South Lake Tahoe City Council reluctantly voted to repeal an ordinance that bans sex offenders from parks and other public areas in the city following decisions by California courts that such laws are unconstitutional.
The city’s ordinance made it a misdemeanor for sex offenders to be within 300 feet of any school, recreation area or park.
A decision by the California Court of Appeals found a similar ordinance in Irvine unconstitutionally restrict sex offenders’ right to travel. The California Supreme Court declined to review that ruling, so such ordinances, on the books in dozens of cities and counties around the state and challenged by lawsuits, have been invalidated.
“We can identify them and they must follow (sex offender) registration regulations, but we cannot regulate their free movement,” City Manager Nancy Kerry told South Lake Tahoe City Council on Tuesday.
Councilwoman JoAnn Conner called it mind-boggling and disgusting that California’s courts “decided to ignore children in deference to sexual predators.”
State law prohibits sex offenders from going onto school property, something that remains in effect, city officials said.
City Attorney Thomas Watson said South Lake Tahoe is one of about 40 cities that were put on notice about this issue as it moved through the court system and that saw litigation initiated against them because of their ordinances.
“We have been in contact with other affected agencies, including the district attorney for El Dorado County, to look at revisions of what would be constitutionally permissible. This is not something we will allow to stand as the status quo,” Watson said.
“We are equally disturbed. It seems like parental rights and the rights of the community are second to criminals. That’s an editorial comment, but one I feel strongly about.”
Councilwoman Brooke Laine said the city cannot put enough laws in place to stop bad people from doing bad things. She praised ongoing work by groups such as Soroptomist International to educate young students so they know when something wrong is happening and how to protect themselves.
“If laws can helps us in that regard, great. But ultimately, educating children is probably the best thing we can do,” Laine said.
Kerry and South Shore resident Kenny Curtzwiler both urged parents to be on lookout for sexual abuse of children and proactive in reporting suspicious behavior or suspected criminal wrongdoing to law enforcement.
“When you see something, say something,” Kerry said, adding that she was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. “The children are never going to speak up. They’re only abused because they are already vulnerable. If you see something, say something. It may save somebody’s life.”
Council members voted 3-1 to “regretfully” scrap the ordinance. Councilman Tom Davis voted no and Conner abstained from the vote. It will come back for a second and final reading in June.