Grover Beach is being sued over its residency restrictions on sex-offenders, and there shouldn’t be anyone surprised about it.
Officials with the city, which is one of only two in SLO County that passed restrictions on top of those required by state law, likely knew the ordinance would eventually be challenged in court, but moved forward with its creation and enforcement anyway, according to documents obtained by New Times.
Long-time Grover Beach resident Frank Lindsay filed the federal lawsuit on June 17. In 1979, Lindsay was convicted of a sexual crime involving a victim less than 18 years old, according to court documents. After being attacked and beaten in his home by a stranger in 2011, Lindsay’s looking to move to a new home but wishes to remain a Grover Beach resident. According to the lawsuit, the Grover Beach sex offender residency requirement ordinance is so restrictive that he essentially won’t be able to find a new home within the city. The lawsuit alleges that “virtually every foot” of the city falls under the residency restrictions, leaving less than 1 percent of the city available to house registered sex offenders, and in effect, amounts to unconstitutional “banishment” from the city.
“The city has put him in a rock and hard place,” Lindsay’s attorney, Janice Bellucci, said. “He can remain in a house where he was brutally attacked or move away from Grover Beach.”
That may have been exactly what the city had been hoping for, according to a 2010 memo from George Peyton, then the city attorney for the city of Piedmont. At the time, Piedmont was considering passing its own residency requirements for sex offenders. In the memo, Peyton talked to attorneys for several California cities. That included Grover Beach, which already had an ordinance on the books. While many attorneys urged caution in adopting or enforcing such a law, Peyton said that Grover Beach’s city attorney indicated that having a residency ordinance on the books anyway could discourage future sex offenders from moving to the city.
“The [Grover Beach] attorney went on to mention that that in one case where they found a registered sex offender was trying to buy a home in a restricted area under the local ordinance, the city gave notice to the title company of the potential violation, and the escrow failed to close,” Petyon wrote.
A copy of Grover Beach’s ordinance attached to the memo identifies Martin Koczanowicz as the city’s attorney at that time. Grover Beach’s website indicates he remains in that position today.
At the time the memo was written, Grover’s residency restriction on sex offenders stated that they could not live within 1,000 feet of a restricted area, such as a school, playground, or day care instead of within the 2,000 feet, as outlined by the state voter-passed Jessica’s Law.
“The Grover Beach city attorney told me that one reason his city decided to reduce the distance to 1,000 feet was that there was a concern that using 2,000 feet would exclude registered sex offenders from living anywhere within the Grover Beach city limits, and this total exclusion might be used as a successful defense by a registered sex offender against enforcement of the Grover Beach ordinance,” Peyton wrote.
But in 2014, Grover Beach went against that very advice when the City Council voted 4-1 to amend the ordinance and extend the distance to 2,000 feet, using the outermost edges of the properties in question. The council also passed a list of named “protected locations” in the city, and defined the areas located within 2,000 feet of them.
Former Councilman Bill Nicolls was the lone dissenting vote. According to minutes from the meeting, Nicolls objected to the change “due to the limited areas located within city limits that would remain available for residential use.”
Lindsay’s lawsuit, in part, argues just this.
City Attorney Koczanowitz said he couldn’t comment on any aspects of the case, as it was ongoing litigation.
The lawsuit against Grover Beach is the first in what will likely be multiple lawsuits by registered sex offenders against cities throughout California with similar laws on the books. A March 2 ruling by the California Supreme Court said that blanket restrictions for all sex offenders were unconstitutional in San Diego County. Shortly after the ruling, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced that it would no longer enforce those blanket restrictions on parolees statewide.
In the wake of the ruling, one California senator submitted a bill to amend Jessica’s Law to bring it more in line with the court’s decision, while keeping the law’s purpose intact.
SB 54, authored by state Sen. Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster), would limit the residency restriction to persons convicted of specific offenses and require that the 2,000-foot residency restriction be measured by “the shortest practical pedestrian or vehicle path.” The bill would also allow sex offenders subject to the residency requirements to petition their county superior court to have the restrictions lifted.
“We wanted to be out there with something that gives [local governments] the ability to still have some control,” Runner told New Times. “Seventy percent of Californians voted for Jessica’s law, and they don’t want sex offenders near the schools and parks where their children play.”
If the bill passes, it’s unknown just how it would impact cases such as Lindsay’s or any other similar lawsuits filed in the state. As of July 1, the city of Grover Beach had not filed a response to the lawsuit.
Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @CWMcGuinness.