Social host ordinance returns |

Social host ordinance returns

Law would punish adults who allow underage drinking in their homes

Brandon Gee

After a three-month delay that frustrated some of its supporters, a proposed “social host” ordinance will return to the Steamboat Springs City Council tonight for a second and final reading.

The legislation would stipulate penalties for parents and other adults who allow minors to drink in their homes. Although the ordinance was unanimously approved on its first reading in September, financial and civil liberty concerns have prolonged the typical two-week period between first and second readings. In response to concerns that the ordinance could be abused, changes have been made in the interim to make the ordinance less stringent.

Removed was wording that would allow people to be cited under the ordinance not only if they have actual knowledge of underage drinking on their premises, but also if they “reasonably should know.” Added was a paragraph that prevents property owners from being cited if minors trespass and drink on their property.

Also removed was language recommending specific jail time for violating the ordinance. While mandatory jail time had previously been removed from the ordinance – and while jail time is a possibility, albeit unexercised, for any municipal violation – officials including City Attorney Dan Foote felt the inclusion of specific jail time recommendations would have led to financial and logistical challenges for the Steamboat Springs Municipal Court because of the increased involvement of legal counsel, a sure increase in the number of jury trials and the need to provide legal representation to indigent defendants.

If adopted, it is estimated the ordinance will cost the municipal court between $18,000 and $60,000 a year. Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae, a proponent of the ordinance, thinks the true cost would be closer to the low end of the range.

The Grand Futures Prevention Coalition is presenting the legislation on behalf of the Excellence Project, a collaboration of local organizations focused on reducing underage drinking and illegal substance abuse.

Council members will face strong public pressure to pass the ordinance. Materials prepared for today’s meeting include nearly 20 letters and e-mails in support of the ordinance from residents including local religious and school district officials.

“Underage drinking and drug use are an extreme epidemic in our community. We work with many youth with the goal to be a positive influence in their lives. This is made extremely difficult by the fact that the youth and their friends are allowed to drink and use at home with the parents approval,” Tara Chavarria of Christ for Life Sk8 Church wrote in an e-mail to council members. “The social host ordinance would give our city a way to hold adults accountable for very poor choices and would instill a healthy fear of getting young kids drunk at their home, condo, hotel or property.”

Aside from concerns expressed by some government officials, no one has publicly opposed the ordinance.

Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, who raised concerns about the social host ordinance at its first reading, said she still has reservations. Hermacinski said she’s not sure how the law accomplishes anything more than existing state laws that prohibit contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Hermacinski also disagrees that the law should be pushed at the local level first.

“I really think it would be better to lobby the state Legislature,” Hermacinski said.

In September, Colleen Lyon, Routt County director of Grand Futures and co-director of the Excellence Project, said proponents felt it was more appropriate to start small.

“We’re not pushing for that at the moment, but we are trying to set an example that the state could follow,” she said. “We’re just concerned right now with Steamboat Springs getting it passed, and hopefully the state will follow.”

Other items on the Steamboat Springs City Council’s agenda today include:

– The second reading of an ordinance that would create a new city building permit fee adding thousands of dollars to the cost of most construction within city limits. City officials say they need the fee to recoup the costs of building permit review, while members of the development community say the city already exacts enough in the form of its building use tax and excise tax.

– The second reading of an ordinance adopting a voluntary green building pilot program.

– Pre-application review of two Wilton Development projects that hope to be annexed into city limits. The Bridges at Steamboat would be jointly developed with Yampa Valley Medical Center, combining a mixed-use development along the Yampa River just south of Steamboat with a YVMC “senior living campus.” The other project, 360 Village, proposes a mix of uses including 550 to 650 homes on 110 acres 1.3 miles west of city limits.

– To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail

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