Having lost his push to get a defiant Irvine City Council to adopt his proposed ordinance banning convicted sex offenders from public parks, a befuddled Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas left Tuesday night's session and immediately thought about a scene from the blockbuster 1970s movie Jaws.
Despite evidence there's a hungry, killer Great White shark swimming in the coastal town's waters featured in the film, the town's mayor--worried mostly about commerce--urges everyone to not be afraid and go back into the recently bloody water.
"That's what Irvine did tonight," Rackauckas told an aide. "They said, 'Don't worry. We're safe enough. Go back into the water.'"
It was Larry Agran's Democratic political machine--the one that controls Irvine with a 3-2 council majority--that insisted Tuesday night there is no need for Rackauckas' proposed ordinance, bitterly complained about an "outsider" giving the city advice on how to govern, and repeatedly equated its own brilliance with Irvine's low crime rate.
Despite reassuring everyone that danger (in the form of perverts) isn't lurking in the city's parks, Agran was wise enough to know his machine couldn't block the proposed ordinance outright. That would hand Irvine Republicans an easy campaign issue. The council majority--Agran, Beth Krom and Sukhee Kang--voted to ban from parks only persons who have been convicted of committing sex crimes against minors.
But this afternoon, Rackauckas told me that the council's move was weak because it doesn't block rapists, pornographers and flashers from cruising parks.
"I respect Irvine's officials," he said. "It's their city. It's been one of the safest in America for several years, but I think they've made a mistake."
Asked to respond to Krom's brazen, arrogant insistence that he mind his own business, Rackuackas chuckled.
"Well, I feel this issue is a countywide problem," the DA said. "We've banned all sex offenders from county parks, and I just don't want to see those types of people move to city parks like the ones in Irvine. I consider pushing for an ordinance in all the county's cities part of my job."
Jeff Lalloway, one of two Republicans on the council and the person who suggested Irvine pass Rackauckas' ordinance, praises the DA for weighing in.
"I'm really grateful for what he's done," Lalloway said of Rackauckas, who twice attended Irvine City Council meetings to lobby for the ordinance. "And I am saddened and disappointed the council didn't go far enough. But I won't give up. This issue is too important for our residents."
The city of Westminster adopted the ordinance, and according to Susan Kang Schroeder, the DA's chief of staff, her office is working to passing the measure in Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach and Rancho Santa Margarita.
"We are hoping the county's other cities pass a stronger ordinance [than Irvine's] because that would ban violent rapists and child pornographers," said Schroeder.
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Does the DA have any worries about a future constitutional challenge to the ban?
"No," he said, "but I'm sure somebody who is arrested soon in a park will try."
At least 44 registered sex offenders live in Irvine (and dozens more in surrounding cities), but only four are on parole and, thus, banned from entering the city's parks.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly