Supervisors adopt sex-offender ban in rec areas

SANTA ANA — Newport Harbor will be affected by the Orange County Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday decision to prohibit registered sex offenders from county-owned recreation areas.

“We’re setting up a safety zone by keeping parks and recreational areas safe from predators,” said Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

However, privately owned boats cruising in harbors most likely will not be affected, he said.

Under the new ordinance, registered sex offenders cannot, without official written permission, enter a county-owned, leased or maintained area where “children regularly gather.” This includes regional and wilderness parks, nature preserves, recreational trails, historic sites, harbors and beaches, according to a staff report prepared by the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

In addition to Newport Harbor, affected sites in nearby communities include Irvine Regional Park, Mile Square Regional Park, Harriett M. Wieder Regional Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness and Sunset Beach parks, and Sunset Harbor.

The law would not apply to recreation areas owned and operated by individual cities.

Going forward, Rackauckas will “recommend to the cities to take a look to the ordinance with an eye for adopting it as well,” he said.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department will take the lead in enforcing the law, but no clear polices have been drafted yet.

Implementation of the restrictions and individual exceptions will most likely be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Capt. Adam Powell of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Investigations Division said during the supervisors’ meeting.

Violators without written permission face a misdemeanor charge and a $500 fine or up to six months in jail, or both, said Susan Schroeder, the D.A.'s chief of staff.

There are about 2,500 registered sex offenders countywide, she said.

The law will help give county police the necessary tools in dealing with violations, thus ensuring that parks are safe for children and families, said 4th District Supervisor Shawn Nelson.

What it will not do is result in any kind of profiling or “shakedowns,” he said.

Speaking against the ordinance was Jeffrey McBride, a Laguna Beach resident who questioned the constitutionality of the law.

“I understand the public’s fear of sexual predators, but not all registrants are the same,” said McBride, who is on the state registry of sex offenders for child pornography possession.

The law will result in “destroying the lives of family and friends who are proving that they can be trusted again,” McBride said.