A registered sex offender on parole for child molestation has sued the city of Elk Grove, complaining that a city ordinance restricting where he is allowed to live violates state and federal constitutions.
The lawsuit by Michael Steven Escobar, who is acting as his own attorney, complains that Elk Grove's ordinance would prevent him from residing with his mother in Elk Grove and would leave him few choices other than homelessness.
Elk Grove's ordinance prohibits a registered sex offender from loitering within 300 feet of schools, day care centers, playgrounds, parks, amusement centers or youth sports facilities.
It bars offenders from residing within 2,000 feet of those places. About 130 registered sex offenders reside in Elk Grove, according to police spokesman Officer Chris Trim.
Elk Grove's ordinance, approved in 2010, is similar to Proposition 83, the 2006 initiative known as Jessica's Law. The measure barred offenders from living near schools and parks where children play.
Escobar's suit, filed June 9, names the city and Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully.
Albert Locher, assistant district attorney, said the county's position on the case "will be stated in whatever response we file with the court."
Elk Grove Police Chief Robert Lehner said the city ordinance is similar to those that are being increasingly challenged around the state.
The Elk Grove ordinance does provide exemptions.
When Elk Grove's ordinance was passed in 2010, most of the city's registered sex offenders resided within 2,000 feet of a park, school or other specified locale. Those offenders did not have to move.
Even so, Lehner said that when offenders have properly registered, enforcement has not been a problem.
"We have a very good compliance rate," Lehner said. "Everything comes from that. It makes it a lot easier to enforce."
He said the city has been monitoring court challenges filed in other urban areas to determine whether any could affect Elk Grove.
In San Diego County, for example, a Superior Court judge in February issued a ruling that described the 2,000-foot residency restriction in Jessica's Law as unreasonable and a constitutional infringement.
He gave the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation a mandate to stop imposing the residency requirement against four registered sex offenders as a condition of parole.
In Elk Grove, Councilman Gary Davis vowed that even as such court cases are decided, the city won't relent on its commitment to the public.
"From a general interest perspective, sure, we'll have to see how it's challenged in other jurisdictions," Davis said. "There are big challenges all around California."
But he added, "Our ordinance is intentionally strong, and we take seriously our obligation to protect our community members."
Escobar served nearly nine years in prison for molesting a child under age 14.
He was released in June 2010. Under a temporary court order while the case goes forward, he is allowed to live in his mother's home, less than 1,000 feet from a public park.
In his suit, Escobar complains that he faces an "unconscionable choice between leaving his home – where he cares for his aging and ill parents – and becoming homeless or facing prosecution from the district attorney for violating the ordinance.
"Most compliant housing, if any can be located in Elk Grove, is located in apartment complexes where high numbers of minors reside." the suit says.
Michael Risher, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said there are many suits involving ordinances for cities and counties around the state that raise similar issues.
"You have to live in the county," Risher said, offering an example of an offender's dilemma, "but there's nowhere in the county left to live."
California is still vigilant.
The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website notes that California has more than 6,600 sex offenders wearing Global Positioning System technology, more than triple the total in Florida.