Bay Meadows staff braces for life after closure

Although it’s been granted a chance at a few more laps on its storied track, Bay Meadows operators and racers know that every hoofbeat brings them closer to the end of the field’s 73 years of history.

Local agencies are now working to make sure that any of the approximately 500 employees at the track who are unable to transfer to other racing venues will be trained to enter the local workforce and avoid having to relocate out of the area where many have grown up.

“This is not just people losing their jobs — this is a moment where a very well-known piece of this county’s history is going to transition, and the lives that it impacts are many,” said Shelley Kessler, executive secretary-treasurer of the San Mateo County Central Labor Council. “Many of the people who work at the racetrack are members of families that have been there for generations.”

The council is developing a survey for workers to assess job skills, living situations and family needs to determine how to best serve those employed by the track.

Kessler said she hopes many of the workers — employed on the service-side of Bay Meadows’ operations — will be able to transition into jobs in the local hospitality and service industry.

“Hospitality is beginning to turn around since 9/11, so they could work there, but they’ll lose all seniority,” Kessler said. “This is a very hard time for the workers.”

With one more year of racing now a possibility after the California Horse Racing Board approved a waiver allowing the course to run races without installing a full synthetic track, there may be time for the workers to find other jobs.

“It gives families more time to figure out where exactly they will be a year from now, how they’ll take care of themselves,” said Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo.

And although the final scope of any job-training or resume-preparation aid has yet to be determined, Bay Meadows President Jack Liebau said the Bay Meadows Land Company has agreed to pay a portion of the cost of providing assistance for the employees.

“We take this very seriously, and we hope that there will be as few dislocations as possible,” Liebau said. “Some of the full-time people will ultimately move on to San Mateo Expo Center’s off-track wagering facility.”

jgoldman@examiner.com

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