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Card Club Backers Raise Stakes With New Plan : Pico Rivera: Latest casino proposal increases city’s revenue share. A similiar project was rejected in ’93.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Less than two years after Pico Rivera voters narrowly rejected a controversial $35-million casino project, a new gaming proposal has surfaced, promising to resurrect an issue that deeply divided residents.

Former Mayor Alberto Natividad, a staunch supporter of the proposed casino in 1993, gave the City Council a brief preview of the proposal last week.

Natividad, who retired from the City Council last year, said he has no financial stake in the proposed casino. He said he will be a liaison between the project’s organizers and the city.

He revealed few specifics of the plan other than to say it was very similar to the first proposal, which lost by just 134 votes.

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“There are two or three major components of this project that are new, and we think those will make the difference this time around,” Natividad said.

One of the new proposals, he said, is an increase in the percentage of casino proceeds that would go to the city, though he would not say by how much. Under the original plan, 8% to 12% of the casino’s gaming revenues would have been handed over to the city. Proponents said the card club would have generated between $5 million and $8 million for the city.

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Proponents of the new card club plan also have agreed to foot the bill for a special election if the council approves a ballot measure. The 1993 special election cost the city about $60,000, city officials said.

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Natividad warned council members that the city is facing a budget crunch with the impending closure of Northrop Grumman Corp.'s plant in 1997. The plant has provided about $1.5 million in annual revenues to the city.

After listening to Natividad’s brief presentation, council members John G. Chavez and Gilbert De La Rosa were appointed to study the proposal once it is presented to the council. The proposal is nearing completion, Natividad said.

Council members then can decide whether they want to call another special election, said City Manager Dennis Courtemarche. If the council rejects a casino ballot measure, proponents can gather signatures to force a special election, he said. Under state law, casino projects in most cities must be approved by voters.

As with the first proposal, the new plan calls for a multilevel gaming facility to be built on 15 acres of privately owned, undeveloped property near the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway in the city’s northeast corner. The casino would offer traditional card games such as draw and stud poker plus high-stakes Asian games such as pai gow and super pan nine.

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The key organizers of the latest effort are Michael E. Macke, an Orange County real estate developer, and Frank Caliri III, a Whittier real estate investor. They have formed a joint partnership, Graystone Capital, which has a long-term option on the proposed casino site. Claude L. Booker, former Bell Gardens city manager who organized the first casino proposal, said he will serve as a consultant for the new project. Booker, who lives in Arizona, vowed to return with another proposal after the 1993 measure was defeated.

The election generated one of the largest voter turnouts in the city’s history, with 35% of the city’s 23,861 voters casting ballots. By contrast, just 23% voted in the 1992 presidential election.

The issue also caused deep rifts among the city’s residents. The council unanimously endorsed the casino, but the school board adamantly opposed it. Churches mobilized against the measure, but the Chamber of Commerce favored it.


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