A proposal to ban registered sex offenders from Lake Forest city parks, modeled after a , could end up being the most stringent in Orange County.
After hearing from 16 emotional public speakers—some pleading for passage of the law, others begging the council to nix it—Lake Forest officials voted 4-0 Tuesday to approve the measure, with a clause that makes it stricter than the original county ban.
The county law, which has spurred a number of Orange County cities to pass laws that mirror it, makes it a misdemeanor for a registered sex offender to be in a county-run area where children gather, such as a park or beach. However, written permission from the Sheriff's Department can override that.
Lake Forest's ban, which would cover the city's 27 parks, grants no exceptions.
A line of speakers shared personal experiences in a bid to sway the council vote. (Councilman Mark Tettemer was absent due to illness.)
Local parents said they would feel safer knowing registered sex offenders were not allowed in parks.
“These parks are places for our kids to be kids and part of what makes Lake Forest such an attractive place to raise kids,” said Erin Hoskinson, a mother of three. "This ordinance is about preserving Lake Forest as a family city.”
But attorney Janice Bellucci, state organizer with Reform State Offender Laws, asserted that the park ban is not the best way to protect children.
Most sexual assaults on children are conducted by family members or friends, she said. Only 1.2 percent of such assaults take place in parks, she asserted.
The ordinance is also “overly broad,” which makes its open to challenges in court, Bellucci said.
She requested a 180-day review period before a council vote.
Others offered more personal stories.
Elise Lindsey told the council that her father's expunged conviction for a sex offense 30 years ago should make officials think twice about passing the ban.
Other than being listed as a registered sex offender, "my dad is just like you," Lindsey said. If the ban passes, "I would not be able to enjoy time with my father at the park or enjoy my future child’s birthday party at the park," she said. “[The] protection of children is paramount—as is the protection of our civic rights," she said.
Also opposing the ban was a registered sex offender who said the law would unfairly lump all sex offenses into one category.
"I didn’t have sex with anyone. I didn’t try to have sex with anyone," Jeffrey McBride said. Yet, "my life has been utterly destroyed in the last four years."
(According to Megan's Law records, McBride was convicted of possessing child pornography.)
Soon after McBride's testimony, Orange County District Attorney Chief of Staff Susan Schroeder said McBride's statements had "no credibility" because his claim of not engaging in illegal sex was false.
Schroeder said she had "seen [McBride's] file," and asserted that photographs found on his computer showed him having sex with children.
McBride angrily denied her assertion immediately.
The outburst was followed by Mayor Peter Herzog asking Schroeder to limit her comments to generalities, rather than singling out audience members.
Earlier, Kelly Hagins, a local advocate for the ban, urged the council to "prioritize" the community's children. “I’m sorry someone can’t go to a park, but my son’s future, his health and safety are more important than that,” she said.
Under the proposal approved Tuesday, registered sex offenders would be prohibited from entering parks owned, leased, operated or maintained by the city.
The proposal was by .
In November, and fast-tracked a proposal modeled after the county's ban for discussion.
It will return for final approval Dec. 20. If OK'ed at that meeting, it would take effect 30 days later.