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Church bingo delays vote on proposed law

DEL MAR — Say the word bingo and images of people sitting in church halls with lettered-and-numbered 5-by-5 cards come to mind. But as council members try to create a law that will allow the game in Del Mar, it may be prohibited at the only quintessential bingo facility in the city.
Council members said they have no problem permitting bingo at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. They also agreed it would be appropriate in public facility areas that include sites such as the library, Powerhouse Community Center, Winston School and City Hall.
But they all had concerns when it came to allowing the game in a residential zone, which is where St. Peter’s Episcopal Church is located.
State law allows charitable bingo as a means to provide alternative funding for nonprofit organizations. It dictates maximum payouts, who can host the games and how much the city can recover — a maximum of $50 for processing fees and the costs to provide law enforcement and other public safety services.
Del Mar is the only city in the county that doesn’t allow the game.
Last year officials from the 22nd District Agricultural Association submitted a request to host bingo at the fairgrounds to help make up for a decline in satellite wagering at the Surfside Race Place.
Council discussed the issue at two meetings and in May of this year directed staff to create an ordinance.
Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum presented a draft ordinance at the July 26 meeting that outlined how, when and where the game could be played in Del Mar. He said residential zones were included specifically so bingo could be played at St. Peter’s. One provision required a conditional use permit in those areas.
But efforts to accommodate the church proved to be problematic.
“I think making that exception for one organization opens the door to other bingo games in residential areas that we don’t want to deal with,” Councilman Don Mosier said.
“You’re much more likely to have adverse impacts on the local community in those residential neighborhoods,” he said. “To my mind the easy way to deal with that is just not have the CUP process and not have any bingo in the residential areas.”
Councilman Carl Hilliard agreed. “I am concerned about extending it into the residential areas,” he said. “While I don’t want to preclude the church … they create a special problem.”
“Let’s not put it in the residential, even though we sacrifice the church,” Councilman Mark Filanc said.
Resident Bill Michalsky said he read through the ordinance a couple of times. Although he didn’t have a problem allowing bingo at the fairgrounds, he said he also had concerns about permitting it in residential areas.
“My eyes bulged out a bit,” he said. “This is just way too broad.
“I think to entertain in the community without a lot of controls is just asking for long-term problems,” he said. “I wish I had something good to say in that sense but I just could not get behind this one bit for the community.”
To comply with state law, the 22nd DAA established the Friends of the San Diego County Fairgrounds as its nonprofit organization to operate the games. Other charitable groups could host bingo at the fairgrounds, but City Attorney Leslie Devaney said she didn’t believe it could be limited to one facility.
“You can’t … permit it just for the fairgrounds without making it legally problematic,” she said.
“For you to say they can just operate at that location doesn’t become fair in a zoning perspective.”
Council members sent the ordinance back for modifications. It is expected to be presented again at the Sept. 20 meeting.
“Who’d of thought we’d have so many questions about bingo?” Councilwoman Crystal Crawford asked.