By Mike Hodgson
Despite a threatened lawsuit, a resident’s plea and a councilman’s misgivings, Grover Beach effectively blocked any additional child molesters from living in the city.
The City Council voted 4-1, with Councilman Bill Nicolls dissenting, to approve the second reading of an ordinance expanding so-called “protected zones” to 2,000 feet around schools, preschools, day care centers and parks.
Previously, the distance was 1,000 feet.
Individuals convicted of sex crimes against children — younger than 18 — who are required to register as sex offenders are barred from moving into temporary or permanent residences within those zones.
Sex offenders who were already living in the city when they were convicted of crimes against children are “grandfathered in.”
However, it’s not clear in the ordinance whether they would be barred from moving into another protected zone within the city.
The ordinance also requires child sex offenders to obtain written permission before entering a school.
Thirteen schools, preschools, parks and day care centers listed inside Grover Beach result in overlapping protected zones that cover almost the entire city.
Only three small pockets at the far southwestern, northeastern and northwestern ends are not covered by a zone.
One pocket consists of mostly agricultural and industrial land east of South Fourth Street and south of Highland Way to the city limits.
Another pocket is made up of mostly vacant land south of El Camino Real, north of Atlantic City Avenue and east from the Laguna Court dead end across North Oak Park Boulevard to the city limits.
The third and smallest pocket is a triangular residential area near Estuary Way and North Second Street.
While state law already bars child molesters from living within 2,000 feet of schools, preschools, day care centers and parks, Police Chief Jim Copsey said it has no enforcement provisions.
The Grover Beach ordinance provides for a fine of $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year for violations.
Resident Frank Lindsay, a board member of the nonprofit California Reform Sex Offender Laws, asked the council to reconsider expanding the protected zones.
“These folks have an incredibly difficult task in front of them in recovery,” he said of registered sex offenders. “We should not make it more complicated.”
He pointed out calling the zones “protected areas” gives community members a false sense of security, believing it makes them safe from sexual predators.
“When in fact we know that those that have offended in the past ... their likelihood of reoffense is 1.9 percent,” he said, citing statistics from the California Department of Corrections, adding the FBI puts the rate at almost 5 percent.
He said that is far less than the “hysteria” created by television claims that 100 percent of offenders will reoffend.
He noted the highest rate of new sexual offenses is among family members or those within a “family circle” who are not known as child molesters to law enforcement.
Lawyer Janice Bellucci, also a member of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, said Grover Beach’s revised ordinance may be unconstitutional because it would effectively banish sex offenders from the city.
She said she has sued several cities — including Cypress twice — over similar laws and won, and the cities had to pay her attorney fees.
“I strongly support some of the comments that were made,” Copsey responded, but he added he disagreed with others.
He said the expanded zones had been requested by and have strong support from city residents.
- Just because it's supported by residents doesn't mean it's right and constitutional!
“Some of it may be driven by fear,” Copsey said. “I don’t dispute that. Some of it is driven by, you know, the fact that they don’t want sex offenders living in their backyard or next-door to them.”
- So what if we don't want a politician living next to us, can we pass a law to prevent that as well? Ex-felons live everywhere, what about those who are also dangerous to adults and children?
“But the fact still remains that there are some cases where offenders do reoffend in their neighborhoods, and that’s what we would like to prevent,” he continued.
- Putting up some magical buffer zone won't prevent anything! It's just exploitation by politicians looking to better their careers in our opinion.
“And if we can prevent that 1.9 percent, that 5 percent or whatever percent it actually is, then we should do that.”
Still, Nicolls was concerned about the threat of a lawsuit.
“One of the things that concerns me, if anybody is opening themselves to litigation, by looking at the map, I think Grover Beach is doing so,” Nicolls said.
“If you’ll look at the map that was provided with the report, there is virtually no place in Grover Beach that (a child molester) can move or live. ...”
“I think we’re looking for trouble under those circumstances,” he added. “That bothers me.”
But Martin Koczanowicz, the city attorney, disagreed.
“It doesn't preclude residence in Grover Beach,” he said of the ordinance.
Other council members said they could appreciate Nicolls’ position.
But they pointed out the 2,000 feet is in keeping with state law, and there are a few places in the city not within a protected zone.
“It’s something residents want,” Councilman Glenn Marshall said.
- Hell residents want public hangings as well! Are you going to give them that as well?