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Council Meeting Crowd Calls Card Club a Bad Deal

May 05, 1991|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

About 170 residents packed a City Council meeting Wednesday night to protest the idea of a card club in Baldwin Park.

"I'm totally against it. I'll do everything in my power to fight it, even if I have to go door to door," said Mary Ann Scott, one of several members of the Walnut Christian Chapel who attended the meeting. "This is not going to happen, not while I live here."

Anthony Bejarano Jr., whose father also spoke against the card club, said teachers, city officials and parents tell youngsters like him to stay away from gangs, alcohol and gambling. "What idea are you trying to put into our heads?" he asked.

The standing-room-only crowd cheered, whistled and shouted an occasional "Amen" as two dozen speakers warned of the violence, addiction and prostitution that legalized gambling would bring to the city.

Only one speaker, Joe Sykes, spoke in favor of a card club. "There's less crime, prostitution and dope in cities that have gambling because the police have the money" to fight crime, Sykes said. "If it takes the card games to clean up the city, fine."

The City Council has been considering allowing a card club to operate in Baldwin Park since February, when a citizens finance committee suggested it.

Baldwin Park has 69,330 residents, and its general-fund budget last year was $10.8 million. Sales tax revenue during 1989-1990, the last year for which figures were available, was $2.17 million--among the lowest in the county for cities Baldwin Park's size, city officials said. In contrast, Monterey Park, with a population of 60,738, had $3.7 million in sales tax revenue that year.

The committee found that other card clubs in Los Angeles County generate between $500,000 and $10 million a year for the cities in which they operate. A majority of Baldwin Park voters would have to approve the idea before one could open in the city.

Although the council has discussed a card club and talked about setting a special election on the issue in the fall, there had been almost no public comment before Wednesday.

Most speakers said they were prompted to show up at Wednesday's council meeting by a postcard that was sent anonymously to every registered voter in Baldwin Park on Monday.

The professional-looking mailer warned of "out-of-town gambling promoters, criminals, prostitutes, loan sharks and other undesirables" that would come along with a card club.

The front of the card featured a cartoon of three junkyard dogs drooling over a bowl full of cash with the headline: "Welcome to Baldwin Park, just the place to raise your kids."

City Manager Donald Penman said he traced the unsigned card to a North Hollywood direct-mail firm, which would not disclose who submitted and paid for the mailing.

The City Council set a special public hearing on the card club issue for June 12 in the council chambers at 7 p.m.

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