By Tina Richards
The Villa Park City Council rejected a social host ordinance that would stiffen penalties and give law enforcement greater discretion to cite adults who allow underage drinking on their property.
It was the second time, in as many months, that the council turned down the ordinance that was proposed primarily to curb wild parties at a property on Wellington Circle leased by Chapman University students. If approved, adults who own, lease, rent or are otherwise in possession of a property on which alcohol is consumed by individuals under 21 could be issued an administrative citation and fined $1,000. A citation could also be issued to an adult who organizes, supervises, sponsors or controls access to an underage gathering that involves alcohol. Landlords would not be liable unless they were aware that underage drinking was occurring on their property. A second offense would be a misdemeanor with a $2,000 fine attached.
The council tabled the ordinance at its February meeting by a 3-2 vote, noting that numerous laws already exist to combat underage drinking, and that creating a new citywide ordinance to target one party house was overkill.
The city’s Law Enforcement Advisory Committee (LEAC), which had originally proposed the social host ordinance and two others (loud parties, noise), insisted the council revisit the issue. “We thought the social host ordinance should be brought back,” LEAC’s Vince Rossini advised the council. “The ordinance provides a mechanism for enforcement actions, and takes a strict approach to chronic problems. The committee voted unanimously to bring it back.”
Council member Diana Fascenelli questioned the need for it. “This ordinance does nothing for law enforcement,” she said. “Why bring it back? State laws are already there. This was brought up due to one incident. This is not an issue in our city.” She also noted the absence of LEAC members in the council chambers. “This is important to them, but they didn’t want to come to the meeting tonight?”
Rick Barnett agreed. “This is a knee-jerk reaction to one rental property,” he said. “There’s no need to stack legislation. We have plenty of remedies.”
Crime and punishment
Members of the public who spoke at the March 22 council meeting were largely in favor of the ordinance. Several cited another party house on another street that the ordinance could apply to. Another noted that “this is not an isolated problem, and it’s going to happen more and more.” One frat house neighbor supported the stronger ordinance because, he said, despite eight months of complaints about the Wellington house, the city had done little to stop it.
One resident registered her concern about how the ordinance would affect all citizens, and common gatherings like weddings, graduations and birthdays. “I’d hate for this ordinance to be interpreted by neighbors as, ‘oh I don’t like this, I can call the police,’” she remarked, adding that it already happens when one neighbor doesn’t like another.
The council subsequently voted against the ordinance, with Fascenelli, Barnett and Mayor Greg Mills opposed. Councilmen Bill Nelson and Bob Collacott voted in favor. “We have plenty of laws and avenues we can follow,” Mills said. “We can’t legislate against neighbors with bad manners.”
Bad manners was also the impetus behind a stricter loud party ordinance approved by the council at its February meeting. It was on the agenda again for a routine second reading, essentially a confirmation of the previous vote.
Déjà vu all over again
The ordinance increased the duration for a second loud party offense from 24 hours to 30 days, and increased the fine from $500 to $1,000. Instead of reaffirming the previous vote, Fascenelli challenged it, saying the ordinance was poorly written and that 30 days was too long to initiate a second offense. “Three times in seven days is chronic,” she argued. Twice in 30 days isn’t.”
In a virtual replay of the February meeting, council members and residents re-debated the pros and cons of the ordinance. Those in favor cited the need to be proactive against the day when more Chapman students move into Villa Park. Those opposed reiterated the unfairness of imposing the threat of a citation on every resident who hosts a party to “solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”
With Bill Nelson stressing that the only changes being made were the time and the fine, and Fascenelli holding that it was not necessary to hammer down on the entire city, the confirming vote was 4-1. Burnett, Mills, Nelson, and Collacott were in favor; Fascenelli opposed.