Tuesday, July 16, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 19
Signup

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 15th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 19

Organization protecting sex offenders' rights continues statewide lawsuit campaign, sues Lompoc

By ZAC EZZONE

An organization dedicated to protecting the rights of registered sex offenders is on a campaign to sue cities throughout California with ordinances in place that it believes are unconstitutional. The city of Lompoc is one of the group’s most recent targets.

Attorney Janice Bellucci, who is the founder and executive director of Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws, and anonymous Lompoc resident John Doe filed a lawsuit against the city in February. According to the complaint, the organization claims the city’s ordinance restricting where sex offenders can live violates state law and the U.S. Constitution.

“The ordinance is an arbitrary, politically motivated act imposed by a local government in response to popular sentiments that are based upon misinformation, and which seeks retribution against registrants who constitute a socially outcast minority,” the complaint states.

Under Lompoc’s existing ordinance, registered sex offenders can’t live within 500 feet of a child care center, public or private school, park, or public library, which makes much of the city unlivable, Bellucci said.

In 2015, the California Supreme Court ruled that similar residency restrictions in place at the time in San Diego County were unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court said residency restrictions are a tool that cities and counties can use but only on a case-by-case basis rather than with all offenders.

The crux of the Supreme Court’s opinion is that residency restrictions don’t actually make communities safer but instead jeopardize public safety by making it more difficult to monitor and rehabilitate registered sex offenders. This argument is also supported by the California Sex Offender Management Board, which the state created in 2006 to decrease sexual victimization.

In its 2016 annual report, the board states that when applied, residency restrictions often limit housing options to the point of forcing registered sex offenders into homelessness, which makes them much more difficult for police departments to keep track of.

“Perhaps the most serious consequence noted by the [state Supreme] Court was that the residency restrictions hampered the efforts of law enforcement to monitor, supervise, and rehabilitate in the interest of public safety,” the report states.

A statewide nonprofit dedicated to ending sexual violence and supporting survivors also believes residency restrictions can be problematic. In an email, California Coalition Against Sexual Assault communications coordinator Lorena Campos said barriers that are put in place by these restrictions can often increase the risk of registered sex offenders reoffending.

“While it may seem counterintuitive, having opportunities for housing, employment, and services such as monitoring and treatment actually decrease a sexual offender’s risk of reoffending,” Campos said in an email.

The Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws started its campaign of lawsuits shortly after the Supreme Court released its opinion. The group filed its first lawsuit against Grover Beach in 2015. Since then, the organization has filed 36 lawsuits against cities and counties throughout the state, with dozens more to come, Bellucci said.

So far none of the cases have gone to trial. In almost all cases, the city being sued has repealed its residency restrictions and the lawsuit has been settled, Bellucci said.

Grover Beach repealed its residency restrictions at a City Council meeting in September 2015, within a few months of being sued.

One of the most recent examples was in Santa Clarita, which Bellucci filed a complaint against in March of this year. Two months later, the Santa Clarita City Council repealed the city’s residency restrictions during its May 14 meeting.

“We have made it very clear here tonight that this is not something that we take lightly,” Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean said during the meeting. “It’s not something we want to do, but at this point in time, we probably don’t have a choice on this.”

The city of Lompoc, which declined to comment because of the pending litigation, discussed the lawsuit for the first time during closed session at the July 2 City Council meeting. The city declined to comment on how it plans to respond to the lawsuit.

Lompoc has made some changes to its residency restrictions since the state Supreme Court decision. In 2017, the city reduced the distance that registered sex offenders have to live from schools, parks, and other areas from 2,000 feet to 500 feet.

However, Bellucci said this measure wasn’t sufficient. In the lawsuit, she’s requesting that the city completely repeal its residency restrictions.

This isn’t the first time Bellucci has been involved with a lawsuit against Lompoc. She represented Grover Beach resident Frank Lindsay, who sued Lompoc in April 2014 over restrictions it had in place that prohibited registered sex offenders from visiting certain public places within the city.

The city repealed those restrictions and settled the lawsuit two months later. 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at zezzone@santamariasun.com.




Weekly Poll
How should Lompoc respond to the lawsuit claiming its ordinance restricting where registered sex offenders can live is unconstitutional?

The city should fight the lawsuit in court.
The city needs to repeal the ordinance and settle the lawsuit.
Most cities in California have already repealed similar ordinances.
Keep the ordinance. Residents need it for public safety.

| Poll Results