Construction of “Tiny Parks” Zones Sex-Offenders Further Into Non-Existence

March 10th, 2013

When I was clerking, I worked on a case where a town in Pennsylvania took great steps to prevent a Methadone clinic from opening. They would deny every single building permit, for reasons real and fabricated. The Mayor was quite open in saying that he did not want those kind of people in this town. He was ignoring the fact, of course, that the drug addicts already lived in this remote town (the nearest facility was about 30 miles away), and would be going there to get treatment–better to ignore the problem I suppose.

Anyway, the clinic finally found an plot of land on the outskirts of town that was zoned for industrial uses. Basically anything could be built there. So the clinic announced they would build a facility on that spot. Then, the town had a genius idea. They had an existing statute that said a methadone clinic could not be built within 1,000 feet of a park, school, playground, etc. Think of the children. So they designated the sidewalk in front of the clinic a park. That’s it. There was no grass. There were no swings. It was in a crummy part of town, and no child would ever want to play there. But once it was designated a park, they could deny the permit.

The equal protection analysis was murky (are recovering drug addicts a protected class under federal law?), the procedural history was complicated, and the standing issue was chimerical (how can you have standing to assert the rights of people who have not yet attended the clinic), but ultimately the court entered denied the government’s motion to dismiss, and entered judgment for the clinic.

This practice of “creating” parks to zone people of out of existence seems to be catching on with families trying to keep away sex offenders.

The Times reports:

So local residents and city officials developed a plan to force convicted sex offenders to leave their neighborhood: open a tiny park.

Parents here, where state law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a public park, are not the only ones seizing on this approach. From the metropolis of Miami to the small town of Sapulpa, Okla., communities are building pocket parks, sometimes so small that they have barely enough room for a swing set, to drive out sex offenders. One playground installation company in Houston has even advertised its services to homeowners associations as an option for keeping sex offenders away.

Within the next several months, one of Los Angeles’s smallest parks will open here in Harbor Gateway, on a patch of grass less than 1,000 square feet at the corner of a busy intersection. But even if no child ever uses its jungle gym, the park will serve its intended purpose.

I previously blogged about a report in the Times on these 1,000 foot zones. In effect, sex-offenders are zoned out of existence. They can’t live anywhere. Every time you add another place they cannot live, and include a 1,000 or 2,000 foot radius, the places these people can live disappears. In an urban area, sex offenders are forced to live under highways, in dangerous group homes (not conducive to rehabilitation), and even away from their families.

The article, of course, ignores the folly of this idea:

Parents who pick up their children at the bus stop in this city’s Harbor Gateway neighborhood say they often see men wearing GPS ankle bracelets and tell their children to stay away. Just up the street, 30 paroled sex offenders live in a single apartment building, including rapists and child molesters. More than 100 registered sex offenders live within a few miles.

First,this law would do absolutely nothing to stop a sex-offender from standing near the bus stop. The law only limits where one can live. Second, the reason why all 30 of those sex offenders are living together is because they probably can’t legally live anywhere else. By building this park, you have now eliminated their only place of refuge. What happens when they are displaced?

While the pocket parks springing up around the country offer a sense of security to residents, they will probably leave more convicted sex offenders homeless. And research shows that once sex offenders lose stable housing, they become not only harder to track but also more likely to commit another crime, according to state officials involved with managing such offenders.

Third, if the sex offenders live a few miles away, what good would a 2,000 foot limit do. Why not make it a mile? Two miles? In the zip code? The city? etc. You get my point. You can’t zone people out of existence.

“Putting in parks doesn’t just break up clusters — it makes it impossible for sex offenders to find housing in the whole city,” said Janet Neeley, a member of the California Sex Offender Management Board. “It’s counterproductive to public safety, because when you have nothing to lose, you are much more likely to commit a crime than when you are rebuilding your life.”

Restrictions on where sex offenders can live, which have been passed in most states, have already rendered most residential areas in many cities off limits.

 Sex offenders, especially of the violent type–let’s not forget that many people register for non-violent offenses, such as indecent exposure–can inflict damage wherever they live.