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Bellflower eases ‘loitering’ rules for sex offenders

BELLFLOWER — The City Council Monday night gave final approval to an ordinance change halting the enforcement of “loitering” restrictions on registered sexual offenders as listed in a 2010 city law and instead aligns itself with state law on the subject, which is not as restrictive.

Originally approved Aug. 25, the ordinance change will take effect in 30 days. There was no comment on the unanimous decision from council members or the audience.

The action is to comply with a recent court decision striking down the park restriction and is temporary, pending final action on the issue expected from the state Supreme Court later this year, Public Safety Director Joel Hockman said.

Bellflower’s change was to remove the wording on “loitering in a park or child safety zone.” The state law prohibiting a registered sex offender from loitering near a “school or public place where children may gather” remains in effect, Hockman said.

He said the enforcement changes are recommended by the city attorney in light of an appellate court ruling on loitering, an expected Supreme Court ruling on residency limitations and the threat of a lawsuit over the issues.

He explained that current Bellflower law prohibits a registered sex offender from living within 1,500 feet of a school or park and of loitering within 300 feet of a school or public place where children might be found, as well as parks and other locations in the Bellflower law’s “child safety zone.” It also prohibits two registered sex offenders from living in the same motel or hotel room.

Questioned by council members, Hockman said residents may still call sheriff’s deputies to report a suspicious person loitering near a place where children gather. That’s still allowed under state law.

Bellflower’s ordinance, however, adds more locations where loitering by a sex offender would be illegal.

“We don’t need a tape measure for enforcement,” Hockman said, noting that it is up to landlords and building owners to check on their tenants.

Noting the large number of rental units in Bellflower, Hockman said they could draw registered sex offenders to the city, but added “we are not a haven for sexual offenders.”

In other action Monday night, the council extended for one more year its ban on permits allowing the sale of electronic or e-cigarettes by any retail business in the city.

Planning Director Rafael Guzman said the city continues to get requests for such sales, but the Federal Drug Administration has not yet voiced an opinion and city staff continues to study the issue.

E-cigarettes are plastic or metal containers filled with nicotine juice or other substances which are heated by batteries and produce a vapor. Proponents say they are safer than regular cigarettes or other tobacco products and might help people quit smoking. Opponents say they could be abused and drugs could be placed in the containers.

Bellflower originally placed the moratorium on e-cigarettes in late 2013 and extended it later that year. The last extension ends Sept. 24. The new, and final extension will go to September 2015 unless council acts before that.

Guzman said the council may ban the product entirely or enact laws to regulate it.

If the council choses the latter, it will have help in compiling a law from a group called Asian Americans Drug Abuse Prevention. Community organizer Carol J. Almeda said the group is affiliated with the Los Angeles County Health Department.

In other recent action, the council has decided to absorb the $2.50 convenience fee, when people applying for a yard sale permit online pay with a credit card via computer.

The convenience fee is the cost of service from a private company, Sitezone.com LLC, to process charges made by a credit card.

Residents, however, would still have to pay the permit fee for a yard sale. That fee is $5 for a one-day sale, whether the permit is taken out in person at City Hall or online; and $10 for a two-day yard sale, either paying in person or online.

In a written report to the council, Guzman said residents would have the choice of buying the permit at City Hall or buying it online, from their home, 24 hours a day. The online purchase would save city staff time.

He noted that there is a fee of 50 cents if a resident uses a credit card for a purchase at City Hall. That payment is done by a separate company, ClearPay Processing, and the city has always covered that cost.

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