Councilman Wants To Rewrite San Diego Sex Offender Law
San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward says he wants to rewrite an ordinance that puts strict limits on where registered sex offenders can live, as a lawsuit seeks to force the ordinance's repeal.
Ward was one of five council members who voted last month to uphold the city's "Child Protection Act," against advice from the City Attorney's Office. Courts have found similar ordinances both unconstitutional and ineffective at preventing child sexual abuse.
In an interview with KPBS, Ward said he did not think a repeal of the ordinance — which has not been enforced since 2009 — was the only option the council had.
"I think that it is worth us spending the time to look at all options available, if there are any other options available, in the pursuit and the goal of protecting children," he said.
Council members Lorie Zapf, Chris Cate, David Alvarez and Georgette Gomez joined Ward in voting to uphold the ordinance, which prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks, libraries and other places children frequent. A spokesman for Gomez said she also wanted to reform the ordinance rather than repeal it.
The city has until Sept. 27 to formally respond to the lawsuit, which was filed by an attorney for the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws on behalf of two registered sex offenders.
Ward, who sits on the council's committee on public safety, did not offer any details for how he would like to change the ordinance. He also declined to give a timeline for when he wanted to discuss such a change.
A spokeswoman for Cate, who chairs the committee on public safety, declined to say whether the councilman would use his committee to discuss amending the ordinance.
"The item has already been voted on by the full city council," spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley said. "We have not seen a memo from another council office requesting to docket this item."
The California Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that residency restrictions, applied to all sex offenders, violate their rights to privacy and liberty while bearing "no rational relationship to advancing the state's legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators."
Most child sexual abusers target children whom they know and with whom they have established a relationship, not random children they find at schoolyards or playgrounds. Ward acknowledged that he had not seen any evidence suggesting the Child Protection Act, even if it were enforced, would protect children.
"I haven't seen data for or against that," Ward said. "But again, as this ordinance was enacted eight years ago, I would hope that that was based also on some information that it would lead to a positive outcome for public safety for children."
In fact, the previous city council also had no data to support its action when it passed the ordinance on Feb. 26, 2008. It was, however, told of a report from the California Sex Offender Management Board that found recidivism among sex offenders was lower than previously thought, and the number of sex offenders experiencing homelessness had quadrupled since statewide residency restrictions were approved by voters in 2006.
Toni Atkins, then a city councilwoman, said during the council's discussion that while she understood people not wanting sex offenders living in their neighborhoods, homelessness among sex offenders concerned her as well.
"I also don't necessarily want them as transients on the streets, where there's less visibility about what they're doing, and other homeless individuals who aren't going to report this activity," she said.
Atkins still voted in favor of the ordinance, saying she hoped for a continued discussion on homelessness among sex offenders. That discussion never took place at the city council, and the next time the Child Protection Act appeared on an agenda was in May 2009 — because of a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.