Lake Forest leaders on Tuesday will consider repealing an ordinance that bans registered sex offenders from city parks, becoming the first Orange County city to overturn a controversial law that prosecutors have pushed local governments to adopt.
Nearly half the 34 cities in Orange County have adopted the law, which bars registered sex offenders — even those not convicted of a crime against children — from municipal parks and local beaches. It is considered one of the most restrictive bans in the state.
The legality of the law was thrown into question last month when a panel of Superior Court judges challenged the law and asked the state Court of Appeal to review the measure.
The district attorney’s office, which campaigned city-by-city to get municipalities to adopt a version of the county law, has vowed to continue enforcing it.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, however, has asked her department to stop enforcing the law. Lake Forest, like much of south Orange County, is patrolled by sheriff’s deputies.
A panel of judges overturned the conviction of Hugo Godinez, a registered sex offender who was ordered to serve 100 days in jail for attending a Cinco de Mayo party at Mile Square Park, a county facility, in Fountain Valley in 2011.
Noting that restrictions on sex offenders are up to the state Legislature, the judges certified the case for transfer to the state Court of Appeal, which has until Dec. 15 to accept it.
“Such a patchwork of local ordinances poses tremendous risk to the offender who may not be aware of each regulation in each city, or indeed even know the precise location of city borders,” the judicial panel ruled.
The decision also says that the county law is detrimental to citizens, and that “any gain to an individual local community from its own specific ordinance is outweighed by the substantial risk to the transient citizens of the state.”
Lake Forest, which enacted a sex offender ordinance in January, will consider at Tuesday’s City Council meeting whether to become the first city to overturn its law.
A city report said that the ordinance has not had an “appreciable effect” because there is a small population of sex offenders in Lake Forest, deputies have yet to cite anyone for breaking the law, and the sheriff has been effective in monitoring registered offenders in the area.
The city report also said that there appears to be a “consensus” developing in Orange County courts that the law cannot be upheld.
Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the county district attorney, said that the prosecutors’ office realized that getting the ordinance passed would be difficult.
On Tuesday, she said, she will be in Lake Forest to try to convince the city to keep it.
This story was reported by Times Staff Writer Nicole Santa Cruz.