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L.A. sees parks as a weapon against sex offenders

LA Times – On a tiny sliver of land in Harbor Gateway, the city is beginning construction on what officials believe will be the smallest park in Los Angeles.

At one-fifth of an acre, the pocket park will barely have room for two jungle gyms, some benches and a brick wall.

But the enjoyment the park will give children is a secondary concern for officials. They are building the park for a different reason: to force 33 registered sex offenders to move out of a nearby apartment building.

State law prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school. By building the park, officials said, they would effectively force the sex offenders to leave the neighborhood. This section of Harbor Gateway has one of the city’s highest concentrations of registered sex offenders: 86 live in a 13-block area.

Los Angeles plans to build a total of three pocket parks with the intent of driving out registered sex offenders; two will be in Wilmington.

The action marks the latest campaign by local governments to drive sex offenders farther into the fringes of society. The state law already bans offenders from living in huge swaths of urban areas, pushing them into industrial districts and remote towns and into neighborhoods like Harbor Gateway that lack schools and parks.

Communities in Orange County have passed laws barring sex offenders from county parks and beaches. There is a new push at Los Angeles City Hall to ban offenders from living near day-care centers and locations that house after-school programs.

Backers of the park plan say it’s a novel way to move out offenders while providing more recreation space.

“I want to do everything in my power to keep child sex offenders away from children,” said City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the 15th District, which includes Wilmington and Harbor Gateway. “We have to look at some solutions and in comes the pocket park idea.”

The effort, however, has others questioning whether these restrictions make communities safer and whether they infringe on the rights of offenders.

A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation study released in October showed that about 2% of convicted sex offenders are sent back to prison on a new sex-abuse offense. The study covered data from 2008.

“People are running around with hysteria when they don’t know the facts,” said Janice Bellucci, president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of those convicted of sex crimes. “I understand that sex offenders are not a popular part of society, but they have constitutional rights.” Full Article

Join the discussion

  1. Janice Bellucci

    This is unconscionable! The idea that a city will create a park solely for the reason of forcing 33 of its citizens to move is completely without merit. It is a decision based upon fear and not facts. The facts are that 98 percent of registrants do not commit another sex offense and that 93 percent of those who commit a sexual assault upon a child are family members, teachers, coaches and members of the clergy. Not to mention the cost. One park alone will cost $300,000. If it’s so important to move out registrants, perhaps each person should be offered $10,000 to find a new home.

    • Anonymous Nobody

      Surely this has to somehow provide evidence for a legal challenge to the state law on SOR residency. I know the courts have ruled it is unconstitutional to completely bar such things as strip clubs or other adult businesses in a city, so how can a state law that can be used to completely bar SORs from a city be constitutional? I would think this Los Angeles city action, and specifically stated that it is in order to run out SORs, is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the evidence that proves the state law is unconstitutional, at least unconstitutionally broad.

      I also cannot understand how residency restrictions are not automatically an infringement on the constitutional right to liberty. That is decidedly a restriction on liberty. Oh, for someone on parole that is another matter, but for someone free and clear, that is decidedly a restriction on liberty, no matter the stated concerns about protecting children, especially when an SOR’s offense had nothing to do with children.

      • Janice Bellucci

        The state supreme court has a case under review, People v. Mosely, which challenges the constitutionality of residency restrictions. Unfortunately, the court has not made a ruling for more than two years. In fact, they have not yet scheduled oral arguments. It is curious therefore why the court agreed a few months ago to review In re Taylor which also addresses residency restrictions.

    • Anonymous Nobody

      That is to say, the action needs to be at the state. To chase down each and every municipality is a HUGE effort and requires tremendous resources — yet all that effort can be easily undermined by a single state action after the fact.

      This LA action is better attacked at the state level — and used to attack that state law that is being used. In fact, seems to me, an early challenge to that law was that it would leave many cities with no place for SORs to live — but they showed that was not so. Well, now it is becoming so — so that challenge can bee relitigated.

      • Janice Bellucci

        My preference would be to challenge the actions of L.A. in federal district court rather than state court. At least two members of the CA RSOL board of directors will travel to the park site early next week to see the site and to meet with people who will be affected. Want to join us?

        • Eric Knight

          Please give me a heads up, I’d be interested. I have a client near Sepulveda and Vermont who will let me use a conference room if need be. Janice, I seriously hope you aren’t just suing to repeal the law, but please introduce some monetary damage requests. This goes beyond the pale, and I can’t really believe that actually building a park does not violate existing 290 harassment statutes, which would negate individual immunity in my layman’s opinion.

        • anon

          I agree. I think suing for monetary damages is a great idea, if possible. Hit them where it will hurt them the most. Also, is a lawsuit directly against Councilman Buscaino possible? Sue him personally for monetary damages and harassment.

    • Anonymous Nobody

      BTW, that recidivism rate the state is showing is in line with the rate the FBI issues some years back. Yet, in issuing that low recidivism rate, the FBI followed up with language to terrify, saying that very high recidivism rate justifies the sex offender crackdown. How can a recidivism rate around 2% be “high.?” A completely biased and prejudiced presentation of the statistics.

  2. anon

    Sounds like another lawsuit waiting to happen to me. When will these people get tired of wasting money on unconstitutional laws?

  3. Tired of hiding

    This is a war but at least the other side could play fair!

    How dare they stoop so low!
    These are soulless people without any humanity at all.

    This exposes them for what they really are.

  4. Rebecca Rona

    I am about to send this as a letter to the editor of the LA Times:

    I am not a sex offender and to my knowledge I don’t know any sex offenders. I certainly don’t condone the illegal actions of sex offenders. And under other circumstances I would think creating more parks is a good thing.

    But when I read the LA Times article this morning I was horrified! Sex offenders need a home just like anyone else.

    These people are human beings and need more support from the city and the general public, not less. I’m sure many or most are trying to put their lives back together. I imagine that most are trying to fight their own urges.

    I just accessed for the first time the website of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, which I recommend: http://www.californiasol.org. Facts are important!

    If the city wants to help society, it should assist former sex offenders to have decent housing, provide them social services and help them get jobs–rather than force them onto the streets.

    What the city is doing is tantamount to emotional abuse!

    Rebecca Rona
    Culver City, CA

    • Janice Bellucci

      Thank you, Rebecca, for your sound reasoning and support! We welcome you to our website and hope you will stay connected in order to learn about others, who like members of the L.A. City Council, are acting from fear and ignoring the facts while they violate the state and federal constitutions.

  5. Eric Knight

    When you sue in federal court this time, monetary penalties should also be part of the equation, not just a ban on enforcement of the rules.

  6. steve

    Rebecca, it is refreshing to know there are people out there like you.

  7. MCH

    Let’s go back to the 70’s and 80’s when the government created boogeyman was the drug dealer. All sorts of laws were passed and all to no effect. Fast forward and the RSO has become the new boogeyman for all to fear. I say fear the government, for they are the true boogeyman.

  8. MM

    Interesting …. In the OC city where I live there are four surplus school properties that are up for sale (?) due to declining registration. There is a “mini” park attached to it, has been there for all the 24 years I’ve lived here and longer. One jungle gym, two swings, that’s it. I was hopeful that in the event this one surplus piece of property would be sold the mini park would go as well and possibly homes would be built there, thereby eliminating the 2,000 foot restrction. Well, I just read that the mini park, no matter what happens to the 9+ acres of the school, the park will remain. Seems the city and the school district just signed an extension for the mini park for another ten years! I wonder did they do this with the forethought of exactly what Los Angeles county is doing and for the exact same reason??

    • Still sleeping in a van AFTER PAROLE!

      MM, I’m sure that’s exactly what they did. The cities of Anaheim and Garden Grove designated many areas as mini-parks a few years ago for that very purpose.

  9. Guest

    Best comment ever:

    “The sex offenders should be thanking them for making them move out of Harbor Gateway.”

    • Eric Knight

      The problem is that there is no place in LA City to move to. HG is the only place they can move to meet parole’s requirement they be placed in the city, so they will most probably have to stay in prison until they max out, unless they can make other parole arrangements. That is unlikely, because Harbor Gateway WAS pretty much the last legal place to move to in LA.

      • Still sleeping in a van AFTER PAROLE!

        Not that many will have to max out in prison, there will simply be more transient parolees as it is here in Orange County. There’s a reason a large percentage of parolees who have to register end up homeless, and some of us even afterward.

  10. Bluewall

    City of Long Beach did something similar a few years back with those community gardens that popped up in a middle of nowhere.. But it sort of didn’t work cause the city was to broke and couldn’t actively enforce their “Safe Children Zones..” Come to think of that, I haven’t seen those signs in awhile too… But I’m sure when the money starts to flow we shall be seeing all this happen again.

    • Still sleeping in a van AFTER PAROLE!

      My wife lives in Long Beach as well, not even a full block from a school. I’ve been off parole for 10 months now, and still am not able to live with my wife and daughter because we cannot afford to move nor would I want them to have to move to a worse neighborhood, taking my daughter out of a good school and forcing this restriction on them not just myself. I was also informed last year by the Long Beach Police that even after parole, they would enforce the 2000 ft residency restriction on me if I tried to move in with my family. As a result, I visit them during the evening and then sleep in my van at night all this time after parole.

      • scoop213

        Still Sleeping,

        Here is what the state residency restriction law says, pursuant to California Penal Code Section 3003.5(b):

        “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, it is unlawful for
        any person for whom registration is required pursuant to Section 290
        to reside within 2000 feet of any public or private school, or park
        where children regularly gather.”

        Penal Code Section 3003.5 is specifically codified under Part 3, Title I, Chapter 8, Article 1 of the Penal Code: LENGTH OF TERM OF IMPRISONMENT AND PAROLES

        Long Beach Police CANNOT enforce the state residency restriction law against you. It is a PAROLE ONLY matter, specifically decided by the California Supreme Court in this case: In re E.J.(2010) 47 Cal. 4th 1258.

        Furthermore, the question has never been settled as to whether it is an infraction, misdemeanor or felony to violate the 2000′ rule. The law doesn’t say in any plain language,though it is implied that if it could be enforced, it would be as a misdemeanor. But there is no penalty associated with breaking the law (no jail time or fine prescribed). The law has no teeth. Even if you were somehow arrested for violating 3003.5(b) the judge couldn’t sentence you…there is no sentence!

        You may want to talk to a good criminal defense attorney and verify all of this prior to moving home. Then go home. It’s time.

        • Bluewall

          I would be careful with that… I was in a “big fight” with the cops in Long Beach. The Sex Offender “Officer” would tell you one thing, that the restrictions can not be enforced.. But you get unexpected cops cruising down the street and running your license tag and wanting to talk to you about “You are aware that you are living near a park?” and then I respond “I am no longer on a form of parole or probation” plus Jessica law happened far after I was released from parole/probation but the cops don’t have your release info and more then not detain you until they can get positive information from a reliable source.. happened to me twice..

        • Still sleeping in a van AFTER PAROLE!

          Unfortunately, Jessica’s Law was passed before mine, so I couldn’t use that defense.

  11. R. M. Garrett

    RSO’s are certainly being attacked by those ignorant of what offenses now require registration. Offenses such as looking at child pornography are now very vaguely defined as anything depicting a child that arouses you. It no long has to be sex-related at all.
    As a young man, hardly mature yet curious about all kinds of sex-related things, I acquired, and then was arrested for possessing child pornography. I am about to try to go through the process of expungement and getting a certificate of rehabilitation so I begin to live again. The restrictions for parole/probation have been quoted to me as still pertaining to me as long as I am required to register(thanks for clearing that up for me Jeffrey). I am homeless and as such must register monthly. I just discovered you because of the LA article, and am relieved that someone has noticed. I have also noticed that there is no difference in how laws treat minor and major offenders. A prime example of this is the two 12 year olds that were declared as both victim and perp for having consensual sex in a state that declared no one under a certain age was allowed to do so. She fought the conviction for years before it was dismissed, and he pled guilty then had it expunged at 18. He was told he still must register for life. My case was a misdemeanor, yet I am still treated as though I attacked someone. Thank you for being here. I now have hope that someday this disparity may be repaired.

  12. Tired of hiding

    Why does a city need a weapon against someone whom the judicial system has deemed ready and fit to be released and not locked up? Explain that to me please.

    If we are a danger we would be locked up. Clearly these restrictions are no different that the racist laws of that were designed to keep blacks from living in certain areas. Nothing more than that – PERIOD

    They are uncositutional and I am sick of no one for actually telling it the way it is. It is NOT to keep children safe…there in no danger of the ROS would be locked up.

    Either lock me up to restrict my movement or leave me alone. You can NOT have it both way! We have paid the debt to society and enough is enough!

  13. Freedom

    Sad as it is to say, there is no recourse under law. The courts have decided that once the government gives you the monicker “sex offender”, you no longer have any Constitutional, Civil, or Human rights.
    Your only purpose is to be used by the government as a folk devil to terrorize the populace with the threat that you’ll be set loose to kill and eat their children, unless they vote for _______ <<<(Insert politician here).

    This isn't only sad. It's frightening. And the reason why it's frightening is only ever hinted at in articles like this.

    You see, the people being targeted by these laws are having everything taken from them.
    They can forget about building a new life, or creating a career, or even getting a job…..These people are now being precluded by -LAW- from even living indoors.

    In other words, by legal mandate, these people now have nothing to lose.
    And there is no creature more dangerous than a man with nothing left to lose.

    • Jack L

      Live free or die.

      • Still sleeping in a van AFTER PAROLE!

        Many do die. During my 3 years on parole(WITHOUT VIOLATIONS I might add), in Orange County alone I knew of two who were murdered(at least one other not in the same area), one who died from exposure, one who died because when he was having chest pains he was too afraid to go to the hospital at night for fear of his parole agent sending him back to prison on a violation, and two who committed suicide (one of whom was a friend). That’s six men who might be alive today had they not been made to live on the streets while on parole. And the state, and most of its citizens, just continues to wash their hands of it.

  14. J

    *** moderator – please remove my previous post ***

    *** thank you ***

    While the forum offers a rare ability to vent our many frustrations, these sarcastic comments are most likely counterproductive to our efforts. I will retract other statements and refrain from making any that may lessen the effectiveness of our dialogue.

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