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Judge backs Bay Meadows petitioners

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A San Mateo County Superior Court judge rejected an effort by the owners of Bay Meadows to disqualify a petition that seeks to let voters decide whether the historic racetrack should be redeveloped.

Lawyers for the Bay Meadows Land Company argued that the petition, circulated by the Friends of Bay Meadows, was not legitimate because the group failed to provide full information with it regarding changes to city guidelines for the 83-acre racetrack site.

“In order to understand what the resolution is about, the voter needs everything the council had in front of them, otherwise the voter’s getting a very one-sided view of what is going on,” said attorney Robin Johansen, representing the Bay Meadows Land Company.

Johansen also argued that guidelines for the site — known as the Bay Area Specific Plan — would be inconsistent with the city’s general plan if redevelopment plans were rejected by voters, because the former would stipulate that racing continue on the site while the latter has zoned the site for housing and roads.

But Judge Mark Forcum said the petitioners supplied signatories with the information they needed, and that he assumed the City Council would bring the general and specific plans back into compliance if voters rejected the development deal.

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“In my view, there are no defectswith the petition as such,” Forcum said. “I am reluctant to intrude on the citizens’ rights to the referendum process.”

The San Mateo City Council voted unanimously in November of 2005 to redevelop the racetrack site, adding streets, 1,250 new homes, 1.2 million square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail and 15 acres of park space. Opponents immediately began gathering the 4,661 signatures they needed for a referendum that would go to voters this November.

In addition to the referendum, San Mateo faces other racetrack-related challenges, such as a bill from Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, that would legalize machines that allow track patrons to bet on 250,000 historical races.

The issue returns to court July 17, when the fate of the remaining contested signatures will be decided in a lawsuit the Friends of Bay Meadows filed against the San Mateo County Elections Office. The group needs another 84 signatures validated to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Attorney Stuart Flashman, who represents the Friends of Bay Meadows, said he was pleased by Wednesday’s ruling.

“I think we’re much closer to having the measure put on the ballot,” Flashman said. “It’s like a horse race. We started off as a real long shot but the odds are getting better and better.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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