Bay Meadows may get OK for horse racing in 2008

What began as a debate about the health of horses has become a discussion on the survival of horse racing as an industry.

On Tuesday afternoon, the California Horse Racing Board gave a tentative statement that it would overturn a previous ruling and grant Bay Meadows a waiver to allow racing in 2008.

They were set to vote on the issue, but concerns over the wording of the item on the agenda led to the decision to postpone it a month.

“We all know that it’s a very difficult situation that we’ve had whether or not to grant Bay Meadows the waiver,” said board Chairman Richard Shapiro. “We certainly want to keep a cohesive, ongoing racing program in Northern California.”

The board has been under pressure to reverse a March 22 denial of the waiver to install a mandated synthetic surface track. Local leaders appealed on behalf of the approximately 500 employees who would lose their jobs, and Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, even went so far as to encourage a state budget committee to remove all of the board’s funding to prompt discussion.

“I hope that the [potential] CHRB reversal is more because they understood the pain that is caused to the county and the city of San Mateo and to the employees, the workers at the racetrack and in the surrounding businesses,” Yee said.

But despite the pressures from around California, Shapiro and his colleagues said the decision is simply based on the need to provide a healthy venue for racing in California, to help the industry survive.

Across the Bay, Golden Gate Fields is currently struggling to obtain the necessary permits to install a synthetic surface.

Having Bay Meadows open during 2008 would allow them to host some of Golden Gate’s races and give them more time for the installation.

But even if the reprieve is granted at the July 19 board meeting, the decision to race would still be up to the Bay Meadows Land Company, currently working on its own plan to redevelop the land.

“I don’t think they’re in a position to break ground anytime soon, but once the site development permit is in, they could start putting in storm sewers and water lines, and the race track is in the way,” Mayor Jack Matthews said.

Land company spokesman Adam Alberti said that while they want to begin construction as soon as possible, the permitting and planning process may allow the track to go on.

“If you look at the city’s development timelines, I think 2008 is a possibility for racing,” Alberti said.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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