LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles officials are trying to force convicted sex offenders out of some neighborhoods by building parks near their homes.
The city plans to spend millions of dollars to build three pocket parks in the Harbor Gateway and Wilmington areas, the Los Angeles Times reported.
State law prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school. Officials say building the tiny parks in areas with large numbers of sex offenders will force dozens of them to move.
A Harbor Gateway park scheduled to open this summer will be among the smallest in the city at one-fifth of an acre. It will hold two jungle gyms, benches and a brick wall. The city is spending $300,000 on the project, and residents chipped in $6,000.
"I want to do everything in my power to keep child sex offenders away from children," said City Councilman Joe Buscaino, whose district includes Harbor Gateway and Wilmington. "We have to look at some solutions, and in comes the pocket park idea."
Offenders have been packed into group homes in urban fringe and industrial areas because rules bar them from living in many other neighborhoods.
In Harbor Gateway, as many as five people share on room, according to the National Sex Registry website.
The park will sit on a tiny triangle of city-owned land near an apartment building that houses 33 registered sex offenders. They are among 86 offenders living in a 13-block area, giving the neighborhood one of the city's highest concentrations.
In Wilmington, the city wants to spend $6 million to buy private land and build a park a block from a former hotel where sex offenders live — an area that some residents call "pervert row," the Times said.
Police Officer Brian Cook said there have been several reports of indecent exposure in the area, where children often walk to an elementary school.
Another Wilmington park also is planned.
Residents contend that a lack of parks has made their area a dumping ground for sex offenders.
"It's a tough issue," community activist Mary Gant said. "I know they have to live somewhere. But I don't think you should dump them all in one area."
In the past, critics have questioned whether such restrictions really make communities safer. Some have argued that the restrictions on where sex offenders live have forced thousands into homelessness, depriving them of a stable life and making it harder to keep tabs on them.
Local restrictions have been challenged in court.
"People are running around with hysteria when they don't know the facts," said Janice Bellucci, president of the nonprofit group California Reform Sex Offender Laws. "I understand that sex offenders are not a popular part of society, but they have constitutional rights."