Bay Meadows lawsuit moves forward

A lawsuit filed by a group trying to save the Bay Meadows Race Track in San Mateo will move forward after a motion for the suit to be
dismissed was denied by a San Mateo County Superior Court judge on Monday.

The suit, filed by Friends of Bay Meadows, a group long opposed to the closure and demolition of the racetrack, seeks additional environmental and historical review of the redevelopment planned for the Bay Meadows site. 

Judge George Miram denied the motion to dismiss the suit made by Bay Meadows Land Co., the development company planning to demolish the track and erect homes, shops and businesses on the site, and scheduled a hearing for the case on Dec. 5, San Mateo City Attorney Shawn Mason said.

The lawsuit claims the San Mateo City Council's environmental analysis and approval of the development was faulty under the California Environmental Quality Act, according to Mason.

The San Mateo City Council approved the site plan and architectural review to turn the Bay Meadows Race Track and surrounding
parking areas into a commercial and residential development at a meeting on April 21.

The plan, called SPAR 1, is the first of three sections of development intended for the 83.5-acre area of Bay Meadows Phase II, Mason said. Bay Meadows Phase I, approved in the late 1990s, was completed to include a Whole Foods Market, homes and other features near the racetrack where a practice track and barns used to stand, Mason said.

The city approved an environmental impact report for Phase II in 2005, according to Mason. In April, the City Council determined that the environmental impact report for the entire Phase II was enough review for the approval of the first section of development.

The first section plan includes 750,000 square feet of office space, 93,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, nearly 400 new residences, the Town Square and Linear Park, said Mason, who added that the city disputes claims made in the lawsuit.

“We believe the use of the EIR that was approved and certified for the city in 2005 is appropriate for use in considering and approving SPAR 1,” Mason said.

Friends of Bay Meadows filed suit against the city in May asking for a new EIR for SPAR 1, Mason said. The Bay Meadows Land Co. is included in the suit as a “real party in interest,” he said.

Friends of Bay Meadows spokeswoman Linda Schinkel said the group feels the development plans and environmental factors have changed since 2005 and thus a new environmental review should be conducted.

The group also seeks “proper commemoration or homage to the racetrack,” she said. Current plans to include street signs in the
development featuring racing-related names are not enough recognition of Bay Meadows' history, Schinkel said.
Friends of Bay Meadows also filed a lawsuit against the development in 2005, Schinkel said. The group organized efforts to collect
signatures and place a Bay Meadows measure on the ballot, but a disagreement
over the validity of signatures rendered the effort unsuccessful after a state appellate court review, Schinkel said.

Schinkel said Monday's ruling was “a big victory” toward winning the current lawsuit, which will cost the group about $50,000 this month. Costs are being covered by community donors and fundraising efforts.

Schinkel said she is confident developers will not begin demolishing the racetrack grandstand until the court ruling is issued Dec. 5.

“We don't think they will cross over into actual demolition until the legal question is resolved,” Schinkel said.

Bay Meadows Land Co. spokesman Adam Alberti did not return multiple calls for comment today, but has said that the company is looking at beginning construction in September.

Nonetheless, Schinkel remained confident, adding that the developer may begin construction but she does not think demolition will begin anytime soon. She said there is still hope part of the racetrack grandstand will be kept and used in the new development as a racing museum or some other part of the project.

Information about the Bay Meadows Phase II development is available online at http://www.cityofsanmateo.org/index.asp?NID=1039. Information about Friends of Bay Meadows is available online at http://www.friendsofbaymeadows.org.

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