Alarmed by dramatically increased substance abuse rates reported by area youths, Daly City Mayor David Canepa is asking the City Council to consider imposing heavy fines on adults who allow underage drinking in their homes.
Canepa said the need for such measures became apparent when youth volunteers working with the North County Prevention Partnership presented findings from the latest Youth Access Survey, an extensive study polling nearly 25 percent of Daly City and Pacifica high school students.
Marijuana use appears to have increased significantly among youths in the region, with more than 96 percent of survey respondents in 2013 saying they knew somebody who abused the drug, while less than 40 percent of teens polled in 2009 reported knowing any pot smokers.
The study found that just over 25 percent of youth in 2013 said stores were consistent about checking identification to prevent alcohol sales to minors. It marked an improvement from 2009, when just 11 percent of participants said stores consistently checked ID, but the youth volunteers said more improvement was needed.
The number of students reporting that kids were drinking in homes jumped to about 44 percent in 2013, more than triple the 14 percent reported in a prior survey in 2005. Respondents also said drinking in homes most often occurs during parties, holidays and other social events, and parents are overwhelmingly unaware of this behavior.
The youth presenters urged the City Council to adopt a measure similar to Pacifica's 2011 social-host liability ordinance, which allows that city to impose fines on residents who host social events where underage drinking occurs.
Prevention consultant Mary Bier of the North County Prevention Partnership coordinated the youth volunteers' efforts. She explained that the study asked kids about substance abuse among people they knew, rather than their own consumption habits because respondents are typically more candid in their answers if the questions are not about themselves.
"The surveys are completely anonymous, but teens still sometimes feel a reluctance to disclose their own behavior, so it's easier for them to talk about what they're observing in their peers," Bier said.
Westmoor High School junior Angela Garcia said conducting the research was a real eye-opener, as she was surprised to learn that more than 25 percent of her peers knew somebody who used cocaine.
"It makes you wonder, 'Where do these kids get these drugs? Who supplies it to them?'" Garcia said.
The Westmoor student also wondered why so many store clerks reportedly were willing or absent-minded to sell alcohol to minors, despite the significant legal and financial penalties associated with underage alcohol sales.
"Why would you risk that? I'm really surprised," Garcia said.
Although Canepa was reluctant to discuss details of the possible legislation, Bier said that at the mayor's request, her group provided Daly City with a potential draft policy using the Pacifica law as a template.
That law allows police to impose a $1,000 fine for a first incident of underage drinking at a private residence. While Canepa wouldn't speculate about whether Daly City might levy stiffer fines, he did note that it would be legal for the city to do so.
Santa Clara County, as well as the cities of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and San Rafael have passed similar ordinances in recent years.