Children's Advocate Wants Public Access to Sex Offenders' Files

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

X-FILES: Jayne Shapiro of Granada Hills is not only head of Kids Safe USA, a new anti-crime group that targets sex offenders, but is also an active political investor.

Shapiro is pushing for cutting-edge state legislation that would permit citizens to easily access records of registered sex offenders living in their communities.

Such a system, Shapiro recently told The Times, would be a big improvement over the cumbersome notification system now in place. At present, concerned citizens can call a state Department of Justice hot line to find out if a specific person is a sex offender. But the call costs $10 and the inquirer needs to provide DOJ with the person's name and some identifying information, such as a driver's license, Social Security number or detailed physical description.

The current process is far too user-hostile, Shapiro says. "The files on sex offenders are already available at police stations, they're just not available to the public--as they should be," Shapiro complained, arguing for a system that would allow citizens to go to their local police station and peruse the files of sex offenders living in their neighborhood.

"Why shouldn't parents and schools have access to these files?" asked Shapiro, a mother of four.

No reason, replies legislative aide Scott Wilk, who is seeking to replace his boss, retiring Assemblywoman Paula Boland in next year's election.

If elected, Wilk, a Republican, has pledged to carry on Boland's tough-on-crime positions, including her support of Shapiro's sex-offender initiative.

Wilk's support has not gone unrewarded. As it turns out, Shapiro has held a political fund-raiser for Wilk and given him a whopping in-kind contribution. According to the most recent campaign-finance reports, Shapiro donated voter polling data to Wilk estimated to be worth $12,000. That makes her the Wilk campaign's second-biggest benefactor.

Still, Shapiro insists, her financial support for Wilk is "not a quid pro quo" for his support of her sex-offender program. "That's a separate issue," she said.

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BOTTLED WATER-GATE: Physicians for Social Responsibility knocked 77 members of Congress--including Republicans Howard P. (Buck) McKeon of Santa Clarita and Carlos J. Moorhead of Glendale--for buying bottled water for their district offices while voting against several measures to improve drinking water standards.

"It's outrageous that these politicians spend our money on bottled water for themselves when they're lowering safety standards on the tap water the rest of us drink," said Joseph M. Schwartz, a spokesman for the medical group. "Congress should strengthen our drinking water standards, not jeopardize them."

The group monitored five recent House votes connected to drinking water standards and singled out those who opposed stronger standards while using office funds to pay for bottled water.

The fingered lawmakers considered the listing a cheap shot.

"Carlos votes on what he thinks is best," said Moorhead's legislative director, David Joergenson. "He doesn't support bad water. Who could do that? You get second-guessed here on just about every vote you take."

Physicians for Social Responsibility, however, said the issue it raised was a serious one. It noted that more than 60 million Americans drank water that did not meet federal safety standards in 1993 and 1994. And that every state in the union, including California, has been cited for drinking water safety violations, usually the result of contamination by dissolved lead, toxic pesticides or fecal matter.

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NOTHING SECEDES LIKE SUCCESS: First, Boland seeks to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District, then turns her attention to making it easier for secessionists to put a measure on the ballot allowing the San Fernando Valley to split off from Los Angeles and form its own city.

Now, Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Monterey Park) has got the bug. Recently, Martinez invited her San Gabriel Valley constituents to attend a Nov. 4 town hall meeting in Alhambra to explore whether their valley should consider seceding from Los Angeles County.

In a letter, Martinez asked constituents: "With five supervisors managing the entire county, San Gabriel Valley's needs and concerns must compete with millions of other county residents for rapidly declining revenue and resources. Does it make sense to have such a large county? . . . Would San Gabriel Valley residents be better served by having their own separate county?"

The last time anything like this happened in California was at the turn of the century, when farmers in San Diego County's eastern expanses wearied of their ties and broke away to form Imperial County.

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A LIFE'S WORK: Richard Fine filed a lawsuit recently on behalf of a Chatsworth businessman, claiming that the city of Los Angeles misused $116 million that was set aside to install sprinklers in city buildings, build parking lots and maintain parking meters.

Fine, a Westside lawyer, said the businessman, Rex Foreman, would not make any money if the suit is successful but the city would have to return the money to its appropriate account and pay Fine's fees.

It was not the first time Fine sought to make a buck off the government's "creative bookkeeping."

He has filed several similar suits, including one in March that forced the city to return $3 million taken from the Los Angeles Harbor Trust Fund that he claimed was illegally diverted.

But now Fine is going after bigger fish. On Wednesday, he filed a class-action suit against the state, claiming that officials illegally diverted $307 million from special funds to pay for the government's general expenses.

The money he claims was illegally diverted includes $53.8 million from a fund paid for by vehicle registration fees to maintain freeways and pay for the California Highway Patrol. The suit also claims the state diverted $9 million set aside to protect children from lead poisoning and $9 million to fight breast cancer.

Fine said he never planned to specialize in such suits. But after filing his first suit against the state in 1993 for allegedly diverting $33.5 million from a special fund, the calls began to pour in from citizens who suspect the government of financial hanky-panky.

"The level of arrogance of these people is just incredible," Fine said. "As long as they continue to do this, we will continue to sue them."

By the looks of it, he is going to have a long practice.

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SWEET TALK: When Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and a team of advertising executives put together a media blitz in March to improve the city's image, it was clear the effort was also aimed at bringing a tense citizenry closer together.

Well, perhaps Riordan's team should have targeted a quarrelsome group much closer to home: the City Council.

Last Friday, the fur flew fast and furious when the council debated a proposal for a new sewer fee formula that would reduce most Valley residents' charges at the expense of citizens elsewhere.

Representatives from South and Central Los Angeles protested, calling the proposal unfair because it would mean higher rates for many low-income residents of the inner city and criticizing the plan's Valley supporters.

Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who represents the harbor area, even accused Councilwoman Laura Chick, a key supporter of the change, of orchestrating the vote to take place when two inner-city representatives were absent. Chick rejected that charge and defended the proposal, saying it would make the fee structure more equitable for everyone.

But just before the fur began to fly, council members were presented with buttons emblazoned with the city's new, feel-good slogan: "Together We're the Best. Los Angeles."

Schwada and Martin reported from Los Angeles and Lacey from Washington, D.C.

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