Lake Forest OKs stricter ban on sex offenders in city parks

 

LAKE FOREST – Despite concerns about its enforceability, the City Council on Tuesday gave final approval to an ordinance banning sex offenders from city parks that is stricter than most other versions of the law passed in the county.

The Lake Forest ordinance is similar to one approved in April by county supervisors, who along with the District Attorney’s Office have been urging city officials to take up the issue for city parks. The county law allows registered sex offenders to obtain permission to enter county parks from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Article Tab: Lake Forest Mayor Peter Herzog and the City Council gave final approval to a ban on registered sex offenders in city parks.
Lake Forest Mayor Peter Herzog and the City Council gave final approval to a ban on registered sex offenders in city parks.

So far, laws like the county ban have been passed in Irvine, La Habra, Laguna Hills, Los Alamitos, Huntington Beach, Westminster and Yorba Linda. Irvine’s law is narrowly tailored to sex offenders who have targeted minors.

Lake Forest’s version of the ban, which takes effect in 30 days, eliminates the exception that would allow offenders to enter city parks with written permission from the Sheriff’s Department. The approach is similar to that of Huntington Beach, which passed the ban last month but eliminated a provision allowing the city’s police chief to give offenders permission to enter parks.

Lake Forest Councilman Scott Voigts, who in October brought the issue to his colleagues, suggested they reconsider allowing sex offenders to get permission to visit the parks. Voigts said he feared the restriction would reduce the potential to enforce the ban. Voigts suggested mimicking language in the county law would be the best option for enforcement.

Councilwoman Kathryn McCullough voiced concerns about enforcement at private parks run by homeowners associations and brought up the possibility of giving city staff more time to research it.

“How do you enforce this,” resident Vincent Burke said. “Do you have a patrol unit out at every park with a photo recognition? Feel-good legislation is nice. You can’t just put up a sign at parks saying ‘no registered sex offenders.'”

Other residents advocating the ban encouraged the council not to delay.

“It (the county ban) was passed in April and the District Attorney has been sending out information since then,” resident Kelly Hagins said. “I don’t understand why it’s not important enough for you to do the research. … I’m not just a crazy mom. Just pass this. Do this for your community and your children.”

Council members also discussed asking the county to consider modifying its ban to eliminate the part about written permission as it pertains to the three county-run parks in the city.

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously for final approval. Under the ban, violators would be charged with a misdemeanor and could face a $500 fine and jail time of up to six months

“We need to start off with the ordinance and add information as we have it,” Mayor Pro Tem Mark Tettemer said.

Tuesday’s discussion follows vigorous debate at two previous meetings with speakers including convicted sex offenders, attorneys representing sex offenders, and parents and teachers.

Other cities including Rancho Santa Margarita and Mission Viejo are working on language for similar ordinances.

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Contact the writer: 949-454-7307 or eritchie@ocregister.com

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