After symbolically granting Bay Meadows an extra year of racing two weeks ago, the California Horse Racing Board made it official Tuesday during a special meeting.
Five of the seven members of the horse racing board — all teleconferencing in from locations around California — unanimously approved the track’s request to waive a rule requiring the installation of a synthetic track surface in order to receive a license for racing in 2008.
The waiver enables the track to apply for races in 2008, which could mean one final year of racing before the Bay Meadows complex is redeveloped into homes, offices and shops by the Bay Meadows Land Company.
It also means one more year of revenues to the city — approximately $600,000 — and an extra year for the 500 track employees to find work elsewhere.
“It’s a cushion,” said Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo. “Losing almost a million dollars between the city and county is not easy to absorb, so this does provide a softer landing when the race track finally in fact closes.”
Yee pushed the board to reconsider its original March 22 waiver denial, going so far as to encourage a state budget committee to zero-out the board’s $10.8 million budget. He said that with the waiver, the monies will be restored in the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.
With the granting of the waiver, Bay Meadows President Jack Liebau said he will begin discussions with horse owners, trainers and representatives for the Bay Area’s other large track, Golden Gate Fields, to schedule 2008 racing dates.
Liebau says finishing the racing calendar early in the year would be the best option for the track because the track is still on the chopping block for development.
Although the Bay Meadows Land Company has said it will not pay the approximately $10 million to install a full synthetic track surface with an extensive drainage system, Liebau said the synthetic component of the existing track — a combination of dirt, polymers and fibers — was modified last week to better cushion horses while they run.
Thenext scheduled races at Bay Meadows begin Aug. 8 as part of the San Mateo County Fair. The next full season of racing begins Aug. 22 and runs through Nov. 4.
Yee pushes to fix board’s ‘tremendous problems’
Despite expressing relief that the Bay Meadows track was granted a waiver Tuesday after an extensive campaign to spare the track from closing early, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo said there are still “tremendous problems” with the horse-racing board.
Yee hopes that his Senate Bill 863 — authored on June 26 — will successfully move through Sacramento and bring drastic changes to the board.
The goal of the bill is to mandate that no more than three members of the seven-member board can be licensed horse owners, to combat what he views as a conflict of interest. Five of the board members are currently thoroughbred horse owners.
Chairman Richard Shapiro — whom Yee has criticized publicly over his handling of both the Bay Meadows situation and other board decisions — said he appreciates the senator’s concern over horse racing, but doesn’t feel the board is doing anything wrong.
“I certainly want to address all of his concerns,” Shapiro said. “I believe we are operating without conflicts of interest. I hope he and I can sit down to talk about these concerns.”
The bill also states that there can only be one member of the board heavily involved in the industry in either Northern or Southern California, and only one member can be involved in events that take place after 6 p.m., including quarter-horse and harness racing.
The board must also adopt a code of ethics and a set of regulations regarding conflicts of interest by July 1, 2008.