CUDAHY — Officials of a Palm Springs-based guide-dog training center, recently spurned by Hawaiian Gardens in their effort to start a large-scale bingo operation, have run into a similar snag in this city.
Guide Dogs of the Desert Inc. has withdrawn a Dec. 30 application to open an 800-seat, seven-day-a-week bingo game in a city-owned industrial building that houses the financially strapped Cudahy Social Service Agency, according to city records. The application named Mayor Bill Colon's wife, Naomi, as chairwoman of the prospective bingo operation.
Guide Dogs' plan to open the bingo parlor in Cudahy was put on hold after City Manager Gerald Caton told officials that the large industrial building at 7810 Otis Ave. is not equipped to house the proposed operation and does not have sufficient parking. Officials said they had moved in tables and chairs after being told by the agency's director, James Graham, that they could sublease part of the building.
Guide Dogs officials informed Caton that they would look for another location within the city and submit another application. Guide Dogs representatives said they are considering another location, but have not made any decisions. "We're in limbo," Guide Dogs Executive Director Christopher Corr said.
He said he is frustrated by local political bickering over the Cudahy Social Service Agency's operations. "I had not anticipated all the political ramifications," he said.
Two Cudahy council members who were once allies have been waging a bitter dispute involving the Social Service Agency. Councilman John Robertson recently attempted to remove Colon as mayor, but the council deadlocked 2-2 over the motion. Meanwhile, Robertson and Councilman Joe Graffio have become the targets of a recall attempt after voting to cut off funding to the Social Service Agency.
Robertson has accused Colon of having a conflict of interest because Colon maintains an office at the agency, is a volunteer there and is an outspoken supporter of bingo. The agency is attempting to start its own bingo game. Robertson said a member of the council should not become involved in the nonprofit organization and in bingo, which he described as "gambling." Robertson also criticized Naomi Colon's involvement in the guide dog organization's attempt to set up a bingo game.
"I think it is unhealthy having the mayor so heavily involved in bingo and having his wife as director," said Robertson, a former director of the Social Service Agency who once supported the agency's effort to start a smaller bingo operation that would have accommodated 299 players.
In response, Colon said: "There's no conflict. I'm a volunteer there (helping with the social programs)." He added: "It could have been anybody's name on the application. There's no conflict with my wife's name being there,"
His wife agreed to be named as chairwoman because the city's bingo law requires that half of the membership of a charitable organization must be from Cudahy, Colon said. Naomi Colon said she signed the application merely as a courtesy, and had no intention of being paid or taking part in the day-to-day operation of the bingo game.
Names of Officers
The bingo application contained the names of two officers, who will make up the local chapter's total membership. The other officer is Peter Figueroa, the secretary-treasurer of Guide Dogs of the Desert.
The nonprofit organization, which trains guide dogs and donates them to blind people, decided to open a bingo parlor in the Southeast area at the urging of Edward Struthers of Palm Desert, a bingo promoter who is negotiating with the city on behalf of Guide Dogs of the Desert, Corr said.
Struthers said he built bingo buildings on Indian reservations in San Diego and Santa Barbara counties several years ago.
Corr said that Struthers first suggested the bingo operation in March as a lucrative fund-raising method when Struthers learned that Guide Dogs was planning to expand its desert facilities, located on a hillside north of downtown Palm Springs.
Officials of the guide dog school, who raise about $100,000 a year in donations to run the nonprofit operation, say the proposed expansion to a 15-acre parcel across the road from its present facility would cost about $1 million.
Corr said it would require about $300,000 a year to run an expanded training center. Struthers told Guide Dog officials they could triple their funds through a bingo operation, Corr said. The nonprofit organization now raises money through local run-a-thons, golfing tournaments and private donations.
Struthers and Corr said that they have already been considering several other cities as potential sites for a bingo game if Cudahy rejects another application. They declined to name the cities.
"The bottom line is that we need the money, wherever we can get it," Corr said in a telephone interview. "We're just at a pivotal point where we need large funding."
Some Proved Lucrative