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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Clergy Group to Fight Oxnard Casino Proposal

Gambling: City police chief says the Indian project may be reasonable. D.A. and sheriff have concerns.

March 29, 2001|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While Oxnard's police chief said a proposed Indian gambling casino near the Ventura Freeway may be a reasonable idea, a coalition of the city's clergy has announced a campaign opposing the plan.

After studying operations of an Indian casino in Palm Springs, Chief Art Lopez said a casino "maybe isn't so bad for our city." But Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and Sheriff Bob Brooks expressed concerns about the possibility of an increase in crime.

Rebuffed in a recent attempt to bring an Indian casino to Channel Islands Harbor, Las Vegas-based Paragon Corp. has proposed building a casino and a 250-room hotel on 25 acres spanning the struggling Oxnard Factory Outlets and an adjacent field.

Paragon officials contend their partnership with the Greenville Rancheria band of Maidu Indians would bring money and jobs to Oxnard. Opponents, however, say a casino would increase crime and drain cash from people who can least afford to lose money.

This weekend religious leaders will start a monthlong push to argue against the plan from the pulpit, said Rabbi John Sherwood, president of the Oxnard Ministerial Assn.

The casino project was the main topic at the association's monthly meeting Wednesday.

Lopez said his preliminary inquiry indicated crime does not necessarily increase when a casino is built. At the request of city officials, Lopez recently visited an Indian casino in Palm Springs. He said police and community leaders there support the operation.

"We are finding out some real positive stuff," he said. "We're not seeing the kind of things we thought we would see."

Lopez said Palm Springs officials did not observe a spike in crime after the casino was established.

Bradbury said Wednesday he would delay commenting on the project until completion of an investigation by his office.

So far, a background check by his staff members indicates Paragon "is very clean," Bradbury said. When three promoters in 1993 laid out different plans for a casino in Oxnard, Bradbury called gambling "a breeding ground for crime."

Brooks said Wednesday that building a casino in a populated area is an invitation to problems.

"As a pure quality-of-life and traffic issue I am not inclined to support it but I am open-minded to it," Brooks said. "It changes the culture and dynamic of the county. . . . It's hard to say if the additional revenue will be worth the problems associated with it."

Under the plan, developers would build a 150,000-square-foot casino featuring 175 gaming tables and 2,000 slot machines. The project would also include a 250-room hotel, restaurants and a meeting facility.

Casino backers have yet to lay out the project's costs or its financial impact. They have predicted the casino would provide nearly 1,500 jobs. The rejected plan for a comparable casino at Channel Islands Harbor would have delivered at least $18 million to the county annually, its supporters said.

Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez and Councilman John Zaragoza have said they oppose the project while Councilmen Tom Holden, Dean Maulhardt and Bedford Pinkard want to hear more about the idea.

"I am willing to listen to it," Pinkard said. "You can't say no on everything. I might not like gaming but there may be 30,000 people [in Oxnard] who do."

Sherwood said opposition to a casino cuts across the city's denominations.

"The issue is not just crime but making gambling accessible," the rabbi said. "We don't need to encourage gambling because there are enough day-to-day challenges in Oxnard."

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