Changes to sex offender ordinance worries parents

Predator Rules

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors deferred action on a proposal to repeal a Riverside County ordinance restricting where convicted sex offenders can reside and loiter, directing county staff instead to modify the law so that some of its provisions can be preserved.

"I'm against repealing it entirely,'' said board Chairman Jeff Stone.  "There are parts of it we need to keep intact. I want to protect constituents from sexual predators.''

The board had been slated to vote on whether to abrogate Ordinance No. 902, but at Stone's urging, the repeal option was tabled in preference of revising the measure.

Under the ordinance, convicted sex offenders cannot live together under the same roof; cannot loiter within 300 feet of a school, park, bus stop, library, public swimming pool or similar location where children gather; and cannot partake in certain festivities geared specifically to kids, primarily Halloween trick-or-treating.

The county regulations were implemented swiftly in response to a California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation proposal in July 2010 to release a convicted child rapist and killer, Donald Schmidt, to a Perris-area group home. The facility was around the corner from an elementary school.

In the face of mounting public pressure, state officials ended up sending Schmidt to another location.

In the last two years, the Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled in decisions stemming from challenges to similar ordinances in Orange and San Diego counties that the anti-loitering and residency restrictions imposed on convicted sex offenders were too onerous and conflicted with state parole measures already in place.  "The situation is if we don't change our ordinance, we'll be sued for having an ordinance that we know we can't defend," said Supervisor John Benoit. 

The Riverside County Office of County Counsel noted that Penal Code section 290, requiring lifetime sex offender registration with law enforcement, along with companion measures, provide a number of protections that the county's ordinance was intended to ensure.

Under state law, a convicted sex offender must:

   -- obtain express permission from his or her parole agent before entering a park;
   -- not reside within 2,000 feet of a school;
   -- not enter a child daycare or adult residential care facility without first notifying the staff   of his or her registration status; and
   -- not accept any job working with minors if the victim in the
offender's underlying crime was 16 years old or younger.

County attorneys said the California Supreme Court has agreed to review one of the appellate court decisions, but without knowing which way it may go, it behooves the board to repeal all of the current restrictions, or risk fighting costly lawsuits that the county would more than likely lose.

However, the board determined that with the verdict still out on whether the state's high court will invalidate all the residency restrictions that Riverside and neighboring counties impose on sex registrants, it was worth keeping them on the books.

The board directed the Office of County Counsel to draft a revised ordinance, eliminating the anti-loitering provisions while retaining the rules on where sex offenders can live and with whom.  Despite the county's efforts, MIka Moulton, the founder of Christopher's Clubhouse, an organization devoted to child safety education, says it's a step backwards. "If you have committed a violent crime, you should give up these civil rights," said Moulton. 

The changes are also drawing criticism and concern from some parents in the valley.  "Permitting these people to again be in the circumstances, the situations that probably make it easy for them to commit the crime," said Irini Geraniot, a Cathedral City resident. 

"They're allowing some other people to come in and put my children at danger, it's very disconcerting," said Debbie Calixto, a Cathedral City resident. 

The modified ordinance is slated to be considered on July 29, with a public hearing and possible enactment on Aug. 5, just before the board adjourns for summer recess.

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