Crime & Justice

Lawsuits target California cities for residential restrictions on sex offenders

A screenshot from the California Megan's Law website shows a cluster of registered sex offenders in a small area. Sex offenders have been sharply restricted in where they can live in some parts of the state because of local rules.
A screenshot from the California Megan's Law website shows a cluster of registered sex offenders in a small area. Sex offenders have been sharply restricted in where they can live in some parts of the state because of local rules.
California's Megan's Law website

Listen to story

00:58
Download this story 0.0MB

The City of Fullerton will consider repealing residency restrictions on sex offenders at its Tuesday City Council meeting.

The city currently prohibits registered sex offenders from residing within 2,000 ft. of any school, park or day care center. But a 2015 California Supreme Court decision struck down similar restrictions in San Diego County, and the decision has been widely interpreted as a rollback of statewide residency restrictions established by voters in 2006 through Proposition 83, known as Jessica’s Law.

The Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws contends that many cities, including Fullerton, have residency restrictions on the books that run contrary to the state Supreme Court ruling. Attorney Janice Bellucci, who heads the organization, sued Fullerton in September on behalf of a registered sex offender who allegedly couldn’t live in the city because the restrictions cover such a wide area.

According to the legal complaint, the 2,000-ft. ban made all apartments and townhouses and most single-family homes off limits to people who had a sexual crime with a minor on their record. 

Violating the ordinance carries a maximum $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

Bellucci said the restrictions are unconstitutional and ineffective.

“People are looking in the wrong direction,” she said, citing studies showing that 90 percent of child sexual assault victims know their perpetrator. 

"If they’re concerned that their child may be sexually assaulted, they need to look at that 90 percent number which are family members, teachers, coaches and clergy.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has found that restrictions like Fullerton's increase homelessness and make it difficult for sex offenders to access counseling and other social services. They haven’t been shown to reduce crime.

Following the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, the Department of Corrections announced that it would no longer enforce blanket residency laws for sex offenders on parole. Those convicted of crimes against children under age 14 are still prohibited from living near schools. Corrections officers evaluate restrictions for other parolees on a case-by-case basis. 

The Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws has sued 17 other California cities over their residency restrictions for sex offenders, including Tustin and Seal Beach in Orange County. 

Tustin repealed its ordinance in October. The City of El Monte and Riverside County also repealed their residency restrictions following the state Supreme Court ruling.  

Fullerton’s city attorney is recommending the city council follow suit and repeal its residency rules.

According to the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws, at least 50 California cities still have residency restrictions for sex offenders on the books.