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Chico adopts social host ordinance

Bill Hall

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Members of Chico State's administration and student government attend Tuesday's City Council meeting to weigh in on the social host ordinance. Photo credit: Bill Hall


Chico has added another weapon to its arsenal in the battle to combat underage drinking with the adoption of a social host ordinance.

Already active throughout many communities in the country, social host laws allow the city to impose fines on individuals who are responsible for hosting large house parties on private property at which minors are consuming alcohol.

Previous versions of the ordinance have been considered a couple of times during the last year and this most recent draft was adopted unanimously by the City Council at its meeting on Tuesday.

The revisions removed direct landlord and owner accountability and also changed the amount of the penalties. The fines will be $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense within a 12-month period. Additionally, the city will recover any costs of emergency response related to violations.

The police have discretion to determine who is the most responsible party, whether that is owners, tenants or other individuals at the event. Landlords will generally not be responsible, unless there are repeated incidents on their property that they have not taken action to correct.

Chico State has experienced many alcohol-related student deaths in recent years and several efforts have been under way to address the problem of alcohol abuse.

The Call for Community Action summit took place in February 2013 and sought to generate solutions to the alcohol abuse problem in Chico. The idea for the social host ordinance came out of that discussion, said Ann Schwab, a city council member.

“It (the ordinance) is to curb the availability of alcohol to minors so that we can have safe gatherings,” Schwab said. “So we have fewer emergencies and fewer deaths of our young people for alcohol incidences.”

Chico State students, administration members and Associated Students representatives were in attendance at the meeting on Tuesday.

Paul Zingg, Chico State president, strongly supported the law and highlighted the obligations for everyone involved.

“It underscores shared responsibility, shared accountability and high expectations,” Zingg said. “That together we can achieve a safer community — a community in which wellness and goodness go hand in hand. And we can create, as we are creating with our Greeks, a high standard which we know they can reach.”

The new ordinance serves as another “tool in the toolbox,” not a cure to the problem, said Drew Calandrella, vice president of student affairs.

“Very large parties are just really a formula for more binge drinking and more of the disasters that we’ve experienced,” Calandrella said.

Most of the voices heard at the council meeting were in support of the new law, but some raised what they thought were flaws.

The law won’t really have the desired impact on minors drinking and people may be punished for things that are out of their control, such as minors arriving at a party with their own alcohol, said Chico State student Troy Galletty.

“Minors are going to keep drinking exactly the same as they were before,” Galletty said.

The ordinance will come back before the City Council on March 25 for a final reading and adoption and will go into effect 30 days later.

The City Council also took action on the following items on Tuesday:

· A draft housing element report, which provides a framework surrounding housing needs in the city, was approved for submission to the State Department of Housing and Community Development.

· The council accepted another draft report of a user fee study, which reviews city fees for development-related application and permits. The consulting firm estimates that the city recovers only 67 percent of the actual service cost from current fees. A public hearing is scheduled to review this further on April 15.

· A temporary license was granted to the Butte Environmental Council to set up a community garden at W. Eighth Avenue and Highway 32. The garden will house 29 plots.

Bill Hall can be reached at [email protected] or @thebillhall on Twitter.

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Chico adopts social host ordinance