"We don't want our young children to become addicted to alcohol; addiction to alcohol makes a person crazy," said an elderly female during the Tuesday, September 15, Carlsbad city council meeting. The statement came minutes before the mayor and council unanimously agreed to enact a law that penalizes parents and adult hosts of parties for providing alcohol and other controlled substances to minors.
The "social-host" law gives police officers the authority to charge parents or party hosts with a misdemeanor infraction that could result in a $1000 fine and up to six months of jail time.
"Parents are there in a lot of cases," said Carlsbad Chief of Police Tom Zoll at Tuesday's meeting. "They just don't supervise who's drinking and who isn't. This ordinance will affix some responsibility on the parents, or the adults...whoever's in charge of that location, and make sure these people are over 21 years of age."
Last fall, the North County Prevention Coalition - an agency whose goal is to reduce drug and alcohol use among North County's minors - surveyed 200 Carlsbad High School Key Club students. In that poll, the coalition found that 94 percent of the students have friends that drink alcohol, more than 70 percent admitted to drinking themselves.
"The social-host ordinance is meant to discourage that behavior," said Aaron Byzak, president of North County Prevention Coalition. "Law enforcement agrees that underage drinking is a major problem, and adults are furnishing alcohol to kids in our local cities, and Carlsbad is not an exception."
But Carlsbad is an exception, in that it is one of the few cities that didn't have a social-host law in place. By 2006, all 19 cities in San Diego County, except for Carlsbad, Del Mar, and Chula Vista, had enacted social-host laws.
Carlsbad Police Captain Neil Gallucci says the reason for Carlsbad's delay in imposing a social-host law wasn't due to a lack of concern but instead to see how the law played out in other cities.
"We basically took a position to watch and see how those ordinances would play out because we wanted our ordinance to stand up legally," says Gallucci, referring to a 2004 court ruling that found San Diego's law too general. "We're now at the point where our city attorney and our police chief felt it was the appropriate time for the ordinance."
According to Gallucci, the ordinance will serve as a "tool" for compliance, and Carlsbad officers won't rely on the large fines and arrest as a way to crack down on underage drinking. "Out of 100 party calls we go to, 99 times that person turns down and complies. This is the same sort of thing, but this will actually hold the party giver accountable."