The Santa Clarita City Council voted Wednesday to adopt a curfew prohibiting minors from loitering in public between 10 p.m. and sunrise, responding to a request from the Sheriff’s Department for a legal tool to use against gatherings of rowdy teen-agers.
The council, after a brief debate, gave tentative approval to the ordinance by a unanimous vote. If the council gives final approval at its next meeting in two weeks, as expected, the curfew will go into effect 30 days after that.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which patrols the city of Santa Clarita, said it needed the ordinance to deal with large groups of teen-agers who gather in parking lots at night and congregate in large numbers at house parties that spill into the street. On weekend nights, deputies receive an average of four to five complaints an hour of juveniles disturbing the peace, said Lt. Marvin Dixon.
Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Spierer stressed that the curfew will be used as a preventive measure, not to arrest every youth on the street after 10 p.m. “I want to reiterate that this ordinance is not intended to sweep the streets at 10 p.m.,” he told the council shortly before the vote.
Saugus High School senior Julie Stuart told the council she favored the curfew. “Somebody’s going to get hurt, and I don’t think we have to take the stance that we will wait for someone to get hurt before we do something about it,” she said.
Michael Kotch, an adult, spoke against the curfew, saying it “really calls for highly selective enforcement.”
“If laws are being broken . . . they should be punished for those violations,” he said, not for being among the youths that deputies choose to enforce the curfew against.
Councilman Howard McKeon, who shortly before the vote said he had still not made up his mind on the issue, said he had “real concerns” that the power it gives officers “could be abused.”
Councilwoman Jo Anne Darcy said, “It may sound harsh, but I think it’s going to pay off in the long run.”
The curfew makes it illegal for a minor to “loiter, idle, wander, stroll or aimlessly drive or ride about” in any public place between 10 p.m. and sunrise.
But the ordinance provides for the following exceptions: those accompanied by a parent, guardian, or other adult having the legal care or custody of the minor or by an adult spouse; those running an errand for a parent or legal guardian or other adult; those returning directly home from a public meeting, school event or place of entertainment, and those working on a legal job.
Before the council adopted the ordinance, Santa Clarita was one of few local cities without a curfew.
The Sheriff’s Department enforced the county curfew in the area before the city of Santa Clarita was incorporated on Dec. 15, 1987. But shortly before the city was incorporated, deputies breaking up a Valencia party got into a melee with participants, and the ensuing furor over the incident prompted the council to defer enacting a curfew.
Most local cities and Los Angeles County rewrote their curfew laws after the state Court of Appeal struck down the Long Beach curfew in 1988 because it did not provide legitimate exceptions for a minor to be out after 10 p.m. The curfew adopted by Santa Clarita is identical to the revised Los Angeles County ordinance.