By Monica Rodriguez
POMONA - A Santa Maria lawyer filed a federal lawsuit against Pomona this week calling for the repeal of a 2008 ordinance regulating the presence of sex offenders in the city.
According to the lawsuit, the city’s ordinance goes beyond what is contained in the ordinances of other cities by prohibiting sex offenders from being on private property, such as arcades or movie theaters.
Pomona’s ordinance is “one of the worst ordinances in our state,” said Janice Bellucci, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of _____ of Grover Beach in San Luis Obispo County.
Bellucci said her client has not lived in Pomona but could be interested in visiting the city at some point.
Pomona’s ordinance is such that “we believe it violates the federal and state constitutions,” Bellucci said.
Deputy City Manager Mark Gluba said the City Council will be briefed on the lawsuit during the closed portion of a future meeting, and council members will give city staff direction on how to proceed.
The 2008 ordinance made it difficult for registered sex offenders to move into the city.
The ordinance was modeled after one adopted the same year in Long Beach and took advantage of wording in the voter-approved Proposition 83 (PDF), referred to as Jessica’s Law, which allowed cities to adopt ordinances containing residency restrictions that went beyond those set in state regulations.
Jessica’s Law prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks where children gather. Pomona’s ordinance barred registered sex offenders from living within 2,640 feet from sensitive uses such as child-care centers, community centers, museums, sports centers, tutoring and learning centers, youth centers, along with rail stations or bus stops.
Also included in the list of sensitive uses are arcades, children’s retail stores, cyber cafes and movie theaters.
“Most ordinances don’t include privately owned property,” said Bellucci, who is also president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws.
The organization’s website says sexual abuse is never acceptable and that sex offense laws and policies should be based on “sound research and common sense, not fear, panic or paranoia.”
Public sex offender registry and laws setting residency restrictions “do not protect children but instead ostracize and dehumanize individuals and their families,” the website said.
Pomona’s restrictions are such that every part of the city is within a residential exclusion zone, according to the lawsuit.
“The sex offender ordinance adopted by the City of Pomona violates both the federal and state constitutions,” said Bellucci in a statement.
Pomona’s ordinance is based on what Bellucci said are two myths.
One is that registrants have high rates for committing offences again, yet state and federal government reports indicate 1.8 percent of those on parole and 5.3 percent of registered sex offenders overall re-offend, the statement said.
The other myth is that strangers commit sexual assaults. In reality more than 90 percent of sexual assaults involving children are committed by family members and other people who the victims are familiar with such as teachers, coaches and clergy members, the statement said.
More than 70 cities across the state have restrictive ordinances and in January California Reform Sex Offender Laws notified them of a recent California Court of Appeal decision invalidating two ordinances, one of those being Irvine’s.
Costa Mesa and El Centro repealed their ordinances and other cities including Anaheim, Grand Terrace and South Pasadena have agreed in writing not to enforce their ordinances while they wait for the state Supreme Court to decide if it will review the Court of Appeal decision, Bellucci said in the statement.
Pomona is the first city to be sued but plans call for filing a lawsuit against another city as early as Monday, she said.
Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jared said the city does not comment on litigation.
Jared said for a period of about a year the ordinance was successful in keeping new registered sex offenders from moving into the city but after that time it was not enforced.
“The ordinance has not been actively enforced due to staffing issues,” Jared said.
The city registers those that are required to do so, he added.
When the ordinance was being enforced the city took several people who had violated the local law to court, Jared said.
A combination of factors including court rulings “caused us to evaluate the enforcement and at that time budget constraints that caused it to be de-prioritized,” he said.
Currently, conditions in the city and the state are different from what they were in the years prior to the ordinance’s approval including the state’s prison population realignment.
Realignment has resulted in different approaches in how the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation handles registered sex offenders, he said.
Changes in state policies have meant state authorities are “not stockpiling recently” paroled individuals the way they had been in Pomona at one time, Jared said. “That practice has subsided.”
Bellucci said her client is seeking “the repeal of the ordinance and attorney fees (but) no monetary damages.”
The restrictive ordinances have a direct impact on more than 105,000 people around the state and indirectly affect about 400,000 which includes the family members of registered sex offenders, Bellucci said.