A law that would ban sex offenders in Orange County parks was given tentative approval Tuesday by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
The board has asked District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to make several revisions to the ordinance before a final vote is taken in April.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson proposed the ordinance after one of his
Fullerton, across from Laguna Lake Park.
"We found there were few tools to keep this person away from children in the park,'' Nelson said.
Fullerton City Council members have approved similar ordinances barring
sex offenders from parks, Nelson said.
Under the proposal, registered sex offenders caught in designated county recreational areas where children regularly gather would be subject to misdemeanor charges. Violators could be punished with up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.
The ordinance would become law 30 days after if it is passed.
“Registered sex offenders should not have the right to go into parks and places where children gather,” Rackauckas said in a statement announcing plans for the ordinance. “Parks do not belong to sexual deviants. Parks belong to children who want to play there and parents who want to enjoy nature with their children.”
Supervisor Pat Bates of the Fifth District said she had first-hand experience with a sex offender years ago when she took her children on an outing.
“When I took my daughter and some young ladies to the O.C .Marine Institute, which is now the Ocean Institute, there was a sex offender there who exposed himself to the girls, so it does happen,” Bates said.
The question came up during the discussion about whether the Harbor, Beaches and Parks Department or the Sheriff’s Department would be responsible for signing waivers for registered sex offenders who wished to be in one of the parks for a wedding or similar event, as well as for county workers with such an offense on their records who needed to be in the parks as a condition of their employment.
It was ultimately determined that the Sheriff's Department would be responsible for issuing the waivers. Denis Bildeau, Nelson’s chief of staff, said the Sheriff's Department would be better equipped to analyze a person’s criminal record.
The district attorney’s office said officers would not be patrolling the parks looking for sex offenders, but rather that it would be up to people visiting the parks to report any suspicious behavior to park rangers or law enforcement personnel.
Speaking on behalf of a group called Sex Offender Solutions and Education Network based in Oklahoma, Eric Knight, who represents the California region, said that while even the words sex offender “strike terror in any parent or neighborhood,” the ordinance, if passed, would “violate” a handful of amendments—1,4, 5, 8, 10, 14—of the U.S. Constitution, as well as many California laws.
“I can guarantee that this law would be overturned should it go to court,” he said. “I think a better solution would be to work alongside the schools, and work out details on how to keep kids safe and educate them better.”
In response to Knight’s remark, the district attorney’s office said the department had researched the issue and was “confident in that the issue of impinging on someone’s constitutional rights is not an issue.”
Barry Levinson, a resident of Fullerton, implored the board to pass the ordinance.
“How can we truly say we value our children if this ordinance doesn’t go into effect?” he said.
The law would apply to nearly 60,000 acres of parkland and open space, including regional and wilderness parks, nature preserves, recreational trails, historic sites, harbors, and beaches where children regularly gather. These include: Arroyo Trabuco Park, Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Clark Regional Park, Craig Regional Park, Featherly Regional Park, Irvine Regional Park, Laguna Niguel Regional Park, Mason Regional Park, Mile Square Regional Park, O'Neill Regional Park, Orange County Zoo, Peters Canyon Regional Park, Santiago Regional Park, Harriett M. Wieder Regional Park, Yorba Park, Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Caspers Wilderness Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park, Talbert Nature Preserve, Aliso Beach Park, Capistrano Beach Park, Newport Harbor, Salt Creek Beach Park, Sunset Beach Park, Dana Point Harbor, and Sunset Harbour.
—City News Service contributed to this report.