After months in the works, an ordinance that would ban sex offenders from Rancho Santa Margarita parks gained unanimous approval from the City Council Wednesday night.
Now the question is if the city’s homeowners associations—which own and operate most of RSM's parks—will participate.
At about 7:40 p.m., the City Council approved on second reading an ordinance that would create “child safety zones” around local parks.
Under the new law, which goes into effect 30 days after its approval, registered sex offenders would not be able to enter the child safety zones without written permission from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
The punishment for violation of this ordinance includes time in a county jail for no more than six months, a fine of no more than $500, or both imprisonment and fine.
“Our goal is to provide every possible tool to our police to get those kind of folks out of the parks,” Mayor Tony Beall said.
Beall said that the ordinance would also apply to the city's planned Chiquita Ridge project, which will feature the largest sports park in South Orange County—at least 23 acres.
According to city attorney Greg Simonian, under the ordinance the city’s HOAs have the right to participate or not, and as of Wednesday night, none of the HOA’s had officially opted in.
“It (the ordinance) affects no parks at this time unless, and until, the affected HOAs that own the specified parks in the ordinance opt in, and post signage,” Simonian said.
The city does not own or operate any of the parks within its boundaries, except part of Canada Vista Park.
The ordinance was originally scheduled to be voted on as part of the council’s consent calendar without discussion.
However, RSM resident Chris McLaughlin asked to pull the item for discussion.
While McLaughlin said he “understood the intent, the spirit of the ordinance” he questions the part of the staff report that stated the ordinance would cost no more than the cost of the time city employees spent preparing and researching the issue.
“You don't think it's going to cost our city to enforce this?” McLaughlin said.
After McLaughlin’s statement, Beall asked for council comments.
Mayor Pro Tem Steven Baric said, “I think we've talked about it quite a bit. I'll make the motion to pass it.”
The motion was seconded by councilman Jesse Petrilla and passed, 5-0.
Baric originally proposed the ordinance in June, 2011 after an incident in Rancho Santa Margarita where a Mission Viejo man allegedly .
At least one major HOA has expressed concern with the proposed ordinance.
During the ordinance’s first reading in January, Don Chadd, president of SAMLARC, the Rancho Santa Margarita Landscape and Recreation Corporation—the city’s largest homeowner’s association—said that its board of directors had taken a "no" position on the issue, saying that there was a significant potential for lawsuits if the association supported the ordinance.
Beall said that the decision of whether to support the ordinance is a decision that the many different HOA board of directors must make.
“Regardless of what they do, what we’ve done sends a strong message to the sex offenders out there,” Beall said. “You’re not welcome in the parks in Rancho Santa Margarita.”
High Speed Rail "Lemon Law"
The RSM city council wants to send the proposed California high speed rail line to the scrapyard.
Councilmembers voted 5-0 to support a bill by Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point) that would halt state debt funding for the project, a planned rail line that could link San Francisco with San Diego.
Calling the proposed legislation a “high speed rail lemon law,” Harkey, who spoke before the council Wednesday night, said that the voters were deceived with false information when they voted on the original project in 2008, that the cost is much greater than expected, and that the amount of jobs created will be nowhere near as many as originally stated.
Harkey said that the state is broke, and the high speed rail won’t help.
“My point is we probably don't need a shiny new toy right now,” Harkey said.
Councilmember Carol Gamble said voters are switching their opinions about the whole project.
“The high speed rail is not the great panacea that everybody thought it would be,” Gamble said. “Therefore, in these challenging and difficult times, it stands to reason that people would have a change in heart.”
“I had been following it for a while, and it’s something that I believe in,” said Petrilla, who asked city staff to agendize the item. “If we can have a voice as a city and do our part to help save the taxpayers in California, ultimately we’re going to be benefiting from those savings.”
Petrilla added, “Even though, we’re a small town, hopefully, we’ll be able to influence something that will be able to make a big difference."
- As part of the city’s student recognition program, the city honored Gage Wegner and Nicole Matthews of Arroyo Vista Elemenary School and Nattalie Urrego and Jennifer Wechsler.
- The council also heard from coordinator Aaron Berenschot about a new program called Orange County Crime Stoppers, a nonprofit organization that allows people to provide tips on crimes while maintaining their anonymity and still be able to collect a reward for doing so.
- The next city council meeting will take place Feb. 22, 7 p.m., at City Hall.