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Sexual Predator Laws Fall Like Dominoes

pedophile-free zone signWho wouldn’t want to protect their kids to the utmost when it comes to shielding them from sexual predators? Well, don’t count on the plethora of predator-in-the-park/library/school ordinances that ultra-conservatives in Orange County hastily pasted together to prevent pedophiles and others from coming near your kids. Like a row of dominoes, they are falling by the wayside as the courts find them unconstitutional or unenforceable.

The latest to hit the skids is the Irvine law, known as the Irvine Child Safety Ordinance. Only one person, Jean Pierre Nguyen, has been arrested under the “perv-in-the-park” ordinance  and that case was subsequently dismissed by the Superior Court in Santa Ana. Both the Liberal OC and the OC Weekly have written multiple articles on the problem with the Irvine and Orange County ordinances and an email from the County Public Defenders Office to the Weekly detailed the issue saying they filed a demurrer to the complaint against their client charging the ordinance was preempted by state law and that it was unconstitutionally vague and overreaching.

From the Weekly email:

In sum, on November 27, 2012, the Superior Court of Orange County ruled that Irvine’s Child Safety Zone ordinance is void and unenforceable because it is unconstitutional and the subject area (sex offenders) is preempted by State Law. Judge Dickey agreed with all of the legal arguments raised by Mr. Nguyen.

The ruling in the Irvine case comes on the heels of a case heard by the State Appellate Court in Santa Ana on November 15th, in which the Orange County sexual predator ordinance was found to violate the California Constitution’s preemption clause. California law prevents some, but not all, registered sex offenders from entering public parks. The ruling by a three member panel of the court will be sent to the full Appeals Court where it may be reviewed or allowed to stand as-is. In the appellate case, by the way, the defendant, Hugo Godinez, was required to register as a sex offender for a sexual battery offense. He was attending a company “mandatory” Cinco de Mayo party in Mile Square Park and was wearing a GPS tracker at the time.

Even Tustin’s own park-perv law was struck down in September this year. That case involved Randolph Spencer Carr, a registered sex offender from Santa Ana who had a prior rape conviction. Not much is known about the case or the dismissal as the city fathers did not seem to feel there was any danger in their ordinance being dumped. The ordinance, signed by then mayor Jerry Amante was just over a year old when it failed the smell test.

Dan Chmielewski of the OC Lib points out the real problem, with these local ordinances. Stating that Councilman Jeff Lalloway was “disturbed” that an “activist” court should allow cities to govern their own parks, “especially when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable in our society”, he pointed out that Lalloway and OCDA Tony Rackauckus are both lawyers that should have done more homework to make sure their respective ordinances were ironclad. He goes on to point out that, even had the ordinance stood, it would only cover a small number of child sexual predators who actually prey on new victims. In fact, he says, your kids are more at risk being molested by a family member than a stranger in the park.

Even more so, the so-called “child safety zones” are unenforceable. Most are reactive, meaning they don’t prevent anything. Cops can only respond after a child has been molested or, at least, an attempt made. In Nguyen’s case, he went to the Irvine Park to play tennis. The cops were tipped by his probation officer and were waiting for him. His original offense that merited registration was from 1996, although he was convicted earlier in the year of indecent exposure. But, officers receiving a tip (and, why didn’t the probation department move to stop Nguyen to begin with?) is exceptional. How often would that happen? And, even without the ordinance, Nguyen could have been arrested for violating his probation.

Why all the local ordinances in the first place? How about the kudos politicians receive from each other and an unsuspecting public that mistakenly believe these laws will actually protect their kids. It

OC Register File Photo

OC Register File Photo

doesn’t look good for the county sheriff or the district attorney to appear weak on sex offenders. They have little concern that offenders all get lumped into one category. And, while the Public Defenders Office has issued a statement that the appellate case invalidates these ordinances, Rackauckus’ view is that the decision, indeed, only applies to the Godinez case:

I believe that protecting children from sex offenders is one of the highest priorities in law enforcement. We will continue to review cases involving sex offenders in parks as they are  presented on a case-by-case basis. We also hope to present our position concerning preemption to the Court of Appeal and receive its decision on this important issue.

Yet, an ordinance that prevents a sex offender from living within 200 feet of a school or that prevents them from entering city parks may look great on paper but it really only drives them out of the immediate area (or underground) and then only if they have a fear of getting caught. The Megan’s Law website is a great tool for both law enforcement and the public but, as a parent, when was the last time you checked it? And, considering the number of exemptions allowed for inclusion in the database, how accurate is it? Carr was listed on the database with a disclaimer that he may have relocated. There is a photo of unknown date but no probation or parole information on him either.

On, an informational article on Megan’s Law agrees that sex offenders may go underground:

Another concern relates to the fact that Megan’s Laws seem to discourage sex offenders from complying with registration laws. While it is typically a felony offense for a sex offender to fail to register his residence as required by law, at least twenty percent of convicted sex offenders do not comply with the registration requirement.

It also agrees with Chmielewski’s assertion that children are at greater risk of being molested by a family member or friend, not from strangers.

So, where does this leave parents who are desperate to protect their children? While the courts and the politicians try to work through this remember that, even with bulletproof laws, the police have no responsibility to protect the individual, not even your child. You do, however. Ultimately, the responsibility for your child’s safety is supervision by you or someone you trust. In the case of nannies and babysitters, they should be properly vetted. When going to the park or other public venues, nothing replaces direct supervision and a watchful eye. Put away the phone and other distractions while your child plays and be aware of people who don’t seem to belong in the area or who seem to be taking an extraordinary interest in children. Don’t let your fear keep you from calling the police if you have suspicions. In the end, the best protection your children can have is you.

Jerry and Deborah’s (iPad) Fight

Anyone attending (or streaming as I usually do) last Tuesday night’s City Council meeting could not have missed the latest installment in the long running, knockdown, dragout fight between Boss Tweed Amante and Councilmember Deborah Gavello. Gavello had asked to pull a number of items from the consent calendar, including Item 14 which had to do with the updated iPad policy. The iPads were purchased last year, under the guise of eliminating the reams of paper from agenda packets that cover the dais during a council meeting. Our friends at the Liberal OC recently wrote an article that showed the iPads, which were purchased with reserves because they had not been budgeted for (apparently, this was an emergency), did not save much -if any- money.

So, when Gavello asked to pull this item, it was an opportunity to see what, if any money the City would actually claim to have saved. Gavello gave her usual diatribe against the purchase of the iPads, saying she felt the expenditure unnecessary. But, her focus was on the fact that iPads had been returned and would now be issued to….who? As John Nielsen started to speak, Jerry shoved his black ops guy out of the way and came back swinging, stating that Gavello is the only one who did not accept an iPad (did we mention the city paid for these out of reserve funds so Deborah saved the taxpayer money they weren’t supposed to spend?) and that she, alone, continues to receive a full agenda packet which, Jerry announced triumphantly, average 578 pages each meeting. Every other councilmember receives their packet electronically. He also screeched, “And in addition to all that, we make a DVD for Councilwoman Gavello for the meeting, which needs to be specially formatted which requires realtime conversion so that she can have a DVD.” He goes on to rant that he doesn’t understand why, since the council meetings are on cable and available on the website. He tells everyone about how other councils use laptops “which are far more expensive than iPads”. He even tells us how the iPads actually make government more efficient. Jerry even got his black ops guy, John Nielsen, to  tout how, by converting to iPads, they are really environmentalists, leading the way to save the forests of California from decimation by city councils across the state.

Huh… Really… The nerve of you, Deborah, to be concerned over the toys the mayor buys for himself and his buddies.

So, I did a little asking around of my own. And I found out some interesting stuff, including that Hizzoner, Jerry, may have fibbed again. I asked the simple question, who is using the iPads distributed by the city and who is using a personal iPad. I also asked if the city was paying for any part of the cost of maintaining the personal iPads?

City staff were very happy to tell me that Councilmembers Al Murray and Beckie Gomez purchased their own iPads and had turned in the city owned ones. They did not bother to tell me whether the city was paying for connectivity or “apps” on the personal iPads. They did make a point of telling me that each agenda packet averages a whopping 578 pages and it is distributed to each councilmember that asks for one as well as four others and a slew of smaller partial packets. The city staffers also pointed out that Gavello receives, at her request, a “DVD of [the] meeting in real-time conversion”. They also pointed out that many other cities issue laptops, rather than iPads…… wait a minute. Didn’t Jerry just say this? So, if the city staff had the answers all along, why didn’t they give them to The Liberal OC when they asked (I asked for this information, by the way, several days before the city council meeting)?

Another thing I found interesting was the fact that, through the year, I often saw the various councilmembers sifting through reams of documents, even though they had an iPad sitting next to them. So, I asked about that. What I got back was interesting. It seems that “It has taken various council members various amounts of time” to transition to the iPads. In fact, it wasn’t until the October 17th meeting that all four of the councilmembers were using their iPads and stopped using paper agendas altogether.” That is over a year after the iPads were approved for use. So, how much money was saved? I would say, none. Because, now we have the iPads which, for some mysterious reason, the councilmembers had trouble getting used to for an entire year, as well as the 578 page packets for those 20 meetings. Let’s see, if I go to Kinko’s and do this myself, at five cents a page, it comes out to (yes, I am willing to do the math for you) $2,312 per year just for the copies. Now, we have to have someone running the copier, so lets say a mid-payscale city clerk services specialist making $27.00 an hour slaves over a copier to make these copies and probably takes about an hour to do so. That’s about $540 plus benefits just to copy them. Of course, she has to make copies for the rest of the staff at the meeting anyway, so there really is no money saved there.

Let’s see. The cost of the iPads including all the goodies was $4,794.75. So, where is the cost savings? Let’s hear it for our fiscally conservative mayor, who cost the city nearly $5,000 out of reserve funds for unbudgeted toys for him and his buddies on the city council. Instead of saving the taxpayer trees and money, he has actually managed to cost the city more by using the great technology that he claims not to know much about. Remember, he recently stated that he doesn’t know how cellphones and televisions work. Well, he’s a lawyer, not an IT specialist. He’s also not much of an accountant.

Now, don’t forget, Jerry justified this expenditure by saying that all the other kids on other city councils use laptops for their work. And, everyone knows those are much more expensive than iPads. Not. A look at the latest Microcenter ad shows various laptops that are easily capable of doing the job for quite a bit less. In fact, one laptop that could accomplish the job could be had for as little as $249.  The iPads without any software or accessories, according to The Liberal OC, cost the city just under a thousand dollars each. Even including software which, I will admit is going to cost more for the laptop, it is still cheaper, as other city councils seem to have found, to buy the laptops. So, there goes another exaggeration by Hizzoner.

And, what about that DVD that is “specially formatted which requires realtime conversion”? Let’s see, an IT guy can do that in about 15 minutes. Cost of the blank DVDs in bulk are about forty cents each. So, really, the cost to make the DVD is minimal compared to what Hizzoner has paid for his new toy.

So, here we go again. A self-proclaimed fiscally conservative mayor who likes to bully other councilmembers from the pulpit, makes another claim that turns out to be false because he didn’t bother to check his facts. On top of that, the iPads that were specifically purchased as an urgent need for the city council, are now being handed off to the “new” city manager and another, unnamed, staff member. Cool. Except, what happens when new councilmembers are seated next year? Do we just buy new ones for them from reserve funds as well? Does Jerry think it might be a good idea for the city to make a plan on disseminating this fabulous technology rather than just buy them willy-nilly? Guess not. It is pretty obvious that, when it comes to Jerry and his Kids getting what they want, planning be damned.

In his parting tirade, Jerry complained that the media, who were badmouthing him (presumably us and the Lib) and his fiscally sound policies, just got it wrong. And we should just sit down and shut up. Dan Chmielewski of The Liberal OC recently reminded me of a quote to the late Finley Peter Dunne, that the job of a journalist is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I would have to add that we are the ones who will ask the questions that will keep our elected and appointed officials accountable to the public. Most officials understand that and consider it part of the cost of plying their trade. Like most things political or technical, Jerry just doesn’t get it. But, after all, he is a lawyer, not a philosopher.

Mayor Makes Top Ten List

Kudos to our friends over at the Liberal OC who released their Annual Top Ten Scariest Politicians list. Although none of the stalwarts on our city council made number one, I am pleased to announce that Hizzoner, Jerry “Boss Tweed” Amante made number 6 on the list. Considering the contenders, this is quite an, uh… well… honor.

From the Lib (because we couldn’t say it any better):

6.  Jerry Amante — The Boss Tweed of Tustin is doing his best to make sure everyone knows he is a fiscal conservative when all evidence is to the contrary.  From overspending on legal fees, to doling out no-bid contracts for things like cleaning services, to buying iPads for the city council that don’t save a penny in paper costs, Amante bears the shame of being the second mayor of the city to be the subject of a recall.  He still owes an apology to council member Deborah Gavello and members of the TUSD board for claiming they were part of his politically motivated recall when they certainly weren’t.  Our favorite recent action — Amante wants Tustin voters to vote on city council compensation – which won’t affect him because it takes place after he’s termed out.  How convenient!  Now Jerry could do the right thing and pay the city back for all his past checks or refuse to accept another dime moving forward, but we’re guessing he won’t because it’s part of the larger narrative  — do as I say not as I do.  The good news for city staffers — hang in there.  Jerry is out in a year and you can get your lives back.

The Lib is definitely right about Jerry’s political career. It would take a major salvage job to rescue that. When even Chris “I’m not homeless – it’s a study” Norby stands a better chance of making politics a career, you should know you are in trouble.

Unfortunately, Jerry’s love of money is likely to keep his one-man lobbying firm going for years. With the right people on the city council, he could be haunting city hall  for a long time.

Hmmm. Maybe Our Town Tustin will start the Scariest Lobbyists of the Year list.

It Cost How Much??

A hat tip to our good friends at the Liberal OC who have proven, once again, that the fiscally conservative Tustin City Council isn’t so fiscally conservative after all.

A little over a year ago, the City Council (well, most of them) voted themselves a nice little perk in the form of iPads. The pretext, of course, was to eliminate the endless paper trail of agenda and staff reports that every councilmember piled in front of themselves during each meeting. The tablets were never meant to be used for more than basic services and to allow the city to kill a few less trees. Nonetheless, each councilmember received a top of the line iPad complete with WiFi, 3G connectivity and 32 gigs of storage. Nice… Total package cost? $4,794.75 plus monthly charges for the 3G . The worst part is, as Dan Chmielewski reports, not one, single tree is being saved as each councilmember still receives the same pile of paper they did before they got their toys. And, as his article says, no money appears to have been saved.

But, it seems the Council, or at least Hizonner Jerry, will make any wild claim to justify an expenditure or to boost his political position, even if it is categorically untrue.

Take,  for example, Jerry’s boast at the last City Council meeting that, despite the efforts of the Recall Amante Group (of which Deborah Gavello and I were falsely accused of being a part of),

“I’m pleased to report that not one, single signature was presented to the city clerk by today’s deadline”

Duh, well of course not. Why would they turn in any signatures for verification when they knew that, despite having gathered several thousand, they did not have enough to force a recall election? So, why would they waste staff time and  taxpayer money by turning them in?

But, it was Jerry’s boast that the Recall Amante group cost the taxpayers of Tustin $10,000 that really caught my ear. I realize that the City Clerk was about as uncooperative as one can be with honest citizens attempting to lawfully submit a recall petition. In fact, she managed to kick the proposed petition back four times before finally allowing it to go through on the fifth submission. So, if Jerry’s claim is true, that works out to about two thousand dollars per submission just to review it for formatting accuracy.

You may be thinking that the document in question was multi-paged or, possibly, written in several European languages concurrently, maybe with accompanying illuminated illustrations. I assure you it was not. In fact, if you have ever been approached by “those people” outside the local supermarket asking you to sign a petition to save the night crested gnatcatcher or outlaw the fluoridation of city drinking water, you have seen an example of the one page  recall petition submitted to our City Clerk. It is not difficult to create but, it is required to be in proper format, which the State of California dictates. So why did it take five submissions when the average, according to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, is two? Could it be that Sheree Loveland, Nathan Menard and Chuck Horvath are too illiterate to understand simple formatting instructions? Hardly. I’ve had many conversations with all three. They are quite articulate and well spoken (Nathan and I even share the same barber). Could it have been the City Clerk was having four bad days and took it out on the Recall group? We’re getting warmer. Or, could it have been that the single, largest city event of the year, the Annual Chili Cookoff, was just around the corner and the Recall group had a booth, ready to obtain signatures from some really pissed off people? Bingo! I would say that was a good bet. What better way to sabotage the Recall effort than to somehow prevent them from being able to present their petitions to more than thirty thousand people, the majority of them Tustin residents, in one day at one location?

Now, you may think this is farfetched. So, I would like to remind you that, thanks to an effort by Boss Tweed Amante to consolidate his powerbase at Tammany Hall Tustin, a measure was placed on the ballot last election year to change the City Clerk’s office from an independent, elected official to an appointed official who would be beholden to… you guessed it, Jerry and his Kids. So, now that the City Clerk has lost her autonomy, if she still wants that job, she has to play ball.

So, let’s get to that claim that Jerry made at last week’s council meeting where he allegedly slandered Councilmember Gavello by claiming that she was part of the Recall Amante effort? I did some Recall Amantechecking around, including making a request of public records relating to the cost of reviewing and approving the petitions submitted for the recall. Specifically, I asked who worked on the reviews and how much they charged. What I found out was a bit surprising.

It should also be surprising to Mayor Amante because the cost for review was nowhere near $10,000. In fact, it was not even half that amount.

In replying to our request, the city’s attorney stated,

In response to paragraphs (1) and (2) above, the total number of ’employees, contractors or other persons’ involved in the scope of the work you describe is two, including Patty Estrella and City Attorney, Douglas Holland.

I was also told that the city did not specifically allocate time spent by city employees on the review of the petitions. So, I took that to mean that the time spent by Miss Estrella to review the petition submissions was within the normal course and scope of her everyday work, which she would have been paid for anyway. So total cost for petition review by city staffers? Zero.

The city attorney was another matter. In the city attorney’s response, I received a timetable of hours broken down by days and individual law firm employee,  specifying hours and costs. Yes, the letter said only Douglas Holland worked on the petitions. But, the accompanying documents indicate that up to five attorneys actually worked on them. Although my original request was specifically for costs involved in reviewing/rejecting/accepting the petitions, I received cost information that should not have been included because it was for work obviously performed beyond the date the final petition was submitted and finally approved in June. Nonetheless, understanding how lawyers like to pad their bill, I considered the total amount of time they say they spent. Oops. But, then, I discovered a miscalculation in hours billed vs. charges. Well, they are lawyers, not accountants.

So, including the overcharge of one-tenth of an hour, the Attorney’s office charged the City… drum roll, please… $4,209.80 for 21.6 hours of work. Of that, according to my precise calculations, only 15 hours were actually spent on review of the documents prior to their final approval. That averages out to 3 hours or $582.00 per submission. Total cost to approve the petition? $2,910. That is less than one-third of the cost Jerry claims the city spent on the recall effort. Even if we included the 6.6 hours of work, which the attorney refused to specify on grounds of attorney-client privilege, it still comes out to less than half what Hizzoner claimed. I know Jerry is a lawyer, but that is really padding the bill.

So, in the end, it appears Jerry has been less than honest with the citizens of Tustin over the entire recall. First, he falsely accused Deborah Gavello, the TUSD and myself of being part of the great conspiracy against him. Second, he misleadingly alleged that no one signed the petitions by stating none had been turned in to the clerk’s office.  Finally, there is the brazen statement that the recall effort cost the taxpayers “approximately $10,000” when it actually cost less than it did to furnish four out of five  city councilmembers with iPads which, by the way, were paid for by dipping into the city reserves. So much for our fiscally conservative mayor.

Oh, and that nasty one tenth of an hour overbilling? It’s only $19.40. Not much, right? But, what if they made that error, say, every 21.6 hours they billed the city? How much do you think that would add up to? Do you think Jerry and His Kids care? After all, he is a lawyer.

So, Jerry, did I make a mistake or were you just being your usual, egotistical, blowhard self? I guess our readers can decide. Unlike you, I don’t think they are that gullible.