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City Council prohibits registered sex offenders from parks

The ordinance, approved with a 4-3 vote, goes against the city attorney and police chief's advice.

November 09, 2011|By Mona Shadia

An emotionally charged Huntington Beach City Council voted Monday to ban all registered sex offenders from entering city parks, a move that went against the city attorney and police chief's recommendations and made the city's law even more stringent than the county's.

Following the Board of Supervisors' adoption of a similar law and a letter from Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas urging cities to pass their own sex offender bans from parks, Mayor Joe Carchio and Councilman Matthew Harper asked the rest of the council in May to adopt one.

"I don't want to be sitting up here and say that I had the ability and didn't use it, and some child was abused," Carchio said.

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Although City Attorney Jennifer McGrath and Chief of Police Ken Small gave the council several options from which to choose, the council with a 4-3 vote — with Connie Boardman, Keith Bohr and Joe Shaw dissenting — elected to pick the toughest alternative.

The version the council adopted, however, would likely violate the constitutional rights of offenders and open the door for lawsuits against the city, said UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the nation's foremost constitutional scholars.

"It's the most restricted ordinance that's been adopted in the county," McGrath said.

McGrath and Small recommended the council adopt an ordinance that exempts parents with small children as well as employees or contractors who already work in city parks and need to enter for work purposes so that they don't lose their jobs. They also recommended limiting the definition of sex offenders to only those who committed violent acts, including raping children under 18.

Chemerinsky said limiting sex offenders from going to parks limits their movements and affects their livelihood.

"I think it would be unconstitutional to not have flexibility," he said. "The reality is that people have to have a place to live. A county, a city can't say, 'We don't want a sex offender to live here.' And the more restrictive an ordinance is, the less flexibility it has, the more likely to be declared unconstitutional."

Orange County District Attorney Chief of Staff Susan Schroeder told the council the ordinance is effective because it has already been used in Westminster to bring charges and a sentence against a violent offender who broke the city's law by going to a park twice.

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