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[UPDATED with Ban Approved:] Laguna Hills is Latest City to Prohibit Pervs from Parks

UPDATE, NOV. 23, 8:28 A.M.: The Laguna Hills City Council on Tuesday night approved on first reading an ordinance banning registered sex offenders from city parks and, if homeowner associations request to join in, their private parks as well.

The city will join La Habra, Westminster, Yorba Linda, Huntington Beach and Los Alamitos in enacting ordinances tailored after the original County of Orange ban that was adopted in April. Irvine passed an ordinance that only targets sex offenders who have preyed on children.

Other Orange County cities are considering ordinances, usually at the behest of the district attorney's office.

The Laguna Hills ordinance will become effective 30 days after it is approved on second reading on Dec. 13.

UPDATE, NOV. 9, 12:57 P.M.: The Laguna Hills City Council tonight will consider approving on first reading an ordinance that would ban registered sex offenders from city parks.

Susan Kang Schroeder, the district attorney's chief of staff, is scheduled to appear before the council to advocate passage of the measure that brings a misdemeanor counts, fines and possible jail time to known perverts who enter local parks without first getting permission from law enforcement.

The council previously voted unanimously to have its staff bring such an ordinance before it. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 24035 El Toro Road, Laguna Hills.

UPDATE, NOV. 9, 12:57 P.M.: A unanimous Laguna Hills City Council voted Tuesday night to have staff bring back before it Nov. 22 the first reading of an ordinance to ban registered sex offenders from city parks.

The full panel, including Joel Lautenschleger, a councilman who'd previously appeared on the fence about a ban, directed staffers to model their law after the county ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor for registered sex offenders to enter a regional recreational area where children regularly gather unless they have permission from the sheriff's department.

A city staff report shows eight registered sex offenders currently live in Laguna Hills, with six of those having been convicted for offenses against minors.

Laguna Hills has 15 city parks and 14 owned by private homeowner associations.

ORIGINAL POST, NOV. 8, 3:40 P.M.: Last night, a divided Huntington Beach City Council joined La Habra, Westminster, Los Alamitos and the County of Orange in passing an ordinance preventing registered sex offenders from entering municipal parks unless they first receive permission from law enforcement. In Irvine, such a misdemeanor law applies only to those who preyed on children.

Tonight, the Laguna Hills City Council considers a ban of its own, but there is an odd twist when it comes to consideration in that South County town.

As the Weekly previously reported, Laguna Hills City Councilman Joel Lautenschleger is the father-in-law of swim instructor Todd Robert Sousa, who was sentenced Oct. 28 to 16 months in state prison for having an unlawful sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl.

The 37-year-old Sousa, who is married and has children with Lautenschleger's daughter Jill (they reportedly separated after his arrest), must also register as a sex offender, meaning he's banned from parks in jurisdictions that have passed ordinances, including the city where he resides, Irvine.

Sousa pleaded innocent at his March arraignment, when he was looking at up to 13 years in state prison with a conviction on multiple felony and misdemeanor charges. He changed his plea to guilty on Oct. 28.

A month earlier, the proposal for a sex offender ordinance first went before the Laguna Hills City Council and, according to a recording of that meeting, Lautenschleger said he didn't see the need to pass an ordinance because there is no evidence that sex offenders congregate in city parks.

"What is the problem we're trying to solve here with an ordinance?" asked Lautenschleger, who co-chaired the successful drive to incorporate the city in March 1991, was elected to the first city council and served as mayor in 1995, 2000, 2004 and 2009. "It is a solution looking for a problem."

Actually, government statistics show 161 sex offenders have been arrested in Laguna Hills since 2000. And Lautenschleger told his gathered council colleagues, city staff and audience members that late September night that he fears convicted sex offenders might sue the city on constitutional grounds if an ordinance banning them from parks is adopted.

"We are not just running into legal ramifications here with the county, with constitutional arguments against the Fourth Amendment," Lautenschleger said. "You know, your right to assemble, right to do things. But you're running the risk of being liable as a city in doing something like this."

In other words, the city might be forced to pay someone like his son-in-law if they lost a judgment based on the ordinance in court.
 

"I am concerned really, uh, you know, I want to know what are the legal ramifications of this,"  Lautenschleger said. "What are the challenges we might face? I'm concerned it's way too broad. . . . We have to keep asking ourselves: What are we telling our citizens here with this? And what are we telling the uh, you know, what are we telling our police to do in this instance?"

The council decided at that time to send the matter back to city staff for answers to questions like Lautenschleger's. It is scheduled to go back before council members tonight, but a new wrinkle has emerged: many Laguna Hills parks are not the property of the city but homeowner associations (HOAs). Presumably, each would have to individually sign off on bans were they to apply to grounds overseen by individual HOAs.

The councilman having a son-in-law who might have to register as a sex offender was not disclosed publicly at the September meeting. Meanwhile, state open meeting laws do not prevent an officeholder from discussing a matter they have a personal, but not financial, interest in.

"There is no legal conflict of interest since the laws only cover financial conflicts," confirms Robert Stern, co-chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) and founder of the just-closed Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.

Seconding that opinion is Ronald D. Rotunda, the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Chapman University. But Rotunda, who also sits on the FPPC, adds that while such an office-holder would not be breaking state law, "I certainly would not recommend that this councilman vote (or seek to persuade his colleagues) on the proposed ban on registered sex offenders in city parks given the fact that his son-in-law is a registered sex offender."

Rotunda points out, "If this case were governed by the rules regulating conflicts of interests of lawyers, the councilman would have what the law calls a 'personal interest conflict.'"

Lautenschleger maintains in an email to the Weekly, "I am not necessarily opposed to an ordinance."

He continues: "I voted to have staff research this and compare with other cities that have passed or are looking at a similar ordinance. The points I made were looking to see both how effective an ordinance might be, how it would be enforced, and the legal ramifications if not done properly. I support creation of laws and ordinances that are constitutional, enforceable and truly protect our kids. I asked that this proposed county ordinance be researched by our attorney as I will not vote for any ordinance that may sound good but is not effective or unenforceable or puts the city at risk as to its constitutionality."

Noting he "took an oath of office to uphold and defend constitutional laws and any alleged felony on any matter would never enter into my decisions," Lautenschleger added, "The issue of my son-in-law has nothing to do with this and is between he and my daughter, who was terribly hurt by this incident."

Lautenschleger then shifted from sounding like a concerned city leader to a concerned father.

"I believe it is highly unprofessional to include her and her family in any of this," he writes. "Insofar as to your attempts to connect my daughter to this issue just reinforces the misunderstanding of what this ordinance attempts to achieve. Nothing in the proposed county ordinance would have any influence or bearing in the circumstances involving my son-in-law."

The county ordinance, which was drafted by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Supervisor Shawn Nelson, makes it a misdemeanor for registered sex offenders to enter county recreational areas where children regularly gather unless permission is first granted by the sheriff's department. Since the law was unanimously passed by the Orange County Board of Supervisors on April 5, representatives from the DA's office and sheriff's department have appeared before city councils countywide advocating passage of similar local ordinances. 

Susan Kang Schroeder, Rackauckas' chief of staff, appeared before the Huntington Beach City Council Monday night to advocate for passage of an ordinance. After a 4-3 vote, it is scheduled to come back for a second reading at a later date, and 30 days after that approval it would be enacted.

Schroeder and Rackauckas are scheduled to attend tonight's council meeting at 7 in Laguna Hills. Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Juan Capistrano and Yorba Linda are also reportedly considering bans.


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