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Civil Grand Jury Endorses Novato's Mission to Fight Teen Alcohol Use

But watchdog group makes a number of recommendations that are already being implemented, leaving city staff puzzled.

It's going to take a team effort, a reprioritizing campaign and some governmental commitments to stem problems related to underage drinking in Marin.

That was the conclusion of a report released Friday by the Marin County Civil Grand Jury, a 19-member "watchdog" investigative body that monitors local government and makes recommendations about how to improve services and save taxpayer dollars.

The report, which focused on Novato's mission to address the chronic problem,  states some of the basics — that alcohol is easy for kids to obtain from retailers, family members and friends; that Marin has one of the highest teen drinking rates in the state; that parents have the most influence on kids' behaviors toward alcohol use; and that education in schools can play a key role.

The grand jury commended the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition for Youth and its effort to change social norms and reduce kids' exposure to alcohol. The group, which has a on Novato Patch, recently made some national news by pressuring a retail store to take down window displays that blatantly tied drinking with summer fun.

The key recommendations in the report are:

  • The Marin County Office of Education and the Board of Education need to support and encourage existing and future alcohol prevention programs in the schools.
  • The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services should lead the community in emphasizing the dangers of underage drinking and parents' role in prevention.
  • The county health department should have staff members attend Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition for Youth meetings.
  • Novato City Manager Michael Frank should choose a representative to become a member of the coalition, attend meetings and keep city staff and the Novato City Council informed.  
  • The city should enforce drinking-age laws and the social host ordinance that penalizes homeowners for allowing youth access to alcohol.
  • The city should require rather than just encourage training for anyone selling or serving alcohol.

For the record, the city has been involved in the coalition from the start, Frank said. Pam Shinault, the city's parks and community services director, is on the coalition's executive committee; city staff member Samantha Kimpel spends all but four of her work hours per week on coalition matters; and police Lt. Keith Heiden is a coalition member and participates on several subcommittees.

Also, several city and police officials joined county health official Gary Najarian in a in May about the coalition's progress and asked parents to contribute ideas to help stem the problem.

Take a look at the full report and share your thoughts with a comment below. 

M. Calwald June 15, 2012 at 09:51 PM
The Blue Ribbon Co. has done a great job. Thank you
ElmerD June 15, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Judging from the poll it appears that other Marin County communities need a reality check. Saying that the problem is worse in Novato is like a passenger on the Titanic saying that the other side of the ship is sinking faster so I have nothing to worry about. marin county ranks among the highest communities in the state with regards to almost every category of alcohol abuse, including teens. Educate yourself on the facts before another life is ruined!
Tina McMillan June 17, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Drinking is a problem throughout the Bay Area and the perception that it is a greater problem in Novato is part of the ongoing negative stereotyping of Novato as Cinderella sister of Marin County. As far as making a difference in teenagers drinking goes, unfortunately this is not solely about education. Most of these kids grew up on the Dare Program and throughout school were told that drugs and alcohol are bad and were given fact based knowledge about the impact of substance use and abuse. Some come from families where one or both parents don't drink at all and yet socially feel the same pressure to drink while in Middle School, High School and College. There is something missing in the lives of teenagers that makes it not only easy to drink but easy to drink to the point of addiction. There are many factors that influence teen drinking. Modeling at home, in the community and in the culture are three of the most significant factors. The inability of families to teach responsible alcohol use due to current laws has over the past four decades glamorized abusive drinking. Once something is forbidden it becomes more enticing. 18 year old's don't go to clubs and listen to music, dance and socialize without first "preloading" alcohol because they can't drink at the club. Prohibition has never been an effective solution for alcohol abuse and it is even more destructive now when there is the illusion that our children stay sober until they are 21.
Tina McMillan June 17, 2012 at 01:25 AM
continued Society's blame for the way young people act out with alcohol and other substances is also based in parents choosing to keep children from taking on responsible behavior while they are still in their teens. In many households children lack chores, they have the feeling that work is a burden, they look at television and movies and see people idealized whose lives are meaningless, reckless and without purpose. Let's take a look at the Kardashian's, or the Hilton's or any of the reality television shows. If you look at the message society provides it says spend now, party now, live now because all you have to look forward to is a desperate and boring life filled with responsibilities that you will despise. Making a real change in teen alcohol and drug use is far more complicated than just saying "No" to drugs and alcohol. It requires rethinking our laws and promoting a different lifestyle that includes adult sobriety as part of social behavior. It allows parents to teach children how to drink responsibly. It goes back to the days when teenagers could spend the summer working as well as having fun with friends because there were local entry level jobs. Making real life feel meaningful and showing young people a route to success that includes either sobriety or responsible drinking is the difference between life and death for many teenagers and young adults. It is a problem that affects us all.

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