Yesterday, the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that requires registered sex offenders to obtain a waiver from the Orange County Sheriff in order to lawfully enter an Orange County park, beach, or harbor. It was a front-page, top-of-the-fold article for the LA Times (nice to see them covering the OC again). The LA Times story also made it to the North County Times. It is the first piece below. The City News Service story appears on the NBC – Los Angeles website and is the second piece below.
I prodded County Counsel on all of my constitutional concerns, but when you have County Counsel, the District Attorney, and Supervisor Nelson (who is also an attorney) all claim that this ordinance passes muster, it’s difficult for this C.P.A. to object. All I could do is issue a word of caution and hope that this ordinance does not become an expensive legal matter for the County.
There is a bonus article from the Whittier Daily News. The title refers to Friday, which may be when it will appear, but I’ll whet your appetite with the topic. I’ll provide more details in a later UPDATE.
Orange County bans sex offenders from some parks, beaches
Offenders who visit any of dozens of public spaces without prior approval from county officials face jail or a fine. Critics say the law will be hard to enforce and seems politically motivated.
Orange County supervisors have approved a law significantly restricting the movements of registered sex offenders, banning them from entering some beaches, parks and harbor areas.
Under the rules, sex offenders who visit any of dozens of public spaces without prior approval from county officials face up to six months in jail or a $500 fine. The ban covers some of the region’s top attractions including the Orange County Zoo, Irvine Regional Park, Newport Harbor and Dana Point Harbor.
The law, approved unanimously by the board Tuesday, is the latest in a controversial series of ordinances across the country aimed at limiting where sex offenders can live and visit. It was championed by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who said the idea was to keep sex offenders away from children and families.
"We are setting up a safety zone by keeping parks and recreation zones safe from predators," he said.
But critics immediately voiced skepticism about the law, saying it would be hard to enforce and appeared politically motivated.
Franklin Zimring, a University of California-Berkeley law professor, said the law was overly broad and misdirected, because more than nine out of 10 sex crimes targeting children are committed not by strangers in a park, but by family members or acquaintances.
"It’s trying to solve a problem nobody knows exists," he said, adding that laws imposing restrictions on sex offenders are snowballing because they are politically popular. "Who’s going to lose votes being against child molestation?"
Orange County’s ordinance appears to be the first legal move in California imposing across-the-board restrictions on where sex offenders can be. Los Angeles County in 2009 passed legislation banning registered sex offenders from "loitering" within 300 feet of "child safety zones," which include schools, public libraries and parks. Existing state law also prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school or park.
Illinois passed a law last year making it a misdemeanor for sex offenders to be in or within 500 feet of a public park, and a South Carolina lawmaker introduced similar legislation after a 17-year-old was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender at a park on the other side of the country, in San Diego County.
At the board meeting Tuesday, some supervisors asked exactly how the new law would be enforced. Rackauckas and Orange County Sheriff’s Capt. Adam Powell said only that it would be enforced on a "case-by-case" basis.
One supervisor, John M.W. Moorlach, also raised concerns about whether the ordinance would infringe on constitutional rights and end up forcing the county to spend more money defending the rules in court.
A bill in the California Legislature last year initially included a provision banning all sex offenders from parks where children regularly gather. But lawmakers ultimately limited the language to parolees whose victims had been under age 14. The change made the ban more enforceable because these parolees are required to wear GPS devices.
There have already been legal challenges elsewhere. In Jeffersonville, Ind., where a city ordinance banning sex offenders from parks was passed in 2007, a man convicted of sexual battery against a 13-year-old girl sued when he was not allowed to watch his son play Little League baseball because of the ban. The Court of Appeal there ruled that in his case, the ordinance was unconstitutional because he had been convicted and completed his registration as an offender before the law took effect.
Jeffrey McBride, a 43-year-old Laguna Beach resident, spoke against the ordinance at the meeting, telling the supervisors the move would be unconstitutional.
"Not all registrants are the same," said McBride, who is on the state registry of sex offenders for alleged possession of child pornography. The ordinance would be "destroying the lives of family and friends who are proving that they can be trusted again," he said.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who proposed the ordinance along with Rackauckas, noted that McBride was on the registry and said the goal of the law was to protect children.
Without the law, he said, sex offenders "can sit there and watch these children."
Jill Levenson, a veteran social worker and professor of human services at Lynn University in Florida, said such laws should be tailored to avoid unintended consequences. Restrictions on offenders can exacerbate their risk of reoffending by making them feel backed into a corner and like they have nothing to lose, she said.
"There may very well be certain sex offenders who shouldn’t be in parks, but rather than a blanket law, that should be part of assessment … based on the risks and needs of individual criminal offenders," she said.
OC Supervisors Approve Banning Sex Offenders From Parks, Beaches
An ordinance that bans registered sex offenders from some Orange County parks and beaches and imposes a $500 fine on violators was approved by county Supervisors Friday.
Under the law, registered sex offenders are banned from county recreational areas where children regularly gather. It covers any county-owned, leased, operated or maintained land, including harbors, beaches, parks or recreational areas.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson proposed the ordinance in response to one of his constituents complaining about a registered sex offender who inherited a home in Fullerton across from Laguna Lake Park.
Erin Runnion — the mother of slain 5-year-old daughter Samantha Runnion, who was abducted, molested and strangled in 2002 — urged the board to approve the ordinance.
"I want to support Supervisor Nelson’s ordinance because the reality is when we look at recidivism rates, it’s one of the most underreported crimes in the country," Runnion said, referring to child molestation. "I urge you to pass this ordinance to better protect our children."
Nelson assured critics of the law that it would not lead to "shakedowns" or "profiling" by sheriff’s deputies at the county’s parks.
"It is certainly a good ordinance. I don’t know that anyone could say it better than (Erin Runnion)," Nelson said.
Without the law, Nelson said, registered sex offenders "could sit there and watch these children and the only prudent thing a mother or father, like me, could do would be to be forced out of the park."
Supervisor John Moorlach asked if there was a way for people to appeal the ban and worried about the constitutional issues in enforcing it.
Nelson and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas assured the supervisors the law is constitutionally sound. Nelson added people who work for the county who are registered sex offenders could apply for a waiver, but the constitution does not demand it.
"We don’t have to give an exception, it’s an accommodation," Nelson said. "It is constitutional to have no exceptions. The fact we’re giving them one is more than is required."
County counsel Nicholas Crisos told the supervisors that while someone could sue over the law, county officials are confident they would prevail in court.
"Nick is saying if we get sued we’ll probably win, but we’re spending taxpayer dollars, not your personal dollars, so I hope you’re right," Moorlach said.
NBC LA legal analyst Royal Oakes agreed.
"Measures like this usually are found constitutional," Oaks said "They’re very popular with communities."
Oaks explained that as long as the restrictions are not too broad and the law was narrow enough in scope, it would likely survive any legal challenges.
Anyone violating the law could face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine, Rackauckas said.
Copyright City News Service / NBC Los Angeles
Whittier Daily News
Around the region, April 8
Los Angeles and Orange counties may swap parcels
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday scheduled a May 10 public hearing to consider shifting some portions of the boundary between Los Angeles and Orange counties.
The suggested changes, prompted by Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, would move about 36 acres from Orange to Los Angeles County and shift about 42 acres from Los Angeles to Orange.
The parcels subject to the change are in Long Beach, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach. The new designations are intended to align legal boundaries with property ownership and physical barriers, like the 605 Freeway, and to clarify jurisdiction for services.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
The San Francisco Chronicle covered PG&E’s decision to file for bankruptcy protection during the California energy crisis of 2001. The articl was probably my introduction to Christian Berthelsen, who would later work for the LA Times. He wrote “PG&E Creditors Are Lining Up – BofA, local generators owed billions by utility” with Sam Zuckerman. I was badly misquoted. I took a vacation day off to chaperone my then-10-year old son for his fourth-grade’s field trip to San Diego via Amtrak. On the ride home, in a train filled with fourth-graders, I told the reporter that at that time I was more concerned about the financial viability of PG&E than that of Southern California Edison. The reporter even repeated my quote for verification. Unfortunately, it did not appear in the article in the manner in which I had presented it. I was not snubbing anyone who was holding PG&E paper. As PG&E would not exit from its bankruptcy until April 2003, I’m providing the article in full.
A look at PG&E’s creditors shows just how widely the ailing utility’s tentacles reached into the U.S. economy.
Virtually every sector of the institutional and investor public is exposed to its troubles. Pension funds, insurance companies, banks, energy concerns and government agencies are all said to be among those who extended their products and services to the utility, hoping for a return on their investment.
That return was put in question yesterday when PG&E Corp.’s regulated utility subsidiary filed for bankruptcy protection.
In its filing, PG&E said it had secured debt — the kind that entitles creditors to the assets of the company if things go wrong — of slightly more than $3 billion dollars. But it listed unsecured debt, which is not backed by assets, of nearly $6 billion. That unsecured money is the kind that is much harder to fully recover.
Chief among the creditors were holders of more than $2.2 billion in medium- term, senior and floating-rate notes. Though the official creditor on that debt was said to be the Bank of New York, bank officials said yesterday that they are merely a fiduciary trustee and not the actual lenders.
A source, who would only speak on condition of anonymity and would not identify specific note holders, said they were spread among an assortment of pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds and banks. The same was the case for Bankers Trust Co., listed as an unsecured creditor to the tune of $1.3 billion, and U.S. Bank, with a debt listing of $310 million.
"A large number of institutional investors chose to invest on optimism rather than arithmetic," said Jon Kyle Cartwright, a senior energy analyst with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, Fla. "I have no idea what (PG&E’s) assets are worth. What is the value of assets of a company that is legally mandated to lose money on every kilowatt hour it sells?"
Investors are already punishing the stocks of companies who were exposed to PG&E’s liability, and rising prices are sure to compound the problem.
MBIA, a loan insurer backing more than $500 million in PG&E bonds, was punished by investors yesterday, who sent shares down $7.69, or more than 9 percent, to close at $75.10.
Many of the lenders remained stoic yesterday in the face of PG&E’s disclosure. But it may take some time before the fallout becomes tangible.
"We regret that the collective actions to mitigate Pacific Gas & Electric’s financial crisis were unsuccessful," Duke Energy, a power generator, said in a prepared statement. "However, the Chapter 11 filing provides a defined process to collect our past receivables and keep PG&E in business going forward."
Bank of America helped underwrite a syndicated loan of $938 million to PG&E.
The bank declined to say what portion of the loan it held or what percentage of its corporate lending portfolio it comprised. The bank issued a statement saying it was disappointed to learn of the filing but would be able to withstand some loss because it has $50 billion in reserves. BofA shares dropped $2.26 yesterday, or more than 4 percent, to end at $49.59.
Other lenders knew better than to get involved with PG&E in the first place.
John Moorlach, the treasurer of Orange County, said he avoided Pacific Gas & Electric Co., instead holding $20 million in debt securities issued by Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison.
"I was worried about PG&E," Moorlach said.
Another major sector of PG&E creditors are the power companies that have profited enormously in the state’s energy crisis. The utility’s debts to the California Power Exchange (PX) and the California Independent System Operator, which in this context are essentially billing agents for the merchant power concerns, total more than $3 billion.
E. Jesus Arredondo, a spokesman for the PX, which itself declared bankruptcy last month, said Duke Energy Inc. and Reliant Energy Inc. were among the largest exposed creditors whose debt was attributed to the PX, with as much as $300 million and $400 million in unreimbursed power purchases. A Duke spokesman would say only that the Charlotte, N.C., firm reported more than $400 million in accounts receivable in January but would not elaborate on how much of that is owed by PG&E.
Separately, PG&E listed debts of about $121 million to three subsidiaries of Calpine Corp. of San Jose, $28 million to a subsidiary of Enron and about $90 million to Chevron, El Paso and BP Energy Services for gas and power purchases.
Even municipal utilities, which had long taken a sort of churlish pride in the fact that they were immune from rate shocks because of publicly produced power, will take the hit.
Los Angeles, which was said to have spent $130 million of its own money generating electricity to sell to PG&E and Southern California Edison, may be out more than $100 million for power it provided. The city’s Department of Water and Power may have to raise its own rates to cover that outlay.
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