Cameron Smyth | Sex Offender Case Posed Dilemma for City Council

Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth. Katharine Lotze/Signal

By Cameron Smyth

Mayor Pro Tem 

Over the course of three weeks in January, the Edelman institute conducted their “Trust Barometer” poll where they interview Californians on a variety of issues, and the results should sadden all of us who care about the future of the Golden State.

Of the respondents, 62% said California’s best days are behind us and a majority of residents (53%) are considering moving out of state. More alarming is that number is even higher (63%) among Millennials. A number of factors play into the desire to leave, and I am afraid that after Tuesday night’s City Council meeting those numbers will grow.

Some background: In 2015 a unanimous decision by the California Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 83, also known as Jessica’s Law, was unconstitutional despite passing with over 70% of the vote in 2006. Jessica’s Law not only restricted where sex offenders could live, it also gave cities the authority to enact ordinances that added further restrictions. Based on that authority, the city of Santa Clarita adopted an ordinance that prohibited any registered sex offenders from residing within 2,000 feet of a school, park, library or child care center. The city’s ordinance also restricted sex offenders from living with each other in the same residence, or unit of a multi-unit building.  

Due to similar litigation in Los Angeles that was pending while the California Supreme Court case was ongoing, the California Department of Corrections and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have not been enforcing the residency restrictions of Jessica’s Law for more than eight years. Therefore, having it on our books really had no material impact. However, a California-based attorney decided it was a good business model to seek out cities with residency restrictions, and threaten litigation in order to remove them, and it was just a matter of time before she made her way to Santa Clarita. The lawyer, after filing the lawsuit in March, gave the city until May 31 to comply or face costly litigation that would result in the removal of the residency ordinance due to the Supreme Court ruling, not to mention rewarding the attorney with additional revenue to be used in her continued assault on local communities in support of convicted sex offenders.

One of the hardest things I have to do as a council member is vote for items that I’m morally, ethically and passionately against – because of extenuating circumstances. Tuesday night’s vote, which repealed the sex offender residency restrictions, was one of those votes. Do I want convicted sex offenders to be able to live near my kids’ school, near the park where they play or by any of our libraries? Of course not. That was not what this vote was about. This vote was about the state of California continually chipping away at local control and in fact our public safety.

When you combine the Supreme Court ruling with a number of initiatives like Assembly Bill 109 and Propositions 47 and 57, which were sold as a compassionate way to reduce the state prison population — but have resulted in dangerous and violent criminals being released back into our communities — it just adds more reason for people and businesses to leave California. In fact, since Prop. 47 passed in 2014, nearly 60,000 criminals in the Los Angeles County sheriff’s jurisdiction alone have been arrested, released and committed additional crimes.

Where do we stand now? I want to reassure the community, as our sheriff’s captain did at the meeting on Tuesday, that the way sex offenders are registered and monitored in Santa Clarita has not changed. The action we took on Tuesday night does not affect California’s Sex Offender Registration Act, also known as Megan’s Law, which requires anyone who lives in California after being convicted of a sex crime to register with the police of the city or county where they live, for the rest of their lives. Information about where they live and the crimes they’ve committed is available publicly on the internet, as well as at the sheriff’s station.  

Other restrictions implemented specifically here in Santa Clarita are also still in effect — for example, Santa Clarita is one of only two stations in the county that require a weekly residency check for the sex offenders registered in the city, and the Department of Corrections maintains some residency restrictions authority that can be implemented on a case-by-case basis for certain categories of sexual predators. 

In addition to these restrictions, I asked the city attorney to work with law enforcement to develop a replacement ordinance that will pass any constitutional challenge, while ensuring the continued safety of our residents and their families. 

Please be assured that the council’s top priority is to maintain Santa Clarita as the safe, family-friendly community we all enjoy. In 2018 we experienced the lowest crime rate in the city’s history and we will not let decisions from Sacramento deter our efforts.

Cameron Smyth is mayor pro tem of the city of Santa Clarita.  

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