By Mike Harris
Simi Valley on Monday night became the first city in Ventura County to pass a law that aims to prevent sex offenders from having contact with trick-or-treating children on Halloween.
The ordinance, adopted by the City Council on a 4-1 vote, applies to the several dozen convicted child sex offenders who live in Simi Valley and are on the Megan's Law website.
Championed by Mayor Bob Huber, who is seeking re-election in November, the new law requires such offenders to post signs on their front doors saying, "No candy or treats at this residence." It also bars them from opening their doors to children on the holiday, displaying Halloween decorations or having exterior lighting on their property from 5 p.m. to midnight.
The ordinance was passed after more than two months of debate and modifications which threatened to delay its enactment until after Halloween. But with its adoption Monday, the law will take effect in 31 days, in time for the holiday.
It's the first such ordinance in the county, though similar laws have been enacted in other California cities, including Ontario and Orange.
Opponents of the law, including four who addressed the council Monday night, argue in part that there are no reported instances of a child being molested while trick-or-treating.
One of Simi Valley's registered sex offenders who identified himself only as John Doe, said an unintended consequence of the law is that it prohibits his children from decorating the family house for Halloween.
"It's a scarlet letter for them too," he told the council.
Another Simi Valley resident, Scherrie Kolleda, said she too will be tarnished by the law because she is married to a convicted child sex offender on the Megan's Law website who committed his crime 40 years ago.
As introduced at the council's July 2 meeting, the law would have applied to all 119 of the city's registered sex offenders. But in response to what Councilman Mike Judge said was "scarlet letter-type" concerns by the community, the council limited the law to those on the Megan's Law website, which publicly lists their identities.
"We're not branding them," Judge, a Los Angeles police officer, said at the council's Aug. 20 meeting. "They're already branded."
When it came time to vote Monday, Councilman Steve Sojka expressed concerns that the ordinance could be challenged legally by opponents, thereby possibly exposing the city to a monetary court judgment. Santa Maria attorney Janice Bellucci, representing a group called California Reform Sex Offender Laws, argued at the council's July 16 meeting that parts of the proposed ordinance were unconstitutional. Still, Sojka, who is seeking re-election, voted for the law.
Councilwoman Barbra Williamson, who also is running for re-election, was the lone dissenter, voting against the law without comment.
After the council's vote, Bellucci said her group would consider suing the city to try to get the ordinance overturned.