Main Saddleback Church campus in Lake Forest, California.
Lake Forest was one of many cities in Orange County that in the past year overwhelmingly adopted a local version of a county ordinance banning registered sex offenders from parks and beaches.
Both versions of the law quickly ran into legal questions.
An appellate court overturned the conviction of a man arrested under the law last month, saying it conflicted with state laws. And an unnamed sex offender filed a federal suit challenging the law’s constitutionality, which named Lake Forest as a defendant.
“It became very clear to me that the law was not legally viable,” said Peter Herzog, one of three Lake Forest council members who voted to overturn the city’s ordinance that, only a year ago, passed unanimously.
A city report concluded the law didn’t protect residents from sex offenders in “any measurable way” and that the ordinance could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend.
But that’s no reason to get rid of a law needed to protect children, argues Orange County District Attorney Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder.
Schroeder says cities shouldn’t be scared off by lawsuits filed by what she calls the “huge pro-sex offender lobby.”
“I understand the fiscal impact it has on cities and I certainly sympathize with that, but when they passed the law before they were told they were going to be sued, and that it's bad public policy to overturn a law just because you get sued, because then there’s going to be a suit or a threat of a suit on every law.”
“Unfortunately cities get sued all the time and you evaluate each issue individually,” Herzog said. “In this case there didn’t seem to be the real viability of the ordinance under state law.”
Lake Forest was the first city in Orange County to pass a local version of the sex offender ban.
Now that it’s the first to repeal it, Herzog says he’s getting calls from leaders at the many cities where the law is still on the books – cities that once again may follow Lake Forest’s lead.