Social hosts in Galt who provide a location where minors can drink alcohol or who do not take steps to prevent their consumption of alcohol will have to reimburse police and fire-related costs under an ordinance recently approved by the Galt City Council. It will be formally adopted Tuesday.
Mayor Barbara Payne, who worked with the Galt Youth Alcohol Abuse Prevention Coalition to bring the ordinance before the council, said she hopes there will be a cultural shift regarding underage drinking and that adults will consider what the infraction can mean to young lives.
"The goal is to have adults and parents really consider their responsibility to not accept underage drinking by their own youths, but also the youths of other parents," she said.
Kathleen Amos is part of the Galt Youth Alcohol Abuse Prevention Coalition, which sought city support for the social host liability law. She is pleased that the council unanimously supported the ordinance.
"It brings Galt into line with Elk Grove, Sacramento County, Sacramento city, Rancho Cordova and Folsom, which already have similar ordinances. We have been working towards this goal for the last four years," said Amos, who is also a trustee for the Galt Joint Union High School District. "It is a major step forward towards changing the social norms for our youths to healthier alternatives than abuse of alcohol and/or drugs."
A social host
Payne met with Galt Police Chief Bill Bowen after Amos and fellow coalition member Patricia St. James spoke before the council last year regarding underage drinking statistics in Galt.
"They talked about a social host ordinance and asked that we consider it," Payne said, adding that Bowen thought it would be a good tool for the police department to prevent youths who have been drinking from getting behind the wheel of a car or into fistfights.
"I know that over-indulgence in alcohol can make people act in a way that is destructive to themselves and others," Payne said. "I am sure that you have heard of youths in devastating car accidents or young girls getting into situations that they can't handle due to being intoxicated. I have read that because their brains are still maturing, the alcohol has an effect on the brain's development."
The purpose of the ordinance is essentially to deter underage drinking at parties and other social gathering instead of punishing those who do so, according to City Attorney Steve Rudolph.
While laws prohibiting furnishing alcohol to minors target the act of providing the drink, social host laws target the location where the alcohol is being provided. Under Galt's ordinance, a social host can be liable for the cost of responding law enforcement services.
In other cities, the infraction comes with a fine.
Although municipalities up and down the state have approved similar ordinances, the city of Lodi does not have a social host ordinance.
In 2010, the Sacramento County board of supervisors adopted its ordinance, essentially beefing up the state law that makes it illegal for adults to furnish alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. The action came after thousands of Sacramento County parents signed pledges vowing not to allow underage drinking or illegal drug use on their private property.
To date this year, there have been two incidents in Galt where adults were cited for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, according to police records.
In June, police responded to a disturbance call at 2 a.m., and found 50 juveniles in front yard and several fighting in the street. There were signs of juvenile drinking and their parents were cited, Lt. Jim Uptegrove said.
In April, a mother was at home when about a dozen juveniles were found both inside and outside the house drinking. Some were under the influence of alcohol, and she was therefore cited, according to the police report.
In both incidents, under the city's new ordinance the adults could have been forced to pay the cost of emergency personnel responding to the calls.
Similar ordinances are being used elsewhere in California.
Also, last month, an 18-year-old woman was arrested for violating San Diego County's social host ordinance when she told deputies she was house-sitting for her parents and she allowed some of her friends to host a party at her parent's residence.
When deputies arrived at the house following a noise complaint, they found approximately 50 people inside and on the patio, and a large amount of alcohol on the patio, according to news reports.
In San Diego County, a social host does not have to be 21 years of age to be in violation of the law. The homeowner or property owner can be held liable for cost recovery.
Underage drinking concerns
In January, the Galt Youth Alcohol Abuse Prevention Coalition released a parent guide to underage drinking. It was the culmination of a four-year effort and the result of a state survey that showed there was an issue in Galt.
It found that 24 percent of Galt fifth-graders have had one or two sips of an alcoholic drink, and 1 percent have consumed an entire one. Additionally, 30 percent of 11th-graders have participated in binge drinking, the act of consuming four to five alcoholic drinks within two hours, according to the report.
Coalition member St. James said the statistics were high compared to other cities in Sacramento County, so the group decided to reach out to local parents.
Postponing drinking alcohol is the strongest message in the group's guide. The chances of becoming dependent decreases by 14 percent for every year of delay in the onset of alcohol use, according to research.
Alcohol also reportedly affects a teen's developing brain differently than an adult's. It can damage the area of the brain that is responsible for thinking, planning, good judgment and impulse control, according to the group's guide.
The guide has been published in both English and Spanish. It was funded through partnerships with the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, California Department of Public Health and Sierra Health Foundation.
The coalition is not the only group working to combat the problem of underage drinking in Galt.
In March, the Galt Police Department was awarded a $2,500 grant to help prevent underage drinking in the city. The grant from the Department of Alcoholic and Beverage Control was used by the department to conduct Minor Decoy and Shoulder Tap operations.
The Minor Decoy program is a method that will be used by police officers to attack the problems associated with the unlawful purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages by young people under the age of 21, while the Shoulder Tap program targets adults who give alcoholic beverages to the minors.
Statistics collected from prior Shoulder Tap programs reflect that one-third of adults arrested for purchasing alcohol for minors were on parole, probation, had outstanding warrants or had extensive criminal histories.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.