A sex offender ordinance adopted by the City of South Lake Tahoe is the subject of a lawsuit filed today in federal district court on behalf of a registered sex offender (“registered citizen”). This is the second in a series of lawsuits filed in federal court challenging city ordinances that include presence restrictions. The first lawsuit was filed on March 24 challenging a similar ordinance in the City of Pomona.
Both ordinances include restrictions regarding where more than 105,000 individuals can reside or be present. Specifically, the South Lake Tahoe ordinance prohibits registered citizens from residing or being present within 300 feet of a wide range of public and private locations including schools, parks, bus stops, arcades, and swimming pools. A registered citizen who violates the ordinance is subject to incarceration for a period of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $1,000 for each day of violation.
“The sex offender ordinance adopted by the City of South Lake Tahoe violates both the federal and state constitutions,” stated CA RSOL President and attorney Janice Bellucci. “The South Lake Tahoe ordinance is based upon two myths: (1) that registered citizens have a high rate of re-offense and (2) that strangers commit most sexual assaults.”
The true rates of re-offense, according to state and federal government reports, are 1.8 percent for registrants on parole and 5.3 percent for registrants overall. More than 90 percent of sexual assaults upon children are committed not by strangers but by family members and others known by the children such as teachers, coaches, and clergy.
“The presence restrictions within the South Lake Tahoe ordinance are inconsistent with recent decisions of the California Court of Appeal which invalidated two ordinances – one in the City of Irvine and the other in Orange County – as being preempted by state law,” stated CA RSOL board member and attorney Chance Oberstein. “The court held that the state statutory scheme imposing restrictions on a registered sex offender’s daily life fully occupied the field.”
California RSOL sent a letter to South Lake Tahoe and more than 70 additional cities within California on January 20 notifying them of the recent Court of Appeal decisions and that the sex offender ordinances the cities had adopted were inconsistent with those decisions. California RSOL requested in those letters that the cities repeal their ordinances within 60 days or face a legal challenge.
Subsequent to issuance of the California RSOL letter, the cities of Costa Mesa and El Centro repealed their sex offender ordinances. Several additional cities, including Anaheim, Grand Terrace, and South Pasadena have agreed in writing not to enforce their sex offender ordinances pending a decision from the California Supreme Court whether to grant review of the California Court of Appeal decisions. Prior to issuance of the California RSOL letter, the County of El Dorado repealed its sex offender ordinance.
“Future legal challenges by registered sex offenders can be expected of cities that have failed to either repeal their sex offender ordinances or agree in writing to stay enforcement of those ordinances,” stated Bellucci. “The lawsuit filed against South Lake Tahoe today is one in a series of such legal challenges.”