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What does a pandemic mean to the smallest City in Los Angeles County?

By Hawaiian Gardens Councilmember Myra Maravilla • September 12, 2020

The City of Hawaiian Gardens is known as the little City with a big heart, and our motto is “our youth, our future.” We are a majority-minority community with over 75% of the population being Latino. We prioritize services for youth and aging adults and public safety. We are also youthful. About 50% of us are between the ages of 5 to 34. And over 56% renters.

Like much of the world, we have been shaken to our core in more than one way by the pandemic. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the smallest City in Los Angeles County. We are only nine-tenths of a square mile. We are a densely populated and tight-knit community with an estimated 15,000 residents where you know virtually every person personally or through a friend, family member, or neighbor.

The closure of card clubs throughout the state has affected us in devastating ways. Unlike any other city in California, The Gardens Casino generates over 70% of our general fund. Despite our best efforts to diversify funding and the recent passage of Measure HG, the looming economic emergency has fallen on deaf ears. Nearly 2,000 people from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties depend on our casino for employment, including our small and mighty workforce from the City of Hawaiian Gardens.

Today, 27 City employees have been laid off, and 11 have retired. Our workforce has shrunk by 40% out of necessity in an attempt to mitigate the fiscal crisis. These 38 employees, no doubt, have made a difference in practically every segment of our community. They kept kids from joining gangs, coached our kids, drove our seniors, helped residents get free tattoo removal services, planned summer and winter camps, and so much more. We decreased our operations from 101 hardworking union members to 63, and their contributions to our City do not and will not go unnoticed.  We have also had to drastically slash not only essential government services but the quality of life programs and services that have helped this community grow and prosper.   

Unlike other cities within Los Angeles County, we are uniquely affected by our card club’s closure because of our economic dependency.

At the September 8th City Council meeting, we unanimously voted to formally plea with the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors to save our City and reopen our casino safely. State guidelines will allow modifications that include an outdoor setup to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Since the closures began in mid-March, our #1 revenue source has only briefly reopened for 12 days. The Gardens Casino employs almost 2,000 employees and pays $48 million in payroll, not including benefits and the taxes paid to the City of Hawaiian Gardens. They directly infuse over $50 million to over 100 different cities and their local economies.

The infusion of casino revenue into our general fund since it opened in 1997 correlates with the low crime statistics that we are currently seeing. Today we are reaping the benefits of years of investing in our public safety, parks, recreation programs, home beautification grants, streets, education scholarships, etc.

We cannot reinstate the city programs that have been instrumental in helping our community progress without the revenue generated by The Gardens Casino.

Growing up in Hawaiian Gardens, drive-by gang shootings were a common occurrence. We saw kids getting jumped into gangs, higher high school dropout rates, and more. Today, as witnessed by the graduation banners proudly displayed on our main streets and graciously donated by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon and Transtech Engineers, our future is looking bright!

Years back, I was an employee for the City of Hawaiian Gardens. I have a Master’s in Public Administration with an emphasis in Urban Management and over ten years of experience serving various public agencies. And I can say that without a doubt, the most significant deterrence to gangs and violence are the strategic combination of all the programs serving the hope of our City, our youth, our future.

With the current closure expected to continue through the end of October, we will see losses of over $11 million, or 56% of the City’s annual revenues. These losses will jeopardize our ability to continue providing the programs that have helped us see the lowest crime statistics in recent history and essential services like street maintenance, senior transportation, and necessary infrastructure upkeep to our parks and buildings.

Like many in Hawaiian Gardens, I check each box. I am Latina, I am 32 years old, and I am a renter. As a current voice for our City in a position to make a difference, I am asking you to help the smallest City in Los Angeles County by writing a letter requesting the reopening of The Gardens Casino addressed to Los Angeles County Supervisors. Please mail or bring your letters to the Hawaiian Gardens City Hall at 21815 Pioneer Blvd., Hawaiian Gardens, CA 90716.

Hawaiian Gardens renters and small businesses needing financial assistance are asked to seek grants at hgcity.org or at (562) 420-2641.

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