[UPDATED with Ban Approved:] Laguna Hills is Latest City to Prohibit Pervs from Parks

Categories: Crime-iny
UPDATE, NOV. 23, 8:28 A.M.: The Laguna Hills City Council on Tuesday night approved on first reading an ordinance banning registered sex offenders from city parks and, if homeowner associations request to join in, their private parks as well.

The city will join La Habra, Westminster, Yorba Linda, Huntington Beach and Los Alamitos in enacting ordinances tailored after the original County of Orange ban that was adopted in April. Irvine passed an ordinance that only targets sex offenders who have preyed on children.

Other Orange County cities are considering ordinances, usually at the behest of the district attorney's office.

The Laguna Hills ordinance will become effective 30 days after it is approved on second reading on Dec. 13.

UPDATE, NOV. 9, 12:57 P.M.: The Laguna Hills City Council tonight will consider approving on first reading an ordinance that would ban registered sex offenders from city parks.

Susan Kang Schroeder, the district attorney's chief of staff, is scheduled to appear before the council to advocate passage of the measure that brings a misdemeanor counts, fines and possible jail time to known perverts who enter local parks without first getting permission from law enforcement.

The council previously voted unanimously to have its staff bring such an ordinance before it. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 24035 El Toro Road, Laguna Hills.

UPDATE, NOV. 9, 12:57 P.M.: A unanimous Laguna Hills City Council voted Tuesday night to have staff bring back before it Nov. 22 the first reading of an ordinance to ban registered sex offenders from city parks.

The full panel, including Joel Lautenschleger, a councilman who'd previously appeared on the fence about a ban, directed staffers to model their law after the county ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor for registered sex offenders to enter a regional recreational area where children regularly gather unless they have permission from the sheriff's department.

A city staff report shows eight registered sex offenders currently live in Laguna Hills, with six of those having been convicted for offenses against minors.

Laguna Hills has 15 city parks and 14 owned by private homeowner associations.

ORIGINAL POST, NOV. 8, 3:40 P.M.: Last night, a divided Huntington Beach City Council joined La Habra, Westminster, Los Alamitos and the County of Orange in passing an ordinance preventing registered sex offenders from entering municipal parks unless they first receive permission from law enforcement. In Irvine, such a misdemeanor law applies only to those who preyed on children.

Tonight, the Laguna Hills City Council considers a ban of its own, but there is an odd twist when it comes to consideration in that South County town.

As the Weekly previously reported, Laguna Hills City Councilman Joel Lautenschleger is the father-in-law of swim instructor Todd Robert Sousa, who was sentenced Oct. 28 to 16 months in state prison for having an unlawful sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl.

Thumbnail image for Todd_Sousa.jpg
Todd Robert Sousa
The 37-year-old Sousa, who is married and has children with Lautenschleger's daughter Jill (they reportedly separated after his arrest), must also register as a sex offender, meaning he's banned from parks in jurisdictions that have passed ordinances, including the city where he resides, Irvine.

Sousa pleaded innocent at his March arraignment, when he was looking at up to 13 years in state prison with a conviction on multiple felony and misdemeanor charges. He changed his plea to guilty on Oct. 28.

A month earlier, the proposal for a sex offender ordinance first went before the Laguna Hills City Council and, according to a recording of that meeting, Lautenschleger said he didn't see the need to pass an ordinance because there is no evidence that sex offenders congregate in city parks.

"What is the problem we're trying to solve here with an ordinance?" asked Lautenschleger, who co-chaired the successful drive to incorporate the city in March 1991, was elected to the first city council and served as mayor in 1995, 2000, 2004 and 2009. "It is a solution looking for a problem."

Actually, government statistics show 161 sex offenders have been arrested in Laguna Hills since 2000. And Lautenschleger told his gathered council colleagues, city staff and audience members that late September night that he fears convicted sex offenders might sue the city on constitutional grounds if an ordinance banning them from parks is adopted.

"We are not just running into legal ramifications here with the county, with constitutional arguments against the Fourth Amendment," Lautenschleger said. "You know, your right to assemble, right to do things. But you're running the risk of being liable as a city in doing something like this."

In other words, the city might be forced to pay someone like his son-in-law if they lost a judgment based on the ordinance in court.

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