About 40 people gathered to discuss their concerns about the proposed social host ordinance at a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday.
Chief of Police Paul Workman and Capt. Jason Kravetz explained issues raised about the ordinance, which would prohibit adults hosting parties where alcohol is knowingly served to minors.
Parents asked questions about kids sneaking alcohol into parties or being at parties where adults are drinking. Workman emphasized parents would have to have knowledge of underage drinking. He gave an example of one mother they encountered who held a party for underage kids and hid in her closet when police arrived. Parents who arrived home from a night out to find children drinking would not be cited, he said. The police would have to have evidence that the parent had knowledge.
Prescription drugs will be exempt. There will also be exceptions for religious services that include alcohol and a parent or guardian serving alcohol to their child.
He also cleared up questions of police authority, civil liability and existing law.
Penal code 272, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, is the current code they use to crack down on underage drinking.
"It's an extremely cumbersome criminal code," Workman said Thursday.
It's a misdemeanor, which means they'd have the right to a jury trial. If the ordinance passed, officers would still have to use their judgment and decide whether they'd want to file it as a misdemeanor or civil citation, he said.
Andrew Landsiedel, a Laguna Beach High School junior, has been a vocal opponent of the ordinance, organizing protests at past City Council meetings.
Andrew, an aspiring attorney, questioned why police couldn't use the current laws in place.
"If you have a competent district attorney then it shouldn't be hard to prosecute them," he said.
Police are considering whether hitting the pocketbook with a citation might be more effective than filing a misdemeanor, Kravetz said. Due to the complicated wording in a CPC 272, it's not easy to prosecute, Workman said.
Andrew also brought up the issue of 911 callers who might feel scared to call the police in the event of a medical emergency related to alcohol or drugs. Underage callers are protected under Business and Professions Code 25667 and Good Samaritan Law, Workman said.
Workman said they'd most likely only issue five or six citations a year. Irvine issued six in the past year, Kravetz pointed out, and it is nine times the size of Laguna Beach. Workman said they don't expect it to affect numbers for DUIs or drinking in public but do believe it will address a certain type of behavior that field officers do encounter.
"I don't understand — if we have laws in place, and it's only used five or six times, why are we even here?" said Jeannette Morck, a parent.
David Vanderveen, who attended with his son Schuyler, a Laguna Beach High School senior, questioned what juveniles are doing in Laguna Beach. He said he didn't see an enormous amount of parties or juvenile DUIs in the blotter.
Kravetz said that juvenile information is redacted from the dispatch log. The Coastline Pilot also refrains from including juvenile information in its police files.
While many members of the public questioned whether underage drinking is an issue in Laguna, school board member Theresa O'Hare, a member of the Community Coalition, said the issue has been on her radar for more than 10 years.
"Consistently since 1999, we've heard time and time again — whether from the high school, police force or from the city — that this is a consistent problem," she said. "We hear it from kids on the committee from the last 10-12 years."
O'Hare said she didn't believe it is the answer but it is a tool.