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Area Curfews Expected to Hold Despite Ruling

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An appeals court decision striking down a tough San Diego youth curfew will probably not affect similar limits on nighttime carousing for those under 18 in Ventura County, local officials said.

But city attorneys across the county are studying the opinion handed down Monday, nonetheless.

In its decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the terms of San Diego’s 1947 ordinance--which make it a crime for anyone under 18 to “loiter, idle, wander, stroll or play,” in public places after 10 p.m.--were so vague that they would invite arbitrary enforcement.

The rules, which San Diego began aggressively enforcing in 1994, were challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a San Diego teenager.

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In Ventura County, where every city has a nighttime curfew for youths and a few cities also have daytime anti-truancy ordinances, officials are trying to assess the impact.

“I still haven’t seen the opinion . . . but I have a gut feeling that it will not adversely affect our ordinance,” said John Torrance, city attorney for Simi Valley.

Simi Valley as well as Thousand Oaks and Oxnard looked to a Dallas curfew upheld by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1993 in writing their ordinances, officials said.

That decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, which let the lower court ruling stand.

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Four cities--Simi Valley, Oxnard, Moorpark and Santa Paula--were among 114 California cities to sign a friend-of-the-court brief supporting San Diego.

Under the Simi Valley ordinance, refined last year, parents can be fined as much as $2,500 when their child violates curfew, fails to obey orders of a police or probation officer or is taken into custody for such an offense.

Torrance said he believed the San Diego rules were struck down mainly because the exemptions written into the ordinance were too narrowly drawn.

Simi Valley’s ordinance has a large number of exemptions, Torrance said, making allowances for youth who work late hours or who are returning home from things such as late-night movies or school events.

In Thousand Oaks, where a decades-old curfew ordinance was also revamped last year, parents also can be fined $2,500 if their child violates curfew or a new daytime curfew to stop truancy.

“Basically, in writing one of these ordinances you want to avoid language that is too vague and watch out for impinging on someone’s freedom of movement,” said Jim Friedl, a deputy city attorney in Thousand Oaks.

The Thousand Oaks ordinance is basically an anti-loitering rule that applies to the evening hours, Friedl said.

Similar rules apply in Oxnard, Ventura, Moorpark, Santa Paula, Ojai, Camarillo and Port Hueneme, officials said.

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Law enforcement officials said the curfew rules are used more as a tool for stopping vandalism and rowdy behavior.

“We don’t have time to go out there and look for curfew violators,” said Ventura Police Lt. Carl Handy, where the city has had a curfew law on the books since 1959.

“Generally when we have a problem with nighttime loitering--some kids hanging out, making a lot of noise--we’ll go in there and cut it out,” Handy said.

In Moorpark, where the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department patrols, deputies cite fewer than half a dozen youths a month for curfew violations.

“We had to cite a couple of kids from Valencia a few weeks ago, but generally they’ll get off with a warning,” Senior Deputy Ed Tumbleson said.

* MAIN STORY: A1


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