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In a win for student activists, the St. Helena City Council agreed Tuesday to suspend the city’s 10 p.m. curfew for youth younger than the age of 18.

The curfew had been an obscure issue for adults – Councilmember Peter White said he hadn’t even known St. Helena had one – until St. Helena High School students raised it at an Oct. 17 mayoral debate between Alan Galbraith and Geoff Ellsworth.

Junior Larkin Dewyer, speaking on behalf of the student body, told the council the curfew violates teens’ constitutional rights, strains relations between youth and police, and “criminalizes looking young or being young.”

“In St. Helena, looking young is probable cause,” she told the council. “In our view, being young should not be a crime.”

She also questioned the curfew’s effectiveness, noting that American Canyon, the only Napa County jurisdiction without a curfew, has a lower juvenile arrest rate than the city of Napa, which has a 10 p.m. curfew.

The curfew begins at 10 p.m. in St. Helena, Yountville and Napa, and at 11 p.m. in Calistoga and Napa County. Violations are considered infractions in St. Helena and misdemeanors in Calistoga, Yountville, the city of Napa and Napa County.

Councilmember Geoff Ellsworth praised students like Dewyer for raising the issue, and said he’s since heard from parents who worry about minor curfew violations damaging their kids’ future job and college prospects.

“We’re having this discussion tonight because you spoke up,” Ellsworth told students.

Interim Police Chief Tim Foley said St. Helena officers haven’t issued any citations for curfew violations in the last 10 years. The department uses the curfew mainly as a tool to contact parents when youth are out late making noise or causing other trouble, he said.

In the last three years, St. Helena police have contacted juveniles 41 times during curfew hours. Thirty-one of those incidents were triggered by non-curfew-related complaints like vehicle code violations, noise complaints and shoplifting.

The suspension won’t take effect immediately because it has to come back to the council in the form of an ordinance for a first and second reading.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.