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City Will Again Put Card Club Issue to a Vote

February 09, 1995|JILL GOTTESMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Pico Rivera City Council, apparently convinced that a casino is the antidote for future budget blues, has agreed to place the gambling issue before voters once again.

The council scheduled a special election for June 6 to determine whether a card club will be built in the city. Voters narrowly rejected a similar proposal two years ago.

Council members said card club revenues would help pay for better roads, more police, school repairs, day care centers and other projects the city might not be able to afford by the end of the decade. The city expects to lose about $1.5 million a year in revenues if the Northrop Grumman Corp. plant closes. The plant is scheduled to shut down in 1997.

"We are always looking for ways to improve the revenue sources for the city; that is what we were elected to do," said Councilman John G. Chavez, who also lobbied hard for the first casino proposal. "Just because someone has a moral problem with (a casino) doesn't mean we shouldn't pursue it. It's legal."

Councilwoman Helen O'Hara cast the lone vote against the latest card club measure.

Scores of residents turned out for the Monday council meeting, most of them wearing bright yellow lapel stickers that read, "We Still Say No to Casinos," a reference to the 1993 measure that lost by 134 votes.

Several who spoke against the latest project had been vocal opponents of the first proposal, including the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Anaheim-based Family Values Coalition and the Rev. Richard Ochoa, a local pastor who called the repeat effort a "slap in the face to the voters."

The current proposal is nearly identical to the previous project, which called for a multilevel card club located off the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway at Beverly Boulevard. The club would offer traditional card games such as draw and stud poker as well as the high-stakes Asian games such as pai gow and super stud nine.

Developers have said the casino could generate between $5 million and $6 million for the city's general fund, and would bring hundreds of jobs to the area. They have also agreed to finance the special election, and on Monday turned over a $75,000 check to cover the costs.

But many speakers scolded the council for allowing the gambling issue to resurface.

"This is very bad public policy," Sheldon said. "You are telling voters that they were simply wrong to vote against it two years ago."

It also became apparent that opponents remained concerned about morality and crime--two issues cited frequently by casino foes in 1993.

"This proposal sends the wrong message to students," said John Garcia, a member of the El Rancho Unified school board, which unanimously opposed the first effort. "Are we in such dire straits that we have to resort to gambling?"

Another resident, John Alvitre, told council members that he was concerned that a casino would bring Asian organized crime, follow-home robberies and prostitution.

"Isn't there a better way to bring in revenue that won't bring in the crime?" he asked. "We have enough crime in this city already."

Only two speakers--former Mayor Alberto Natividad and project developer Frank Caliri III-- said they supported the project.

"We need that money to do the things we want to do in this city," said Natividad, who had been a strong advocate of the first project while in office.

Natividad, a retired sheriff's department captain, also said opponents misled voters with lurid tales of casino-related crime that does not exist.

"I have spent considerable time (in law enforcement), and it is a fact that card clubs do not bring in more crime," he said. "I am confident that when this community knows the true facts, they will vote for a casino."

Caliri said the casino would bring more than 1,000 jobs to the city in addition to the added revenues for the general fund.

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