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By Ashly McGlone
Grover Beach resident asserts rights for National City visit
A registered sex offender in San Luis Obispo County is suing cities across the state, claiming he has every right to go near schools and parks — and National City has become his latest target.
_____, 61, of Grover Beach, was convicted in 1979 of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14. His attorney, Janice Bellucci, says he has relatives in National City and wants to visit.
She sued the city in federal court last week over its ban on sex offenders being within 300 feet of a school, day care center, arcade, playground, park or amusement center.
Bellucci, president of the California chapter of the nonprofit Reform Sex Offender Laws, has warned more than 70 California cities, including Santee and La Mesa, that they could be sued if they don’t repeal their ordinances.
In response to her warnings, Costa Mesa and El Centro repealed their prohibitions, while Anaheim, Grand Terrace and South Pasadena have agreed to not enforce their rules for now, she said. Earlier this year, Bellucci sued Pomona and South Lake Tahoe as part of the same effort. She argues that the cities have passed sex offender regulations that go beyond what state law allows.
The National City Council passed the restrictions in 2005, and violators are subject to misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a year in jail or up to a $1,000 fine each day of the violation, or both.
In her lawsuit, Bellucci has asked the U.S. District Court to declare National City’s rules void — and to have the city pay her attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.
In two decisions on Jan. 10 involving other lawyers and clients, the 4th District Court of Appeal struck down rules enacted by Irvine and Orange County requiring sex offenders to obtain permission from local government officials before entering a city or county park.
“The state intended to fully occupy the field of regulating registered sex offenders,” therefore the added rules conflict with state law and are void, the three-judge panel wrote in both decisions.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office is seeking California Supreme Court review of the rulings.
National City Mayor Ron Morrison said city police were told to not enforce the city’s “innovative” ordinance after the Orange County decisions came down, but it would be premature to repeal the law before finding out if the Supreme Court will review the case.
The state regulates whether sex offenders can live near a park or school — or enter one. National City’s law goes further by creating a buffer zone and saying sex offenders cannot even go near such places.
Under California law, sex offenders could “wake up in the morning and walk a quarter of a mile and hang on the chain link fence at a nursery school,” Morrison said. “People expect us to do whatever we can to protect children...This was another tool in the tool box.”
In 2011, San Diego lost a legal challenge to its 2008 Child Protection Act on the same grounds, and removed its 300-foot buffer that was modeled after National City’s ordinance.
The lawsuit filed last week says that National City’s ordinance is overbroad and ends up blocking access to public transit locations and private businesses like grocery stores, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, doctor’s offices or hospitals, even where a sex offender would have “a legitimate purpose to visit, be employed and/or conduct commerce.”
“The ordinance imposes numerous life-long restrictions within the boundaries of National City which significantly restrain the civil liberties of all persons required to register as a sex offender,” the lawsuit states.
Morrison, in his eighth year as mayor and 22nd year on the council, said, “If you are a registered predatory sex offender on children, I am sorry you don’t get all your rights. You don’t get unlimited rights.”
Jessica’s Law — passed by California voters in 2006 — prohibits sex offenders from residing within 2,000 feet of any school or park and requires lifetime satellite monitoring of felony registered sex offenders. It also made it a misdemeanor for a registered sex offender to enter any school building or school grounds without lawful business and written permission from the school’s chief administrator.
Chelsea’s Law passed by state legislators in 2010 prohibited sex offenders who serve jail time for offenses against children under 14 from entering parks without permission from their parole agent. Sex offenders must also follow a number of other rules outlined in the state’s Penal Code.
There are at least 68 registered sex offenders living in National City, according to the Megan’s Law online database.