The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to permanently enforce a social host ordinance holding parents responsible for parties with underage drinking or marijuana smoking in unincorporated areas of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
A pilot ordinance has been in place for about a year and mirrors regulations in the four cities that make up the peninsula -- Rancho Palos Verdes, Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates. The pilot applies to the neighborhoods of Academy Hills, Westfield and the Estates and was originally recommended by Supervisor Janice Hahn.
"Underage drinking is dangerous in any context but even more so on the peninsula," Hahn said of the winding, often unlit roads in the area. She called the ordinance "a common sense decision that will continue to save lives."
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Parents in support of the plan told stories last year of social media-driven parties that draw hundreds of teens and cited a survey of Palos Verdes 11th-graders showing that 60 percent reporting drinking alcohol at a party.
Community leaders had worried that without an ordinance in the unincorporated areas, those neighborhoods would become a magnet for big parties.
A former Palos Verdes Peninsula High School principal told the board Tuesday that parents were part of the problem.
"It's really sad," said Mitzi Cress. "There are parents that want to make their children popular by having the parties at their house ... parents would be behind the bar mixing the margaritas."
The ordinance gives parents a tool to say no to their kids, Cress said.
Adults can face a fine or community service for violations, whether or not they are at home when teens are drinking. The prohibition includes cannabis use, which is illegal for recreational use by anyone under 21 despite recent legalization.
Sheriff's officials told the board the law has been an effective deterrent. Deputies have been called out to some loud parties in the area, but didn't see any underage drinking there and no citations have been issued in the unincorporated areas, according to authorities.
Linda Reid of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District urged the board to expand the ordinance to unincorporated areas countywide.
"Teenage drinking is not a rite of passage," Reid said.
The ordinance calls for a $1,000 fine on first offense. Any additional offenses in a 12-month period would require parents to reimburse the costs of any emergency response by police or other officials, in addition to a fine.
City ordinances call for a first-time fine of $2,500 and double that for a second violation.
Ventura County has social host ordinances that apply countywide, though fines and enforcement varies from city to city. About one-quarter of law enforcement officers surveyed for a 2009 study by Ventura County reported fewer calls for underage drinking parties after the regulations were passed, and some data showed the size of parties had dropped.
A 2014 study published by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that surveyed 50 California cities found that strong social host policies were correlated with less drinking at parties but did not affect overall teen alcohol use.