East Village is home to Petco Park, the San Diego Central Library, gleaming condominium towers, new bars and restaurants and the largest concentration of registered sex offenders in San Diego county. It has 90 in its one-square-mile footprint.
Downtown San Diego has the Gaslamp, fancy hotels, Horton Plaza, boutique shops and 65 registered sex offenders. That makes it second in concentration, with 50 per square-mile.
North Park is fast becoming a trendy hot spot, where hip new eateries and bars are popping up. It's also home to 58 registered sex offenders — 24.8 per square mile. That's the third largest concentration.
Our City San Diego counted the number of sex offenders through the Megan's Law website and compared that with the square miles of individual San Diego County neighborhoods. It is not new that urban areas have the largest concentration. Sex offenders have a tendency to cluster where housing is more affordable and mass transit is available, experts said.
However, our analysis also shows that sex offenders cluster in neighborhoods that have large numbers of families with children, unlike East Village and downtown, where only 4.6 percent of homes have children. See chart at end of story for 20 neighborhoods with most sex offenders.
Our City found that more than 100 sex offenders live in Barrio Logan/Mountain View, for instance, where 50 percent of homes have children. That neighborhood is seventh on our list, with 13.7 sex offenders per square mile.
In City Heights — sixth on the list — 63 sex offenders are registered. In that neighborhood, nearly 44 percent of homes have children. There are more than 15 sex offenders per square mile.
Both are poorer neighborhoods, where housing is cheaper.
The high concentration of sex offenders in family communities is not limited to the city of San Diego. The east side of El Cajon is fourth on our list with 18 sex offenders per square mile. Nearly one-third of the homes in that neighborhood have children.
Lemon Grove, ninth on our list, has 12 sex offenders per square mile. About one-third of homes there also have children.
Sex offenders are spread throughout the county and are only absent in three neighborhoods: Carmel Valley, Sorrento Mesa (where few people live) and Miramar (where even fewer people live). They are in La Jolla — where four live — and Coronado, where two reside. One lives in Rancho Santa Fe.
Sex offenders are required to report where they are living annually — for life. That's been the case since 1947.
However, just where they are allowed to live is a bit confusing. Jessica's Law, for instance, restricts sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet schools and parks. But the law is only applied to sex offenders who have been released from prison since the law's 2007 enactment and are on parole. They also most wear a GPS bracelet. State parole monitors offenders.
Parole can also put additional conditions on sex offenders, said Phyllis Shess, a retired San Diego County District Attorney and the executive chair of the San Diego County Sex Offender Management Council. They do not need Jessica's Law to restrict an offender from living close to children if he or she preyed on children in the past. It can be a condition the parole. Indeed, parole can forbid such offenders from having toys or children's movies. Offenders may use them to lure children, she said. Parole can order them to stay away from parks or other places where children go.
"The conditions can be tailored to the indivdual offender," she said.
Jessica's Law has been misunderstood by the public, she said. After its enactment, many thought sex offenders would have to move from their residences if they were close to schools or parks. That's not the case.
The reason many sex offenders end up in certain neighborhoods is mostly econmics, she said. Many, after spending time in prison, can't afford to live in affluent parts of town.
In San Diego County, there are an estimated 4,000 sex offenders. And they can live pretty much wherever they want — as long as they are not on parole or probation, according to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office. As noted, they must register, however.
The registration is not meant as a punishment, said San Diego County Sheriff Sergeant Ron Edwards, who's a member of the Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Task Force, which monitors sex offenders to make certain they comply with registration.
“It is an administrative requirement for them to register based on various criteria,” he said. “In simplest terms, I equate it to a driver's license. If you want to drive, you need a driver's license. If you're a sex offender and you want to live in California, you must register.”
Jessica's Law is facing legal challenges, with critics claiming it is too burdensome because it limits the number of places where sex offenders can live to a scant few places. The law has also increased homelessness because the offenders can't find housing, critics say.
Municipalities have also enacted tougher laws, restricting all sex offenders from parks and other places where children may be. They've also been challenged.
The California Supreme Court is supposed to hear a case on Jessica's Law legality, but there's no time-table for that action, said Janice Bellucci, president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws.
“So we're all waiting, waiting, waiting.”
Bellucci is not surprised that San Diego's urban neighborhoods have the highest concentration of sex offenders. That's about the only place where most can afford to live, she said.
“If they do have jobs, they have low-paying jobs,” she said.
Such laws don't really do much good, she and others contend. Studies show the vast majority of offenders do not repeat. As many as 90 percent of victims know their offenders, statistics show. They are family members, coaches or the like, she said.
But many people remain very much alarmed at the presence of sex offenders in their communities, which is understandable given how gruesome some of the acts have been, such as the rape and murders of teen girls Chelsea King and Amber Dubois. John Gardner III, a convicted sex offender, pled guilty to the killings and was sentenced to life in prison.
Chelsea's Law was passed in response. That toughened mandatory prison sentencing for violent sex offenders and broadened their monitoring once on parole.
Even unpublicized cases can be wrenching. The registry does not give details of the sex offenders crimes, but court records can provide them. Our City looked at a couple of cases. One man was found guilty of molesting his two-year-old son, for instance.
Some neighborhoods have gone so far as building tiny pocket parks that force sex offenders to move elsewhere under the Jessica's Law statute.
Efforts to reform such laws, though, are normally met with reluctance from lawmakers, who don't want to appear weak on sex offenders. But the number of sex offenders forced to register has grown so large, the governing board that oversees the list wants to shrink it.
The California Sex Offender Management is seeking to have only high-risk offenders register for life. Those convicted of lesser crimes should be removed after 10 to 20 years, it argues.
The list has grown to nearly 100,000.