Coalitions in Action: California Coalition Slashes Youth Alcohol Use Rates with Social Host Ordinance

The Dia de la Familia (Day of the Family), a popular event that exemplifies family fun, quickly turned inappropriate when in 2009, a local artist served a drink to a minor attending the festival. The act at the Salinas, Calif. event sparked outrage.

“Underage drinking has always been a huge problem, but this made us decide to say, ‘What are we going to do with this problem?’” explained Sylvia Ramirez, project coordinator of Preventing Alcohol Related Trauma in Salinas (PARTS), which serves Salinas in Monterey County, located in northern California.

Together, coalition members started to write an action plan. Volunteers created an Alcohol Task Force to discuss the issue. Ramirez said former coalition member and retired police Chief Vic Collins, energized other coalition members and put them to task.

PARTS drafted a letter explaining the work the coalition was doing in the aftermath of the Dia de la Familia event to the city council, planning commission, local media and managers of the festival. Focus groups of parents and youth met and discussed the needs of the parents and the needs of the youth to share both sides of the story, Ramirez said.

Youth members presented the idea of a social host ordinance that would make it illegal for an adult to provide alcohol to a minor or allow underage drinking to occur on their property. Youth collected 100 signatures on a petition in support of the ordinance. Parents, coalition members and youth addressed city council and other lawmakers about the issue.

Collins gave city council members and the city manager a copy of a similar social host ordinance that was placed in the neighboring city of Hollister that was successful. In 2011, the ordinance was unanimously approved in Salinas, stating that any adult who provides alcohol to a minor will face criminal and civil liabilities.

“Parents, youth and coalition members were all so excited,” Ramirez said.

At the discretion of the Salinas city attorney, violation of the social host ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in the county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000, in addition to required 24 hours of community service and/or three years of probation. Those who violate the ordinance a second time can face up to a year in county jail and three years of probation.

“It’s important for parents to understand that they do not have to be present to be fined. The person who owns the home gets the liability,” Ramirez said.

After the passage, more outreach was done so the community knew the consequences of social hosting. Flyers were distributed in both English and Spanish throughout Salinas. Public service announcements aired on television, radio and in the local movie theater for a year. Teens were also talking to other teens about this issue.

“People really supported this. Every member who helped actually mobilized the community to know about what was happening,” Ramirez said.

To date, the Salinas Police Department has only released information about one citation for unlawful social hosting, but local data trends clearly document its effectiveness.

Four years after the passage, alcohol use significantly decreased among 7th, 9th, and 11th graders, according to the California Healthy Kids Survey. During the last three years, the percentage of 7th graders who never had a drink increased from 82 to 90 percent and the percentage of 9th graders increased from 70 to 78 percent.

Between 2009 and 2010, 7th graders’ 30-day alcohol use rate was 18 percent, a year later, the rate is 10 percent. Ninth graders’ 30-day alcohol use rate dropped from 30 percent to 22 percent during that same period. Incidents of youth driving after drinking decreased, as well. Data shows that 83 percent of 9th graders in 2013 reported they had never driven after drinking, opposed to 76 percent in 2010.

Looking forward, PARTS is working on passing a tobacco ordinance and reducing substance abuse access at their bowling alleys.