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St. Paul Park makes move to fight underage drinking, approves 'social-host ordinance'

Party hosts will be held accountable for underage drinking and bar patrons will be able to take their drinks outside after the St. Paul Park City Council passed a pair of alcohol-related measures last month.

The city joined a number of other metro cities in approving a social host ordinance that holds party hosts responsible for underage drinking that occurs at their residence -- whether or not they supplied the alcohol.

Without the social host provision, city officials said it can be difficult to hold a party host liable unless it can be definitively proven they provided alcohol to underage drinkers. That, Police Chief Mike Monahan has said, is often very difficult to do.

The new ordinance -- similar to the one the Cottage Grove City Council passed in the spring of 2010 -- wouldn't unduly punish parents who weren't aware underage drinking was occurring at their home, officials said.

"We looked at a lot of other cities," said City Administrator Kevin Walsh. "It's another way for police to try to curb underage drinking."

Monahan first proposed the ordinance to city officials in June. He said he expected police to use it one or two times per year.

The City Council Aug. 20 also OK'd an amendment to city code that will allow bars and restaurants to permit patrons to take their drinks with them outside to enclosed patio areas. Under St. Paul Park's previous rules, bar-goers could step outside to patio areas but couldn't take their drinks with them, city officials said.

"The main change from what it currently is to what they're proposing, before [with] alcohol ... you needed to only have drinking inside the building," Walsh said. "This allows for outside patios."

St. Paul Park bar and restaurant Vinny's on the River proposed the change, Walsh said. The city's Public Safety Commission reviewed the new language earlier in August and recommended approval.

Liquor licensed establishments must submit plans for outdoor seating areas to the city for approval. Walsh said the City Council would sign off on outdoor drinking areas for each establishment as part of their annual re-licensing.