Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011 | Party hosts who allow underage drinking at their gatherings in Irvine could be smacked with city fines if the City Council Tuesday night approves changes to its “loud party” ordinance, a law that targets unruly parties in the city.

It is already illegal under state law for minors to drink alcohol in nearly every circumstance with the exception being religious services. The proposed fines in Irvine would give police the option of citing party hosts who either allow, or don’t take measures to prevent, underage drinking.

All five council members said they were generally supportive of the changes to the ordinance.

“Generally speaking, I think the approach of using the loud party ordinance and what amounts to secondary enforcement I think makes a lot of sense,” said Councilman Larry Agran.

Under the proposed changes, police officers could give administrative fines up to $750 to first offenders, according to the staff report. A second offense within 12 months of the first would result in a fine up to $1,500, and all offenders after that could be fined up to $3,000, the report states.

Among high-school juniors surveyed in the Irvine Unified School District, 22 percent said they had an alcoholic drink in the past 30 days, said Debra Bianchi, executive director of the nonprofit Irvine Community Drug Prevention.

And while that statistic does not suggest that Irvine has a worse teen-age drinking problem than other cities, Bianchi said, there is cause for concern.

“It’s still a very significant body of our community,” Bianchi said.

Underage drinking is particularly risky, Bianchi said, because minors have developing brains that are susceptible to permanent changes in their brain chemistry. Underage drinkers are more prone to binge drinking, Bianchi said, heavy drinking that could lead to overdose and even death. They’re also more likely to become alcoholics.

State law already holds adults liable when underage drunk drivers who consumed alcohol at their homes are involved in traffic collisions, and adults caught giving alcohol to those under 21 can also be fined.

Yet Bianchi said the proposed city fines would be an important additional deterrent to parents and other adults thinking of allowing underage drinking at their parties.

“We’re hopeful that this will be incentive for folks to make better choices for their kids,” Bianchi said.

Agran, Mayor Sukhee Kang and council members Beth Krom and Jeffrey Lalloway said that they want to hear more about the proposed changes butthat the idea sounded good.

“I’m looking forward to listening to all sides to discuss this at council session,” Lalloway said.

Councilman Steven Choi compared the proposed fines to a recently approved ban on sex offenders at city parks. The fines, like the sex offender ban, amount to an extra tool for police officers, Choi said.

“It’s a vehicle to get the message out and discourage it,” Choi said. “It’s a deterrent.”

For Bianchi, the fines are also an important message to party hosts.

“What you do with your family is your business,” Bianchi said. “But what you do with my child is not just your business.”

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