By Jackson Talbott
In 2007, Marin County passed an ordinance making it illegal for parents to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place, regardless of who provides the alcohol. Since then, parties in Novato have become scarce because of fear of large fines or even criminal charges.
For a police officer to investigate a party, a neighbor or passerby has to do dial 911 and report an unruly gathering. Most of the time, when people hear “unruly gathering” they might imagine 50 teenagers standing shoulder to shoulder in a kitchen, as they all take 10-second pulls from Grey Goose vodka bottles. However, according to marinsupers.org, an “unruly gathering” in Marin means a party or gathering of two or more persons at a residence. This means that if you have a buddy over for a classy game of Twister, the police may come knocking on your door because you were being too loud.
Novato High senior Joe Lundberg, has first-hand experience with the ordinance law.
“Everyone got home safe so I think the ordinance only causes issues,” said Lundberg as he referred to a party at his house. “I don’t think [the police] had the right to shut down my party because I didn’t invite them in and I took it upon myself to make sure everyone had rides home.”
In the middle of a high school party last January, multiple police officers came into Lundberg’s home uninvited and issued his father a $250 fine.
While a lot of teens feel the ordinance shuts down parties just to ruin their fun, it has good intentions.
Officer Ryan McEachern with the San Francisco Police Department provided a different perspective.
“Allowing teens to have a gathering at a house is one thing. Parents condoning the consumption of alcohol and facilitating under age drinking is not only illegal, it exposes their own children to a dangerous situation and other children with their own parents likely not aware,” McEachern stated.
McEachern also clarified the types of unruly gatherings police officers look for.
“I believe there is a difference between enforcing disruptive gatherings and underage drinking,” McEachern claimed. “The law is more focused on large gatherings with a large population consuming alcohol under age. The disruptive behavior is usually what draws law enforcement's attention.”
The original goal of the ordinance was to shut down huge parties when things become out of control, not wherever underage drinking occurs. The law’s intent is to stop teens from drinking when their parents may not be aware of it. Most teens feel that the police want to stop kids from having a good time when in reality they are simply enforcing what the community wants.