A recently enacted ordinance regulating where sex offenders can live in Lompoc would significantly expand state restrictions, making it illegal for sex offenders to take up residence in most parts of the city.
Jessica’s Law, passed in 2006 by California voters, currently prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of parks and schools, in addition to other restrictions.
Ordinance No. 1583(12), enacted in June unanimously by the City Council, at the request of the Lompoc Police Department, creates a 2,000-foot residential exclusion zone — consistent with Jessica’s Law — but expands that zone by making it clear that the distance is to be measured in a straight line between the residential property and schools and parks.
Also, instead of prohibiting residence of sex offenders near just schools and parks, the ordinance includes childcare centers, public libraries, commercial establishments that provide a playground, and Lompoc Unified School District’s eight school bus stops.
The ordinance, which would apply to anyone who was required to register under California Penal Code Section 290 sex offenses, regardless of whether they are on parole or probation, also implemented a 300-foot “Child Safety Zone,” prohibiting residence or loitering “with the intent to commit a sex offense.”
Sex offenders would be prohibited from renting or occupying a single-family dwelling — a facility which serves six or fewer people will not be counted — apartment or motel that is occupied by another sex offender.
And anyone that “knowingly” allows a sex offender to occupy a room on the same property as another sex offender could be charged with a misdemeanor.
“A responsible party shall be prohibited from knowingly allowing a guest room in a motel to be rented or otherwise occupied by a registered sex offender as a temporary or permanent resident if there is already a registered sex offender renting or otherwise occupying another guest room in that motel .. ..” the ordinance states.
Under the ordinance, a registered sex offender, for example, would not be allowed to temporarily live in their parents’ house if that house happened to be within 2,000 feet of a school bus stop or other designated residential exclusion zone property.
“It may be a strict ordinance but it’s done with two purposes,” Police Chief Timothy Dabney said. “It’s done to protect the youth in the community from sexual predators and passed to define discrepancy in the state’s Jessica’s Law.”
Lompoc police might intend to protect children, but others say the ordinance is not based on best-practice research surrounding sex offenders, and could even aggravate problems by putting them in a high-stress situation because they can’t find a home.
“These laws are a reaction to certain high profile cases,” said Assistant Public Defender James Voysey, who regularly represents sex offenders in court. “They are not based on scientific analysis or on recidivism rates and what causes sex offenses. There is no research that correlates where someone lives with sex offending. By creating this banishment situation for offenders, it puts them at a higher risk for acting out,” Voysey said.
Too many in the public, a sex offenders’ problems are of little concerns, which is no surprise to Voysey.
“You won’t find anyone critical of sex offender laws because they are pariahs,” he said.
Deputy Chief of Adult Services Tanja Heitman, of the Santa Barbara County Probation Department, said the ordinance could make if more difficult for her department to monitor sex offenders, especially if they become homeless.
“In general, offenders who are unable to find housing are at increased risk to engage in criminal behavior,” Heitman stated in an email response. “In the case of sex offenders, we are attempting to monitor them closely, however, this can be challenging when the ordinance limits their ability to maintain a stable residence.”
Currently there are 90 sex offenders living in Lompoc, according to police investigator Harry Heidt. The Megan’s Law website, which tracks the residency of most types of sex offenders, states that Lompoc has 63 registrants, but Heidt said that there are other sex offenders, charged with lesser crimes such as exhibition or flashing, that the city watches with its own database.
Heidt, who is in charge of enforcing registration for sex offenders, said that there have been no charges filed because of the ordinance yet.
The ordinance would not take effect against anyone who occupied a property prior to June 1, but it stipulates that any sex offender who moves from their current residence would be subject to the rules.
The ordinance applies to Section 290 offenders, which includes most instances of rape, sexual battery, acts relating to child pornography, child molesters, forced acts and indecent exposure.
Heidt said that “90 percent” of the city living space is off limits to sex offenders.
There are currently no apartments or motels in Lompoc that are not covered by the ordinance, he said. A sex offender would have to rent a room in a residence or rent a house, he said.
“There are very few places they can live,” he said. Additional areas could be made off limits or available for residence depending on the opening and closing of facilities around the area.
However, passing an ordinance is not a cure all for problems. Heitman, of the probation department, said that the ordinance can cause unnecessary problems in the lives of sex offenders.
“We have offenders in Santa Maria that reside in a motel because their residence options are very limited. Several offenders sleep in their cars due to limited finances that prohibit them from regularly staying in a hotel and not being able to find another option,” Heitman said.
Voysey, of the Public Defender Office, said that there are better options for monitoring the activity of sex offenders. Global Positioning Systems which monitor the movement of sex offenders, supervision, and support are more effective means of reducing the likelihood of repeat offenses, he said.
Voysey said the perception that offenses against children are perpetrated by someone who would “hide in a bush and grab them while they go to school” is false.
The California Department of Justice website states that 90 percent of child victims know their offenders, while almost half of the offenders are family members.
Sex offenders need support to get over problems, Voysey said. The city ordinance could break up families and keep sex offenders from staying with loved ones just because their parents live near a school bus stop, he said.
The City Council adopted the ordinance April 17 with little discussion. Misdemeanor charges against individuals who knowingly allow more than one sex offender on property, and the prohibition against allowing more than one sex offender on a property, was never mentioned during the meeting or in a staff report.
The Santa Maria City Council in November 2011 took similar steps to clarify language in Jessica’s Law, but the ordinance only stipulated that a 2,000-foot direct line would be used for determining residential zoning.
Heidt acknowledged that there have been “very few” cases of repeat sex offenses in Lompoc. He said that the police department database does not identify sex offenders who have committed another sex offense. In the few number of repeat sex offenses, they have not been acts of violence, he said.
“It was that they download child porn and not something that happened to a live victim,” Heidt said.
Asked how apartment or motel owners are supposed to monitor whether more than one offender is staying on the premise, Heidt said that apartment owners should change applications forms to ask if an applicant is a Section 290 registrant.