City Council targets underage drinking at large parties

By Maya Pisel

The St. Paul City Council is considering an ordinance that would hold adults responsible for any underage drinking that occurs in their residence. Currently, adults are only prohibited from providing alcohol to minors. The proposed ordinance would also make them liable for teens who bring their own alcohol to a party or event.

Councilmember Russ Stark, who introduced the legislation, said the ordinance is “really targeted at the chronic party house.”

Stark, whose district includes Macalester, St. Thomas, and Hamline, said he has heard complaints about parties throughout his two years in office.

“There’s been a lot of interest among my constituents in trying to figure out ways to deal with student party houses that cause a lot of noise and disruption in peoples lives,” Stark said.

Furthermore, he said, there is “a growing concern about underage drinking and especially binge drinking and the effects on public health.”

Stark’s ordinance is not without precedent.

“The ordinance that we have drafted is very similar to the one in Chaska and other municipalities,” Stark said. “From what research the attorney’s office has done, the ordinances in those municipalities have worked out pretty well.”

In regards to consequences, Stark said first-time offenders would most likely face only a warning.

“Then if there was a repeat offense,” he said, “potentially they would be charged.

Anyone charged under the new ordinance could face 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Stark said he doesn’t expect the ordinance to curb underage drinking altogether, instead emphasizing that it targets “gatherings where the drinking can be the most dangerous.”

“I think it tends to be at the large group parties where people tend to get a little bit crazy,” he said. “In particular, from year to year there tend to be houses that become repeat offender houses that keep people up at night, and I think it can help with those kinds of situations.”

Dean of Students Jim Hoppe felt similarly: “I guess it could have a potential to shift behavior. It might change the way people choose a location.”

Macalester students in general are not the primary main targets of the ordinance. Stark said he gets “relatively very few [complaints about Macalester] in comparison to St. Thomas and even Hamline. St. Thomas is kind of far and away over the others.”

Hoppe echoed Stark’s suggestion that Macalester students would probably not be the most serious violators of the ordinance.

“I find that Mac students are usually pretty open and willing to accept feedback and I don’t think many have the intent to disturb the neighborhood,” Hoppe said.

Under Macalester policy, adult students can face consequences for events where underage drinking gets out of control, but Hoppe said “we very rarely have to get to that point.”

Hoppe said that, on the whole, Macalester is “still waiting to learn more about it.” Public hearings will be held later this month.