has in his or her possession an alcoholic beverage.

“This ordinance is another tool for law enforcement to address the serious problem of underage drinking and I think the changes proposed by the sheriff’s office and the administration will make the ordinance more effective,” said Supervisor Don Gage, vice-chair of the board’s public safety and justice committee. “I will ask the administration to monitor the ordinance’s use, including the exemptions, and if it needs to be further refined to feel free to propose additional modifications in the future.”

Modifications to the ordinance will become effective March 9, and include these specific language and enforcement amendments:

– A $350 first occurrence fine will be imposed to all responsible persons present, and a warning notice of violation will be written to all absent responsible persons. The previous ordinance only called for a warning for the first violation. Second and subsequent violations will impose a $700 fine to all responsible persons present, and $350 to all responsible persons previously noticed. Public safety response cost is assessed to all responsible persons previously cited or noticed and administrative fines escalate by each subsequent violation. Violations are tracked by location and names of responsible persons.

n Responsible Person includes parents, tenants, party hosts and party organizer, and party hosts under 18-years of age. The modification allows law enforcement to focus on responsible persons who have direct control over a premise. It makes permanent the exemption for landlords and management agents, but the county reserves the right to cite landlords if they knowingly permit underage drinking on their premises.

– Nonprofit institutions of higher education in unincorporated areas need to have policies and programs in place with respect to the lawful and responsible use of alcohol by resident students. These policies and programs will be reviewed and approved annually, and the institution will bear all actual costs incurred for annual data and program review and public safety responses for alcohol-related emergencies.

Eight cities and towns in Santa Clara County (Gilroy, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and Saratoga) currently have their own social host ordinances. The county ordinance applies solely to unincorporated areas in Santa Clara County. Enforcement will be triggered by neighborhood complaints or reports of underage drinking.

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