Today, Kalamazoo city commissioners will be making a final vote on the Social Gathering Ordinance, which, if put into effect, would punish owners of properties where underage drinking occurs.
The Social Gathering Ordinance seeks to hold responsible both adults and minors knowledgeable of underage drinking on their property.
“[Under the Social Gathering Ordinance,] if you are the social host, and you are aware of [under age] drinking going on, then you can be [held] responsible,” Kalamazoo City commissioner Stephanie Moore said.
The Social Gathering Ordinance began when Moore, who is also a member of the Kalamazoo County Substance Abuse Task Force, heard of a minor being severely injured at a party in Kalamazoo.
Moore, with the help of Kalamazoo Attorney Clyde Robinson, drafted the Social Gathering Ordinance. Moore took the draft around Kalamazoo to community leaders.
According to the Western Michigan University Department of Public Safety’s Annual Security Report, which was published Oct. 1, 2009, 237 total liquor law violations resulted in arrests during 2008.
Of these arrests, 205 took place in WMU campus buildings or on campus property. During 2008, a total of 682 liquor law-related non-arrest referrals were made.
The Michigan Liquor Control Code of 1998, which currently applies in Kalamazoo, states that “Alcoholic liquor shall not be sold or furnished to a minor,” and that adults who furnish alcohol to minors will receive a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no more than $1,000 and imprisonment for not more than 60 days for a first offense. For a second offense, the fine is not more than $2,500 and imprisonment for not more than 90 days for a second or subsequent offense.
To violate the Social Gathering Ordnance, the adult would “have to knowingly allow a minor to consume or possess an alcoholic beverage at a social gathering on or within that premises, residence, or real property.”
Violation could result in no more than 30 days imprisonment and no more than a $500 fine.
The ordinance includes a sunset provision, which means that the ordinance, if passed, will only stay in effect until April 30, 2011. Then, the ordinance may be revised, discarded, or kept in its current state.
Robinson said that the ordinance would be easily enforced because it is similar to state laws already in effect.
“The ordinance basically tracks state law,” Robinson said, “Our ordinance would be interpreted similarly to state statutes since it’s used in the same language.”
The ordinance has seen support from many associations about Kalamazoo, including the Vine Neighborhood Association.
“I think that in this neighborhood, there’s an opportunity to use this tool as well to make sure we have some impact on the quality of [the life of] our residents,” Vine Neighborhood Association executive director Stephen Walsh said, “It’s applicable for a number of our renters and college-age students as well.”
Although the Vine Neighborhood Association supports the ordinance, Walsh does not see out-of-hand parties as a regular occurrence in the neighborhood.
“We do have occasional parties that do create a lot garbage and a lot of noise and they are a detriment to the quality of life in Vine for the majority of the residents. But no, it’s not really been an issue here for a number of years,” Walsh said.
However, Walsh believes that the ordinance will have help curb whatever violence that does occur in the Vine Neighborhood.
“I think that’s what we’re ultimately looking for – to make sure that people aren’t being assaulted or robbed in their own homes when they’re hosting get-togethers,” Walsh said.
Sean Hartman, who lives at Scorpion Island – a house located in the Vine Neighborhood that throws rock shows a few weekends every month – does not support the ordinance.
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate when people try to make laws about things they don’t know enough about,” Hartman said. “I’ve talked to cops before and most of them know when a party has gone out of control and how to deal with it. It’s always the few illogical people that tend to ruin things. I understand that there are a lot of stupid things that happen at some parties. That is no reason to punish the
rest of us, though.
“I try really hard to keep a positive atmosphere at Scorpion Island events,” Hartman added, “Any time there is a problem, I either make sure it gets resolved quickly or make some people leave. I’d like to think that cops and our city leaders have more important things to do than trying to take money from some kids.”
Although WMU has its own policies for underage drinking on campus, students may still be affected by the ordinance.
The Western Student Organization was presented a draft of the ordinance in September.
“I guess I was just happy to see that the [Kalamazoo City] commissioners have the best intentions in mind for the students,” WSA president Nate Knappen said.
Despite the mixed views of Kalamazoo residents, Moore sees the ordinance as being a helpful asset to law enforcement.
“[The Social Gathering Ordinance has] been targeted at people at who irresponsibly allow underage minors to drink and consume alcoholic beverages,” Moore said, “This will be another tool that our public safety officers and Western Michigan University officers can use in order to identify and hold responsible adults or responsible parties who host parties and/or gatherings and they allow, permit, or condone underage drinking.”