The residents of a quiet Gardena neighborhood are demanding that the County Board of Supervisors and the County Sheriff’s Department investigate the legitimacy of housing sex offenders so close to their homes.
A home has been converted to house sex offenders that occurred without the neighborhood resident’s knowledge. “We cannot believe these sex offenders have moved into our neighborhood,” declared Sharon Cruse, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood and president of the East Gardena Neighborhood Watch.
The neighborhood, which is bound by Redondo Beach and Alondra Boulevards and Main and San Pedro Streets, is home to families raising children and a number of senior citizens.
Cruse said that she was stunned when she discovered that the couple who had lived in the house three doors from her home for 45 years had moved out and leased their home to an Edward Marquez. Marquez converted the home into a residential facility for sex offenders. “Nobody gave us a notice that (these sex offenders) were moving into the neighborhood,” said Cruse. “When we called the Compton Sheriff’s station and notified them that these sex offenders had moved in, they pointed their finger at the probation department, then they both started pointing their fingers at each other.”
Capt. William Ryan of the Compton Sheriff’s station said he met with the Neighborhood Watch group. “We also asked state parole to come and talk to the group. They explained that all sex offenders must register with the local law enforcment agency because it is a state law.”
Ryan said that the Compton Sheriff’s station conducted compliance checks on the house. “We’re keeping an eye on the house and ensuring from our end that the individuals are in compliance,” said Ryan.
Cruse, who lives three doors down from the home, said she first noticed a number of “strange-looking residents” moving into the home at the end of February. “They would arrive at the house late at night. Some of them were pushing a shopping cart. One of them was walking with a big black trash bag. They looked like transients. My neighbor came over to my house and said, ‘Who the heck has moved next door to me?’ and I was thinking, What the heck is going on?”
Several residents said they scrolled the Megan’s Law database that lists sex abusers and read the files of the sex offenders who had moved into the neighborhood. “One of them was registered with intent to commit rape, sodomy, or oral copulation,” said Cruse. “Another guy was charged with lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14. We blew up their faces in color and we plan to post the sex offender photos on the major thoroughfares of Gardena.”
About 60 residents are so irate at the presence of the sex offenders that they staged a protest Saturday in front of the facility, located at 15517 Sandel Avenue.
“We had signs and everybody was chanting, ‘The sex offenders have to go!’ and ‘Protect our seniors and children!’” said Cruse.
Cruse said one sex offender was so affected by the protest, he piled his belongings into a red Mustang and drove off.
“Basically, a lot of people in the neighborhood are very outraged that these sex offenders are living here,” said Cruse. “We know as a community that we have to stand together because we feel they came here under false pretenses.”
Cruse said that she contacted Ed Rojas of the County of Los Angeles Regional Planning Department to see if the facility was violating any codes. “Rojas said he would be assembling a nuisance abatement team and they would be visiting the home,” said Cruse, who found out that Rojas had sent out the health department code enforcement, district attorney investigators, and probation department personnel to the home leased by Marquez. “When they visited the home, Marquez said that only he and his wife and a few workers were living there,” said Cruse. “Finally he confessed that there were sex offenders living in the home.”
They also discovered that illegal building had taken place in the home.
Marquez was told by Rojas that a code prohibited a house from being rented out by more than four people. “We found three people living there,” said Rojas. “As long as they keep the tenants to four or less, the house no longer qualifies as a boarding house,” said Rojas in an email.
Cruse said that Rojas emailed her on April 17 to inform her that Marquez had called him to notify him that the number of sex offenders living in the home had been reduced to two.
Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke expressed her concern about the sex offenders taking up residence in the East Gardena community. “I am aware of the concerns of the East Gardena Neighborhood Watch and I am sensitive to the nature of their complaint that a number of sex offenders have taken up residence in their community,” Burke said in a written statement. “Our office is continuing to work with state and county agencies to ensure that the owner of the home is in compliance with state law as it relates to occupancy. I am equally concerned that residents were not notified in advance of the plan and I applaud their effort for taking a proactive approach to keeping their community safe. Our office will continue to closely monitor the situation and report to residents.”
Latasha Smith, a mother of two girls who lives a block away from the residential care facility, said that she had been “greatly disturbed” ever since she heard the sex offenders had moved into the neighborhood. “I don’t understand why no one sent out notices to inform us that they had moved here, especially since many of us have children,” said Smith.
Smith said that she changed her usual routine after being informed that sex offenders lived in the neighborhood. “My daughters and I are not standing in front of the house anymore. We’re not buying ice cream from the ice cream man and the girls are not riding their bikes. We’re dealing with a very uncomfortable situation. We just leave the house and come back in,” said Smith. “It’s like being in prison.”
Pausing, Smith added, “I’m outraged by the fact that all these politicians are running for office and they want our votes, but they won’t hear our voices. We need some of the politicians like Bernard Parks and Mark Ridley-Thomas to step up and remedy this situation.”
Journalist Jasmyne Cannick said her grandmother, Lina Cannick, 87, became upset when she received a flyer informing her that sex offenders were moving into the neighborhood. “If they want to paint our curbs, we get a letter, if they want to build something in our neighborhood, we get a letter, if we want to raise our taxes, we get a letter, if they want us to vote for them, we get a letter. But when they want to place sex offenders in our neighborhood, we’re told as residents that it’s up to us to find out what’s going on.”
Residents said they plan to hold several more meetings to discuss ways to rid their neighborhood of the unwanted guests. “We plan to send a letter to Mr. Marquez,” said Cruse. “It’s not a good thing to allow (sex offenders) to rent from you. I feel he is doing something that can hurt the community.”