Many UCSB students have no doubt heard by this point about the new ordinance that will soon be in force that targets “partying” in Isla Vista. Several county officials met with students on Thursday, Feb. 19 to explain the new policy and what it implies for residents of IV. Those people included Doreen Farr; Dan Hicks, Administrator of the Ventura County Limits Project; Dr. Shareen Khatapoush of Fighting Back, a task force that seeks to reduce underage drinking in Santa Barbara county; Ashley Day, AS On-Campus Representative; Chuck Eckhart of the IV Property Owner Association; Sue Paul, Assistant CEO of Santa Barbara County; and Lt. Brian Olmstead of the IV Foot Patrol.
Students were generally outraged about the ordinance, the enforcement of which appeared arbitrary and aimed at reducing what is essentially “victimless” crime. The ordinance will hold the tenants of any dwelling in which the police find underage minors consuming alcohol responsible, and charge them fines of up to $1,000. It will determine that excessive noise gives police probable cause to enter an IV house or apartment, at which point the tenant will be held responsible if minors are found drinking.
While I understand that this new policy is unpopular and in all likelihood infringes on the rights of the majority of UCSB students who just want to have a good time and can do so without endangering themselves or anyone else, the truth still remains that it is the law in the State of California and the other 49 American states that it is illegal to consume alcohol if you are under 21. While I personally feel that the United States maintains an arbitrarily high minimum drinking age, particularly in comparison to the standards of almost every other industrialized country, as of yet that same law has yet to be struck down in any court, or overturned by any popular referendum.
The truth of the matter is, most American adults between the ages of 18 and 21 are politically apathetic and do not bother to vote, the minority who are enrolled in college often being the exception. Consequently politicians risk little in drafting legislation that curtails their rights, particularly if other demographics, such as concerned suburban soccer moms will applaud the measure. I would challenge anyone under the age of 21 who has been charged with an MIP or another age-related drinking offense to contest the charge on the basis of age discrimination, a practice that has been prohibited by the courts in several landmark rulings, primarily in the defense of the elderly. But until then, the fact remains that the law stands, and the police are only doing their jobs in attempting to enforce it.
IV Property Owner Association Chuck Eckhart, an opponent of the new ordinance, warned students that all of the tenants of a particular residence would be financially liable if police found underage drinkers in the residence, even if they were not physically present at the party, or for that matter, were in town at all. “You could be in Spain, and your roommate could host a party, and you would still be liable,” he admonished. That having been said, when a group of people choose to live together and among other things, all sign the same lease agreement they all become responsible for one another’s behavior. If your roommate punches a hole in the wall or breaks a window or sets the carpet on fire, your landlord will deduct the cost of repairs from your mutual deposit regardless of who was at fault. If your roommate is growing weed in his closet, and the Narcotics task force kicks down the door with a warrant, you are all going to jail, regardless of whether you knew about it. These are some of the potential consequences of living with others, so in the absence of this ordinance being overturned or not, the lesson is to consider whom you choose to live with, and set ground rules about what can and cannot go on while you are living together. Otherwise I suggest you get a studio.
Unfortunately UCSB and the greater Santa Barbara community do not have the best town-gown relationship, and while I do not doubt for a second that a fair amount of the mayhem caused in IV on any given weekend is the doing of people who do not live there themselves, there is still a far too relaxed community standard when it comes to what is acceptable and what is not. The fact is I suspect that a good number of students, perhaps even an outright majority, do think that the daily shenanigans of IV life almost all of which are alcohol related are indeed funny, and if anything, add to the whole “party-til-you-puke” atmosphere that our school is notorious for. As long as those attitudes exist, then no doubt the greater Santa Barbara community will take all necessary measures to enforce the law as it is written, even if it does little to actually curb drinking, underage or otherwise.
My advice on how best to beat this ordinance: Don’t host parties in your own apartment. I can assure you that enough other people will choose to do so anyway so that if you need a party you will be able to find one on any night of the week. And if the party is broken up, then that host is liable and not you. Maybe doing so will not make you a “team player” or allow you the popularity that you might otherwise have if your place is known as the place to crash on a Friday or Saturday night. But judging by how many students last Thursday were arguing that a fine of even $250 for a first offense will force them to drop out of college, then I am afraid that any other alternative might not be an acceptable risk.