July 28, 2005. The Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens & Jerusalem has called on the California Gambling Control Commission to request Sheriff Lee Baca's current assessment of the benefit, if any, of the Hawaiian Gardens Casino to the local community. The Coalition's request comes in the wake of the tragic murder of a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff in Hawaiian Gardens and less than a month before the Commission's consideration of the license renewal application of casino owners Irving and Cherna Moskowitz, prominent supporters of ultra-nationalist Israeli settlers.
The Coalition urged the Commissioners to deny the application on the grounds that the recent slaying and the subsequent issuance of a gang injunction in Hawaiian Gardens are a sad result of casino owner Irving Moskowitz's indifference to the welfare of the city. Moskowitz closely controls the City Council, which looks after his interests but has failed to spend millions of dollars in casino revenue taxes to lift the prospects of residents. Indeed, while the community was traumatized in the days following the murder by the deputies' widespread home searches and enforcement of the injunction, residents said the City Council members were in Mexico, visiting Hawaiian Gardens' sister city.
Moskowitz uses his casino and an adjacent bingo parlor as a source of funds for militant Israeli settlers. He has promised them funds to resist Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The development of the casino used most of Hawaiian Gardens' available space and much of its resources. The casino now provides more than half the city's budget.
In December 2003, Sheriff Baca, through a representative, urged the Gambling Commission to issue Moskowitz the casino license. Testifying at a hearing, the representative said that the casino (then operating on a provisional license) had lowered the crime rate because it provided jobs for local people. (Click here to read more about last years hearings.)
The following March, the Los Angeles Times reported that Baca "dismissed" critics of expanded card room gambling who said casinos breed crime. Baca, according to the Times, "cited statistics showing that crime had fallen in cities with card rooms, such as Commerce and Hawaiian Gardens." (Baca, at the time, was sponsoring a ballot measure which, had it not failed, would have allowed Moskowitz and other non-Indian casino operators to install lucrative slot machines. The Times also noted that Moskowitz was a big contributor to a Baca foundation.)
It no longer appears that Sheriff Baca is lauding the casino's influence on Hawaiian Gardens' public safety situation.
After the June 24th slaying of Deputy Jerry Ortiz by an alleged gang member, Baca called on state and local officials to provide more funding for anti-gang efforts, both by law enforcement and through social efforts such as providing better education and job opportunities to disadvantaged youth. That is precisely what should have happened in Hawaiian Gardens when the city gave Moskowitz a monopoly on gambling there and more than doubled its pre-casino budget with gambling revenue. But after a decade of Moskowitz control, Hawaiian Gardens is a showcase of social pathology.
After the murder of Ortiz, the Los Angeles Times reported that "[o]nly a few areas patrolled by the Sheriff's Department have more serious and violent crime per capita than Hawaiian Gardens." According to the paper, "Sheriff's officials said street gangs are a major force in the city. Census figures indicate that a third of adults over 25 did not finish ninth grade and that 22% more did not receive high school diplomas. Nearly 40% of households reported an annual income of less than $25,000."
As to Hawaiian Gardens' physical appearance, the Times said: "The strip malls look tired and many stores are vacant." The Long Beach Press-Telegram also noted "Crumbling buildings and tired storefronts," and a "drainage ditch, which is floating with soda cans, plastic bags and other trash." It quoted the mayor saying he wanted to cover the ditch, as though the necessary funds had not been available since the casino opened five years ago.(To read both papers' reports, please click here)
In the square-mile city dominated by the sprawling casino, reported the Times, "[s]toreowners cite numerous robberies." One owner told the paper that in the last five years his shop has been robbed several times and that "[s]ometimes, customers leaving after cashing a check are chased for their money by people wielding screwdrivers. Across the street, he can see a shuttered store, one of many vacant retail buildings nearby." The Times quoted the shop owner saying "I think its getting worse. It's getting pretty dangerous. That's why I don't stand outside anymore, honestly."
These word pictures shock the conscience.
In its letter, the Coalition reminded the Commission that "the California Gambling Control Act, enacted by the state legislature as Business and Professions Code Section19800 (et seq.), begins by stating that it is the longstanding public policy of the state of California to disfavor the business of gambling unless it is regulated so as not to endanger the public health, safety and welfare."
The Coalition urged the Commission to act upon its mandated responsibility to the public welfare and to deny Irving Moskowitz's license application. That will set in motion the process that will result in the sale of the casino to a person or company which has the local community's interests at heart.