By JACK BARNWELL
Tehachapi's city council on Monday finalized a repeal of a local sex offender ordinance in order to stave off potential lawsuits.
City Attorney Tom Schroeter had recommended the council repeal an ordinance adopted in 2010 that was a stricter version of a California state law that prohibited any registered sex offender from loitering within 300 feet of a public or private school, park, school bus stop or similar facilities.
Two court opinions, including one case against the city of Irvine and Orange County, ruled that such local ordinances could not be enforced, and that it fell to the state to mandate such laws.
The presiding case was People v. Nguyen, which was ruled on in January in the 4th District Court of Appeal. The California Supreme Court denied an appeal of the case by the Orange County district attorney's office in April.
Tehachapi modeled its ordinance after one that Shafter had on its books at the time. Shafter suspended its law this spring, waiting to see what happens with litigation in other cities. Then it'll decide whether to amend, repeal or keep the law.
Following the court's rulings, a group called California Reform Sex Offender Laws issued letters to several cities, including Tehachapi, saying it would sue if the municipalities did not rescind the ordinances.
"They sent letters to cities in Kern County and around the state and have sued several other cities," Schroeter said.
Schroeter recommended the council revoke the ordinance, as the city would likely lose a lawsuit. It would also be responsible for any of the suing organizations' legal fees, in addition to its own.
"When they win, their legal fees have to be paid, and your fees also have to be paid," Schroeter said.
The city attorney also noted that retired Police Chief Jeff Kermode had stated no one had ever been cited under the Tehachapi ordinance.
"Our particular law is already covered under state law," Schroeter said. "Sex offenders are still well controlled by state law and the ordinance here is not going to change that."
The state law, Jessica's Law (Proposition 83), bars convicted sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school or any place where children gather. The law was passed by voters in 2006.
The council voted 5-0 to remove the ordinance from the city municipal code.
"In essence, we thought we were doing the right thing when we passed this ordinance to make things more restrictive," said Mayor Phil Smith. "It's been tried in court that says you can't do that so we'll just back off from our restrictions and go with what the state has on its books, which is fully enforceable."
- So is he admitting the laws are about punishment by making them more restrictive?