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The Fullerton City Council this week voted to abolish the city’s ordinance that restricted where convicted child sex offenders can live as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by a man who claims to have been rendered homeless by such laws.
James Touchstone, a lawyer working for Dick Jones, Fullerton’s contract city attorney, told council members that any attempt to fight the lawsuit would be futile because of a 2015 California Supreme Court decision that deemed a blanket enforcement of housing restrictions on sex offenders as unconstitutional.
The settlement also called for the city to donate $5,000 to the Family Safety Foundation.
“There have been 18 lawsuits filed by the same plaintiff,” Touchstone said, adding that Seal Beach and Tustin had similar suits filed against them.
However, police will still be able to monitor and, on a case-by-case basis, manage where sex offenders live while they’re on parole, Touchstone said.
Resident Barry Levinson, who pushed to get the city to adopt the ordinance in 2010, said the key phrase was “blanket enforcement.” He told the council that the state Supreme Court’s ruling isn’t applicable to Fullerton’s ordinance because of the way the law was written.
“Our law is specific” to child sex offenders. There has been, as far as I know, no similar case law being struck down,” Levinson said. “I ask you please … get all the facts before you make our children unsafe.”
After hearing Levinson’s input on the issue, the council asked Touchstone to clarify.
“With all due respect, I must disagree with Mr. Levinson on his comments,” Touchstone said. “It states that ‘any sex offender … is prohibited from residing within 2000 feet from any school, park or day care center.’”
However, the city ordinance does single out child sex offenders for its enforcement purposes.
“‘Sex offender’ means any person required by law to register with a governmental entity as a sex offender for an offense against or involving a child or children,” reads the ordinance.
Councilman Greg Sebourn asked if there was any chance to tweak the ordinance to keep it legal.
“Unfortunately, I do not believe that we would be successful in amending the ordinance,” Touchstone said.
“This is disgusting, obviously,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald. “The state courts have decided that communities cannot take further steps to protect its citizens, especially its children.”
Councilman Doug Chaffee said the council’s first responsibility is to the constitution.
“I took an oath to uphold the constitution,” Councilman Doug Chaffee said. “It’s clear to me that they way we’ve written this ordinance — it is unconstitutional. Sometimes it’s distasteful, but I do want to uphold the constitution in all respects.”
In an interview after the meeting, Levinson said law enforcement monitoring and case-by-case restrictions still allowed from the high court’s ruling isn’t enough.
“That does help. But once they’re off parole, they’re out. They’re beyond any control,” Levinson said.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC contributing writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.