Lewis Griswold

Visalia social host ordinance targets underage drinking

Thanks to an ordinance approved unanimously by the Visalia City Council, parents could get a $100 ticket from police if their underage children have a house party involving alcohol.

“House parties are the primary source of alcohol for underage youth,” Visalia police Lt. Candido Alvarez said.

The social host ordinance is a new approach to the old problem of youths scattering when the cops show up.

It holds parents or others accountable when there is underage drinking at the home. Officers simply issue an administrative citation to the adult responsible for the property.

The ordinance frees responding officers from having to figure out who supplied the beer, wine or booze.

More than 150 cities and counties in 24 states have social host ordinances, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The National Research Council and the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency favor social host liability laws as an effective method of reducing consumption of alcohol by youths, Alvarez told the Visalia City Council last week in asking for the ordinance.

Fresno, Fresno County, Bakersfield, Kern County and Tulare already have social host ordinances.

In Visalia, complaint calls about loud parties, especially on summer weekends, take up a lot of officer time, Alvarez told the council.

“Since 2013, we’ve had 5,800 disturbance calls, which are predominately loud parties,” Alvarez said. “It’s a drain on our resources.”

During graduation season and summer, parties often involve underage drinking, he said.

“When mom and dad are out of town, it gets out of control,” he said.

Currently, police can issue a disturbance citation that involves a $35 fine, or more if it’s a repeat offense. Where possible, police will cite an adult for furnishing alcohol to a minor or even make an arrest if the facts warrant it, he said.

Under the social host ordinance, the administrative citation would give officers an intermediate step that would get the parent’s attention because of the cost, Alvarez said.

The fine is $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $500 for subsequent offenses. There is an appeals process.

The City Council voted 5-0 for the ordinance.

“I’m for it wholeheartedly,” Mayor Steve Nelsen said.

The second reading of the proposed ordinance is expected in mid-July and would go into effect 30 days later.

THE GRADUATES: Kaweah Delta Health Care District will graduate its first class of resident physicians on Thursday.

There are 24 physicians graduating from the Graduate Medical Program that launched three years ago.

Significantly for a community that sometimes has difficulty attracting doctors, more than 40 percent of the original class of 12 residents – specializing in emergency and family medicine – will stay and practice in the area.

“We’re thrilled that five of the original 12 residents have committed to practicing medicine in our community,” district CEO Lindsay Mann said.

The family medicine residents staying in the community are Fahad Hashmat, Kamel Kamel, Ehab Swehli and Marwan Zoghbi. Sean Oldroyd, an emergency medicine resident, is also staying.

The other 12 graduates spent a year at Kaweah Delta and continued training elsewhere in radiology, ophthalmology and dermatology.

Meanwhile, the Kaweah Delta program has expanded into surgery and psychiatry. The program now has 68 residents, including 35 starting this month.

FLAG DAY: Tuesday is Flag Day, and the Visalia Veterans Committee invites the public to its annual flag retirement ceremony at 7 p.m. at the Visalia Convention Center, 303 E. Acequia Ave., in front of the Vietnam veterans mural.

The public can bring worn, faded or damaged flags to be ceremonially retired by flame.

Lewis Griswold covers the news of the South Valley for The Fresno Bee: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

What is a social host?

Social host refers to adults who host parties where alcohol is served on property they control. Through social host liability laws, adults can be held responsible for these parties if underage people are served, regardless of who furnishes the alcohol.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving