Rocklin this week became the first Placer County city to enact steep penalties for anyone who hosts a party with underage drinking, an issue that drew greater attention after a man died during a backyard party with underage drinkers in 2013.
The City Council passed a “social host” ordinance, allowing police to issue up to a $1,000 citation on the host of a party where alcohol is served to youths and any adults who knowingly allow it to occur. The ordinance also applies to the use of marijuana or other controlled substances.
The ordinance will be accompanied by an education campaign led by the Coalition for Placer Youth to alert teens and parents to the new regulations.
Sgt. Trent Jewell of the Rocklin Police Department, which led the drafting of the ordinance, said he hopes it will help prevent underage drinking in the city.
“The best-case scenario would be that we would never have to write a ticket for this, that we have educated them enough,” he said. “Or if (underage parties) do occur, it will be in the back of (parents’) minds that they could be fined for actually providing alcohol to youth in our community.”
An adult who knowingly allows, even passively, a party where underage individuals consume alcohol on their private property will be subject to a $1,000 fine or 24 hours of community service under the new restrictions. The same penalties will be imposed on those under the 21-year-old legal drinking age who organized an “unruly gathering.”
An “unruly gathering” is defined as a party or event with underage alcohol consumption where three or more people cause excessive noise, traffic or other disturbances of the peace.
Adults will not be held responsible if they can prove that they did not know about the party and the consumption of alcohol, such as being out of town for the weekend. The ticket can be fought in municipal court.
The ordinance excludes situations in which a parent provides alcohol to his or her child at a family gathering. It also does not apply to legally protected religious activities that involve alcohol.
Rocklin police first proposed crafting a social host ordinance in 2012 and it was quickly supported by the Coalition for Placer Youth and the Placer County Youth Commission.
Jewell said the idea gained momentum after Robert Vickney, 51, was fatally stabbed by 20-year-old Zachary Kachmar at a party in Vickney’s Rocklin backyard with underage drinkers. The county District Attorney’s Office said that witnesses, including Vickney’s son, described the older man as “heavily intoxicated” during the incident, and that he began strangling Kachmar after the 20-year-old broke a shot glass.
As he was being choked, Kachmar was holding a pocket knife in his hand for poking holes in beer cans, and the knife at some point went into Vickney’s chest. The DA’s investigation found that Kachmar did not act with malice and had a valid self-defense claim.
The DA’s Office did not press charges. In a statement, the DA’s Office deemed the incident an “unnecessary and avoidable tragedy” and said it was the result of irresponsible alcohol consumption, as well as the “complete absence of a sober or mature influence to control an escalating situation.”
Shari Crow, the coordinator for the coalition, addressed the council Tuesday about the vast education campaign her organization is planning.
“It’s so important that our youth know that if they choose to have an unruly underage drinking party in their home that their parents are going to be held responsible with a heavy fine and a citation,” she told the council. “It’s so important that the community as a whole know because they can be advocates for this” by calling the police.
She said the coalition is planning on alerting parents and youths about the ordinance through the school district, social media, door hangers, posters and fliers with coupons from a local pizza parlor.
Police officials say they have had trouble enforcing underage drinking laws on private property. From Dec. 1, 2011, to Dec. 1, 2014, the Rocklin Police Department responded to 2,160 complaints about loud and unruly parties, but officers only issued a citation or made an arrest in a small percentage of those cases. The law prior to this ordinance allowed police to arrest party hosts on misdemeanor charges only if officers saw the host provide alcohol to minors or if a citizen stepped forward to say they saw something like that happen, which is rare, according to Jewell.
In a Rocklin survey conducted by the Coalition for Placer Youth in August 2013, 84 percent of respondents agreed that community members would support ordinances that discourage underage drinking, and 51 percent said they “strongly agree.”
But Ken Brooks, an attorney living in Rocklin, spoke in opposition of the ordinance at the meeting Tuesday. He likened the passage of the measure to Prohibition of the 1920s.
“Prohibition is wrong, period,” he said. “We have the laws on the books to deal with any situation that you think may arise, period. … This is a dangerous ordinance, it’s unlawful and I don’t think you should pass it.”
Other cities in California and across the country have similar social host laws, including Sacramento County, the city of Sacramento and Elk Grove. In Sacramento, a violation is punishable by a fine of $250 to $25,000. In Elk Grove, the fine is up to $1,000.
Elk Grove’s ordinance was passed in 2009 and has since seen a drop in citations issued for such gatherings, according to police spokesman Chris Trim. The number of citations peaked in 2010, with 11 issued, and dropped to one in 2014.
“It’s another tool in a tool belt for us to use,” Trim said. “It’s important that parents be parents and guardians and not allow underage drinking in their homes.”
Trim added that underage drinking becomes a public safety hazard when youths get behind the wheel of a vehicle or when a disagreement turns violent.
Leenah Bassouni, a student at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy in Rocklin and a member of the Placer County Youth Commission, gave an impassioned speech to the council in favor of the ordinance because she sees underage drinking as a danger to her peers.
“It’s our job, as the witnesses, as the lawmakers, as the police officers, as the youth, to stand up for this,” she said. “Please review this knowing you have the ability to save one more child.”
Call The Bee’s Ellen Garrison at (916) 321-1006.