Daly City residents who allow minors to consume alcohol in their homes could face stiff fines under a new law recently adopted by the City Council.
The fines start at $1,500 for a first offense, rising to $2,000 for a second incident and $2,500 for a third offense. The law also allows the city to bill cited residents for the cost of enforcement in cases where police officers have to disperse loud and unruly parties involving underage drinkers.
The council's decision comes several months after teens working with the North County Prevention Partnership presented findings from their Youth Access Survey, which polled about one-quarter of Pacifica and Daly City high school students. According to the youth presenters, alcohol consumption among high school students is on the rise. Forty-four percent of teens responding to the survey last year said they knew kids who drank in private residences, a sharp increase from the 14 percent who said so in 2005.
Survey respondents also reported that parents were overwhelmingly unaware that teens were drinking in homes, and just 25 percent of respondents said local stores properly checked identification to prevent alcohol sales to youth.
The new law is modeled after Pacifica's 2011 social-host liability ordinance. While Pacifica's three-tiered fine structure starts at $1,000 for a first offense, Daly City Mayor David Canepa said the majority of his fellow council members chose to impose higher fines in order to send the message that underage drinking will not be tolerated in the town.
But Councilman Mike Guingona, who voted against the initiative, called the ordinance “a law in search of a problem,” noting that over the last seven years, police have only had to address calls on underage drinking or unruly parties in homes about three times per year.
Guingona also expressed concerns that the law would unduly burden low-income, immigrant and minority parents, who might not be able to afford the stiff fines nor be able to take time off from work to appeal the potential charges.
Another concern Guingona had was that the law changed the appeal process with regard to the recovery of policing fees for residents who are cited. While residents could previously appeal such cases to the City Council, the new ordinance mandates that the City Manager's Office hear the appeals, the councilman said.
Guingona, who is a lawyer, said residents fined under the ordinance are entitled to hearings, which could become expensive for the city.
“If I had a client who came to me and said they'd been charged under this ordinance, there are a multitude of things I could do that would cost the city thousands of dollars,” the councilman noted.
Canepa, however, stressed that the any citations would still have to be appealed before a judge at the county courthouse, and the city would only be tasked with handling appeals from residents contesting emergency-service fees. The mayor said he doesn't believe elected officials on the City Council should be the final arbiters deciding whether those costs are collected because it would create too much potential for the process to become politicized.