The City of Long Beach is amending the portion of its municipal code dealing with where sex offenders are allowed to live in the city, a move that comes as the city fights a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of its restrictions.
Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin suggested the amendments in a letter to city council in the wake of a 2015 California Supreme Court ruling regarding the 2,000-foot residency buffer around schools, parks and child care facilities. The case originated in San Diego County, where it was found that the blanket residency prohibition, in effect, barred sex offenders from renting approximately 97 percent of the multifamily housing units the county.
These types of restrictions have led to sex offenders having to live in large clusters, in areas where the buffer zones applied to the prohibition zones overlapped, or worse, were forced into homelessness.
One of the more infamous examples was seen in Florida, under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami, where a colony of hundreds of homeless sex offenders lived from 2006-2010.
With the 2015 ruling, the California Attorney General advised the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that the buffers would be found unconstitutional in every county, leading the CDCR to subsequently stop enforcing the restrictions. Instead, crimes not committed against victims under the age of 14 will be taken on a case-by-case basis, with the sex offender’s criminal record being weighed in determining housing restrictions.
When the issue was raised during last week’s city council meeting, Third District Councilwoman asked what that process would look like and whether or not the local municipality would have a say in that analysis, on a case-by-case basis, but no definitive answer was given by Parkin.
“Currently, there’s not much of a process in place,” Parkin said. “They’re currently not enforcing the blanket application of the residency restrictions. We’re told that how they will look at it is based upon the conviction, what the person was convicted for and whether that person would be a candidate for enforcement of a restriction.”
He did notify the council that the city is currently in litigation over the municipal code, and because of the ruling, the city would be found in violation and would be liable for damages and attorney fees.
Furthermore, not amending the ordinance would be purely symbolic, as the county and the department of corrections are not abiding by the city’s municipal code and the city has no legal mechanism to which they could be compelled.
Under the current version of the municipal code—one that was classified unconstitutional by the high court’s ruling last year—Long Beach prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of the aforementioned locations as well as prohibits offenders from sharing the same location, meaning that two offenders couldn’t live in the same apartment complex.
There are over 800 registered sex offenders in Long Beach and with its large list of areas that currently fall into the municipal code’s residential exclusion zones. According to the report, the city has approximately 190 parks and community centers, over 3,100 acres of recreation areas and six miles of beaches in addition to all the public and private schools in the city. All currently require the 2,000-foot buffer.
“These statistics significantly hinder a registered sex offender's ability to acquire residence outside the specified Zones,” Parkin wrote in a letter to council. “Furthermore, the CDCR has been clear that it will not enforce the blanket residency restrictions, based on a measurement of distance, within Long Beach or elsewhere.”
The vote to amend the ordinance would revert the case-by-case analysis to the Department of Corrections, and would also modify the “cluster” governing, to read that two offenders cannot live in the same unit, not the same location. A final reading of the changed ordinance is expected at tonight’s regular city council meeting.