The Palace on Mission Boulevard.

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | The Palace Poker Casino has called Hayward home for nearly 60 years. Its current location at the end of Mission Boulevard near the bustling Jackson Street is too small for the cadre of high-stakes poker players who flock to the card club, its owners say.

On Tuesday, the Hayward City Council approved, 6-1, a two-story expansion of the card club without many of the qualms other city’s lodge against such establishments–often magnets for crime and the poor looking for a quick infusion of cash, if they are only so fortunate.

“We should feel lucky to have a place like this in Hayward,” said Councilmember Greg Jones. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Councilmember Francisco Zermeno, a candidate for mayor next year, visited the card club last week and found it overflowing with patrons. The club is licensed for 11 tables, but has room for two more. Tuesday’s nights approval would allow for an additional two tables for gaming. “We are hindering their economic growth, ”the pro-business Zermeno said. In 2009, the city allowed the card club to increase its number of tables from 8 to 11.

The impetus for the council’s approval may have been stoked by the card club’s owners of which have a specific arrangement that bars them from selling the business to outside the family’s control, but the deal also represents a windfall of revenue for the city.

Under the new deal, The Palace could pay up to $210,000 into the city’s general fund in the form of licensing for the 13 tables, said Director of Development Services David Rizk. The deal also allows the club’s owner the option to sell the club to outside interests and relocate, pending approval by the council.

Despite the perception gambling establishments attract crime; most council members praised the card club as a “well-run” operation and for posing few problems for law enforcement. A Hayward police officer testified Tuesday crimes in this particular part of downtown are safe. “It’s not an impetus of other crimes happening in the area.”

Throughout the hour-long discussion the issue of gambling as a destructive social vice was never mentioned until the very end when Mayor Michael Sweeney registered the council’s lone dissenting vote.

“I think we need to look for healthier ways to grow the economy in Hayward,” he said. “Lord help if economic recovery, quite frankly, is dependent on gaming.” He added there was no reason for the current arrangement between the club and city to be changed.

UNFUNDED LIABILITIES Hayward has nearly $264 million in unfunded liabilities, its Finance Director Tracy Vesely said Tuesday. Just over 70 percent of the city’s obligations to CalPERS, retiree medical insurance, workers’ compensation, accrued leave, however, are funded and some council members want to shoot for 80 percent.

“It’s easy to ignore these debts,” said Councilmember Al Mendall. “I don’t’ want us to punt on this in the long-term,” He suggests the council set 80 percent funding for all unfunded liabilities. Tuesday’s third work session on the city budget, due for approval June 25, however left little time for discussion of the nagging problem besetting all every city in the state. Despite the time constraints, the council appeared amendable to tacking the issue over the last half of the year.

“We’ve have challenges meeting our operational commitments much less looking at trying to address these liabilities, but we know we can’t kick the can down the road, as they say, again and again,” added Councilmember Greg Jones.

Even though CalPERS is undergoing changes to how it calculates the state’s employee pension fund, Vesely said leaving it would be costly due to the high number of older retirees in Hayward’s system. Councilmember Barbara Halliday broached the subject of withdrawing from the fund Tuesday night. “It is very, very expensive to do that,” cautioned Vesely.

TOUGH WORDS FOR FINANCE Over the past few months, Councilmember Al Mendall, because of a chronic back injury, has chosen to stand during council meeting. His upright position Tuesday night made it easier to hurl unpleasantries at the state’s Department of Finance. Mendall skewered it for its handling of the dissolution of redevelopment agencies across the state.

“That process has been horrible and I blame the Department of Finance for this. They’ve done a really bad job of managing it. They’ve been arbitrary, capricious–very difficult to work with.” Mendall says , therefore, the burden has fallen on Hayward’s city manager’s office.

Mayor Michael Sweeney also called the department’s work on redevelopment “horrible,” but said none of the problems would have arisen without Sacramento’s doing. “Blame [State Sen.] Ellen Corbett and [former Assemblywoman] Mary Hayashi,” Sweeney said with a devilish grin.