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Clayton Valley High School students drink during an outdoor party in Clayton, Calif. April 12, 2002. Contra Costa County Supervisors plan to stiffen penalties for those hosting parties with underage drinking.(Nader Khouri/file photo)

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MARTINEZ — Most high school parties in Martinez feature booze, weed, Ecstasy and acid, one Alhambra High senior said. Just some parties?

"No, most of them," said Greg Kearney, an 18-year-old Alhambra High School senior.

"Parents don't really know about them. When parents go out of town is when they usually happen," he said.

If a new ordinance passes today, Contra Costa parents could be held responsible for such parties involving alcohol. Parents would face a misdemeanor, up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho's stringent social host ordinance.

"No person shall suffer, permit, allow, or host a gathering at his or her place of residence or other private property under his or her control where three or more persons under the age of 21 are present and where alcoholic beverages are in the possession of, or are being consumed by, any person under the age of 21," according to the ordinance.

Parents face a $200 citation and no jail time under the current ordinance. The new ordinance would also define a party as three people, rather than five.

"It didn't seem to have enough teeth in it from the community members' perspective," Piepho said.

"Unfortunately, the most effective way we get people's attention as to the importance and severity of these issues is through the pocketbook," the supervisor said.


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Even if the parents have no knowledge of the party and are out of town, they could still be held liable.

"Until someone is 18, the parents are still responsible for their behavior," said Emily Justice, Contra Costa's Friday Night Live program manager.

Forty-one percent of Contra Costa 11th-graders reported drinking in the past 30 days, according to a 2007 California Healthy Kids Survey. The underage drinking surpassed the statewide 37 percent average.

Meanwhile, 79 percent of Contra Costa 11th-graders said it was "very easy" or "fairly easy" to obtain alcohol, according to the same survey. Nationwide, 65 percent of underage drinkers access alcohol from social sources, such as parents or older friends.

Justice worries that some parents feel that if they host a party and provide alcohol they can control bad behaviors.

"It's a misconception that if you provide this safe environment kids won't have problems with alcohol," Justice said. "Plus, it still sends the message that drinking is OK.

"And a lot of repercussions are much more subtle. A lot of youths are facing issues such as addiction and depression." The ordinance will affect unincorporated areas of Contra Costa.

Patrick Lickiss, principal of Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, said he agrees that adults should be held accountable.

"It's against the law," Lickiss said. "You're giving kids a message that it's OK." Clayton Valley High School junior Arsiema Berhe, 15, said she isn't aware of such parties in Concord. Still, she thinks the stiffer law is a good idea.

"I don't think it will stop it (right away)," Arsiema said. "But there will be less and eventually it will stop."

What Piepho wants to stop are the drunken-driving accidents, alcohol poisoning incidences and other serious repercussions seen following recent Contra Costa teen parties.

"Our overarching concern is community safety. Law enforcement and neighbors will have another tool if situations occur to make the community safer. The incidence of teen drinking is on the rise," she said.

At the parties he attends, Kearney says students take responsibility for their actions.

"People are usually really safe about it," he said. "(High school students) do party a lot, but we're usually good about finding someone sober to drive home."

Staff writer Theresa Harrington contributed to this story. Reach Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5053 or mgafni@bayareanewsgroup.com.

If you go
What: Social host ordinance
When: 9:30 a.m. today
Where: Contra Costa Board of Supervisor chamber, Room 107, 651 Pine St., Martinez
Issue: The board will vote on an ordinance that would charge with a misdemeanor any parent hosting a party for an underage child at which three or more people younger than 21 are drinking. They could also face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.