Racing board weighs fate of Bay Meadows

Months of public debate, mudslinging and finger-pointing could end today, as the closing of San Mateo’s legendary Bay Meadows is re-examined in Southern California.

The California Horse Racing Board will discuss and take action on the future of Bay Meadows racing at its monthly meeting today. Local officials hope that the ultimate decision will be to grant a waiver, previously denied on March 22, to allow the track to race through 2008 without installing a synthetic track surface.

Without the waiver, the track cannot get a license for races next year, forcing the last race to be run in November.

“We’re hopeful that this waiver will be granted,” said Bay Meadows President Jack Liebau. He said he will be at the meeting, but is not planning any presentations or statements on behalf of the track.

Even if the track is given one more year to run, the Bay Meadows Land Co. is concurrently working with the city to finalize its plans to turn the 83.5-acre site into 750,000 square feet of commercial space, 100,000 square feet of retail and 1,067 housing units.

But Liebau and Sen. Leland Yee — a vocal opponent of the track’s early closure — are hopeful about today’s meeting after the June 12 California State Senate Committee on Governmental Organization meeting. The committee, including Yee, heard arguments from Liebau and board Chairman Richard Shapiro regarding the future of Bay Meadows and the decision to close it.

On May 9, the Senate subcommittee that handles the racing board’s $10.8 million budget voted to completely eliminate its funding, at Yee’s urging, to force them into a discussion about Bay Meadows.

Harris said that both he and Shapiro agree that granting the waiver would be the best move for the overall state of racing in Northern California, an industry that has been declining in popularity. Harris initially voted for the waiver in March, but Shapiro’s vote against it tipped the scales of the 3-2 vote toward denial.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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