BY RAYMOND MENDOZA
Walnut – After being threatened with a lawsuit, the Walnut City Council recently approved the first reading of an ordinance that would make the City’s sex offender restrictions more closely aligned with California laws.
The first reading was approved unanimously by the City Council members during a Nov. 12 meeting.
According to a report by Senior Management Analyst, Rosalea Layman, a January decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals mandated that sex offender ordinances in Orange County cannot impose residency restrictions more stringently than those already imposed by the state’s law (also known as Jessica’s Law).
Jessica’s Law – passed as Proposition 63 in California in 2006 – increases penalties for violent and habitual sex offenders and child molesters, prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, requires a lifetime GPS monitoring of registered sex offenders, expands the definition of a sexually violent predator, and changes the current two year involuntary civil commitment for sexually violent predators to an indeterminate commitment, subject to annual review by the Director of Mental Health, and the subsequent ability of sexually violent predators to petition the courts for conditional release or unconditional discharge.
Walnut’s ordinance, No. 08-04, adhered to all the restriction’s of Jessica’s Law, as well as imposed restrictions including the number of sex offenders allowed residence in one house, the proximity of sex offenders to state licensed daycare facilities, and renting property – including hotels – to more than one sex offender.
Following the decision, the California Reform Sex Offender Laws’ (CA RSOL) non-profit group filed lawsuits with South Pasadena, Pomona, Westminster, Wasco, Taft and Carson, arguing that their ordinances violated constitutional rights.
In September, Mayor Nancy Tragarz was mailed a letter by CA RSOL, asking that City officials remove its City ordinances and instead be governed only by Jessica’s Law.
During the Council’s meeting, City Attorney Michael Montgomery described the state’s statutes as being “very extensive,” and that Walnut’s stricter ordinances could mean a costly lawsuit for the taxpayers.
“The problem that cities are running into is that the ones that do not amend their ordinances in compliance with the legislation are being sued and the plaintiffs are recovering attorney’s fees,” Montgomery said. “Locally, I know South Pasadena was sued … we agreed that the state law will apply and that we do not need to be sued for trying to adopt unenforceable regulations.”
Montgomery said that since the 4th District Court of Appeals’ decision, CA RSOL has been creating lawsuits all over California, and that it would save the Walnut residents a great deal of money to just adhere to state sex offender laws.
Mayor Nancy Tragarz agreed with Montgomery’s stance, stating that Jessica’s Law and the many sex offender restrictions that are already imposed should be well enough for Walnut residents.
“The state has a very extensive statute regarding this, so the state regulates it and we have to abide by laws poised by the state,” Tragarz said. “As the lowest jurisdiction, you always have to follow since the county supersedes us, the state supersedes us and the Feds are right on the top.”
Tragarz also mentioned that in addition to Jessica’s Law, Walnut residents should feel safe knowing that even with it’s own City ordinances going away, there are many restrictions in place that ensure the safety of children – including Megan’s Law – to locate where sex offenders live.
Following the first approval, the second hearing of the ordinance will be read on Dec. 10, and Tragarz estimates that its final approval will take place in January 2015.