The Novato community, led by the nonprofit Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition for Youth, has been a leader in the effort to cut teen alcohol use and is a model for other Marin communities, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury said in a report released Friday.

Organized efforts to reduce teen drinking date back to 1987, when the city of Novato formed the Novato Drug and Alcohol Prevention Advisory Task Force, and it has continued in various forms under the direction of city and schools officials, according to the report. In 2008, the private sector took the lead when a school board-led committee was re-formed as the independent blue ribbon commission.

The commission now includes citizens and members of Novato's police department, school district, city government and civic organizations. Including a broad group of people has helped the commission focus on factors such as alcohol advertising, the availability of alcohol and teen use patterns rather than simply targeting individuals, said Teri Rockas, co-chair of the commission and a health educator for Kaiser Permanente.

"This is about mobilizing the community to make change, regardless of what the funding availability is, regardless of what the political will is," Rockas said.
Calling youth binge drinking a "public health crisis in Marin County," the grand jury report cites statistics such as a 50 percent drinking rate among 11th-graders — the highest rate in California — and incidents including fatal car crashes in 2005 and 2010 in which drunken teens were driving
. The report calls on public agencies, including the county's Health and Human Services Department and the Marin County Office of Education to support anti-drinking efforts, and states the city should increase its enforcement of its social host ordinance, which targets adults who serve alcohol to minors.

The blue ribbon coalition is already working to share $5,400 of its grant funding with the Novato Police Department for patrols focused on teen parties this summer, said Bill Welch, the commission's co-chair and a retired Novato police officer.

The commission was bolstered in fall 2011 by the receipt of a multi-year, $625,000 grant from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and other funds have come from Kaiser, the county, the Peter E. Haas Jr. Family Foundation, the Marin Community Foundation and the Dennis and Carol Ann Rockey Fund.

The coalition is still developing its strategy but in the past year it has supported advocacy efforts such as fighting a new alcohol permit for a gas station and lobbying clothing retailer Tilly's to pull an alcohol-related display from its stores.

A major focus of the group is changing adult's attitudes toward drinking, said Jennifer Treppa, coalition member and former Novato school board member.

"Every time a young person takes a drink of alcohol, there was an adult involved at some point," Treppa said.

Members of the group have attended several PTA meetings and will continue to reach out to parents and other adults in the fall, she said.