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Opponents of Oxnard Casino Step Up Efforts

VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Gambling: Local leaders hold a news conference denouncing the Indian proposal for a location in the middle of the Factory Outlet.

April 25, 2001|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — Opponents of a proposed casino here stepped up their efforts to kill the plan Tuesday, denouncing it as an "assault on the community" by outside forces that could "start the demise of the economy."

"We want to attract good companies to Oxnard," Supervisor John Flynn said at a news conference attended by a handful of officials and residents opposed to the project. "A casino marks our community. It degrades our community, and we will fight it every step of the way."

The Greenville Rancheria of Maidu Indians, the tribe behind the casino proposal, filed a tentative development agreement last week that could put a gambling center in the middle of the Oxnard Factory Outlet.

Under the plan, the casino would be completed in two phases, with the 21,600-square-foot first phase opening six months after the project is approved.

The gambling operation would include 349 slot machines, 50 tables and a 15-seat snack bar. The casino would have 380 full-time workers.

After the first two years of operation, a 50,500-square-foot expansion would add 349 slot machines, 100 gambling tables, a 250-seat restaurant and a 20,290-square-foot office building and storage area. That phase would theoretically add 688 jobs, according to the development proposal.

A city staff report is due to be completed by May 8, when the Oxnard City Council is expected to accept or reject the project. Three of five council members voted to approve the study, with Mayor Manuel Lopez and John Zaragoza strongly opposed.

"The positive effects will mostly go to the investors," Lopez said. "The negative will go to the neighbors in Oxnard."

Many of the city's 170,000 residents are recent immigrants and blue-collar workers, making Oxnard an easy target for gambling interests seeking to locate a casino in an urban area, said Rabbi John Sherwood, head of a coalition of the city's clergy that opposes the proposal.

A similar project proposed for Channel Islands Harbor was rejected by county officials in February. Both projects are an outgrowth of Proposition 1A, the ballot measure that amended the state Constitution to allow Indian tribes to operate slot machines and blackjack tables at reservation casinos. A handful of proposals have surfaced across the state to build casinos in urban areas.

In recent months tribes have talked about opening casinos in both Oakland and neighboring San Pablo. Normally the governor would need to sign off on an Indian casino that wanted to expand its reservation, but because the Maidu tribe is landless, the governor has no direct veto power.

Paragon Gaming Corp. of Las Vegas is a partner on the proposed Oxnard casino with the Northern California tribe.

Backers of the project say concerns over crime are unfounded, and they argue that the casino would bring money into the community. Paragon officials have said the law requires that at least 60% of the revenue go to the tribes operating the casino. The other 40% cold be split between the Las Vegas company and the city.

Police Chief Art Lopez has said he believes some fear of casinos may be unfounded, and that after touring a similar facility in Palm Springs he's not convinced crime would increase.

A Paragon spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

Opponents have not been swayed. They say allowing an Indian tribe to operate in Ventura County would be tantamount to handing authority over city land to the tribe.

Last month the Oxnard and Port Hueneme Ministerial Assn. voted unanimously to oppose the project. The city of Camarillo is also expected to come out against the project at its meeting today.

"It's a vacuum cleaner that would take money from our citizens [and give it] to Las Vegas and an Indian tribe," Flynn said. "We don't want it."

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