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City Approves First Reading of Sex Offenders Ordinance

Questions remain as a represenative from SAMLARC, the city's largest homeowners association, says that it has a "no" position on the ordinance, because of insurance issues.

An ordinance that would ban registered sex offenders from parks in Rancho Santa Margarita received unanimous City Council support on Wednesday night.

However, questions remain as a representative from the city’s largest homeowners association—which operates a large percentage of the parks in Rancho Santa Margarita—said the association could not support the ordinance as is currently written because of insurance liability issues.

In a 5-0 vote of the first reading, City Council members approved the first reading of an ordinance that would create “child safety zones” around local parks.

If the ordinance passes a second reading at the next city council meeting, registered sex offenders would not be able to enter the child safety zones without written permission from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

The punishment for violation of this ordinance includes time in a county jail for no more than six months, a fine of no more than $500, or both imprisonment and fine.

Steve Baric, the mayor pro tempore, thanked city staff and the city homeowner’s associations for helping move the measure forward, saying that the ordinance “protects those who are most vulnerable among us.”

“We have an extremely safe city here in Rancho, and we’re extremely blessed,” Baric said. “But what’s important to understand is that we are not entirely safe.

“We’ve been doing a very thorough analysis of this ordinance for almost five months now, so I’d ask my colleagues to help me move this forward.”

Baric proposed the ordinance in June after an incident in Rancho Santa Margarita where a Mission Viejo man allegedly ; the councilman said that even though other cities have also moved forward with such legislation, he believed RSM was the only city that had a relevant incident that inspired the ordinance, and even made reference to an incident last week in which to a girl at Cielo Vista Elementary.

According to city attorney Greg Simonian, the city’s HOAs can decide to participate in the law or not. The city does not own or operate any of the parks within its boundaries, except part of Canada Vista Park. 

And in the case of SAMLARC, the city’s largest HOA, right now the decision to support the ordinance is no.

"The SAMLARC Board of Directors has taken a 'no' position on this, but I will share with you that we didn’t do it lightly,” said Don Chadd, President of the SAMLARC Board of the Directors.

Chadd said the ordinance hasn’t addressed certain issues and that, as it currently stands, would open the HOA up to “significant risks" of exposure to lawsuits, especially if a SAMLARC homeowner who is also a registered sex offender, decides to sue the HOA over the ordinance. 

“It’s a difficult issue,” Chadd said during the public hearing on the ordinance. “I don’t want anyone walking away thinking that Don Chadd doesn’t want to protect children. I have four daughters myself. I have four granddaughters.”

He said however, the question for the city is is, “Are you willing to indemnify us?”

Brian Fitzpatrick, a senior deputy district attorney for Orange County, said the DA’s office supports the ordinance.

“I don’t know a lot about insurance and I don’t know a lot about homeowner’s associations, but I do know a lot about protecting children from sex offenders,” Fitzpatrick said.

“I do know about the serious, significant, and substantial risk that it is to have sex offenders walking around parks. ... Anything the city can do to protect our children from those sex offenders, we support and we encourage."

According to the city attorney, the ordinance is written in such a way that HOAs can choose to participate in the ordinance if they desire.

Under city policy, an ordinance goes through two readings before it becomes law. If councilmembers approve the second reading at the next council meeting, the law would go into effect 30 days later.

A number of communities have enacted similar laws including Mission Viejo and the county of Orange.

Jeff Gibson, Coto de Caza resident and longtime proponent of the ordinance, said he was pleased with the vote.

“It’s a commonsense reform that is long overdue,” said Gibson. “We are very grateful for the council's support.”

He also thanked Baric for seeing the process through.

The second reading of the item will take place at the next council meeting, February 8 at 7 p.m., in council chambers. 

Mike Safranski January 31, 2012 at 06:13 AM
I agree that Mr. Hrabik and Mr. Whittingham didn’t do their cause or their credibility much justice by not being able to clearly backup their claims regarding our City’s business climate. I’m still not quite sure how/why that even entered into a rationale for their cause. Despite that, it shouldn’t give the Mayor or Councilmember Gamble the right to publicly discredit, belittle, interrogate, and reprimand their constituents. I was embarrassed to watch this exchange take place and I truly believe that our City deserves much better than what we saw here. Taking a much more tactful approach would have presented the City in a much better light. It would have been much more appropriate for the Mayor to simply and reasonably state the true facts and then thank the presenters for their comments. I think the majority of the audience would have quickly seen the shortcomings of this presentation. I hope the Mayor can appreciate that in his leadership role he sets the tone for the other Councilmembers, and as importantly, the City staff. I can’t imagine that this type of behavior serves as a good example for city staff and I hope this style of leadership will change soon. We have a great City and I’m sure our Councilmembers do a great job conducting the business of this City, but for the 20 or 30 of us that regularly attend the City Council meetings, please keep it civil and professional. Our City deserves that.
April Josephson January 31, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Mike, I too want to see things kept civil. I'm wondering though, what you suggest is the best way to 1) stop the continued dissemination of false and misleading information disparaging our city, 2) find the basis for their claims to be able to prevent such information from being broadcast elsewhere, and 3) ensure that the public receives accurate information, given that council members said they already asked them privately so as to address it outside of public purview, without satisfaction. There was no indication that they planned to cease the dissemination of this misinformation, either, from what I could tell, even if the Mayor merely stated the true facts. I'm at a loss as to why anyone would want to spread such damaging misinformation about our city's business climate, especially as one of them claims they are trying to build their business in the city. There is also the fact that as Councilman Holloway asked, there seems to be no nexus between the items on their "bill of rights" and the falsehoods regarding our city in the cover letters circulated by both men. It's disappointing and just plain confusing to me.
John Huddleston January 31, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Mike thanks for your comments!
John Huddleston January 31, 2012 at 08:41 PM
On several occasions when I have attended City Council Meetings, It is embarassing how the older three incumbents Beal, Gamble and Holloway verbably attack, look down on and toss away sensible requests of RSM voters. These three are quick to show up for photo opportunities but, what have they really done for RSM lately? They brag about and take credit for every small business which opens in RSM. Except for Gamble getting a small business loan for a used furniture and what not store, they real work has been done by the under staffed city workers. It is time to change these pompous self serving incumbent politicians!
Daniel Chu January 31, 2012 at 10:54 PM
I think it's obvious why anyone would want to spread damaging information about our city's business climate. It's an election year and 3 council seats are up for grabs. If Mr. Hrabik and Mr. Whittingham create imaginary problems, and then come in with the miraculous answers to solve those problems, then they come out looking like leaders. At the very least, they start rumors to make the public think something really is broken and needs to be fixed, when in reality our business climate is great. Thankfully, their poorly thought-out plan backfired on them. It's also interesting that Whittingham is Steve Baric's planning commissioner and Kenney Hrabik is the only candidate Jesse Petrilla wanted to appoint to city council. Could this mean there's a team at work trying to oust the three council members up for election? In the last election, there was a big smear campaign against Gary Thompson, and the smears just continue, even today. Expect more to come.

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