Editorial: Build Bay Meadows housing now

Monday’s Superior Court ruling that a petition by foes of high-density redevelopment at the Bay Meadows racetrack was 56 signatures short of qualifying for the November ballot begins the opposition’s endgame. With the deadline past for starting a new petition, all that opponents can do now is delay the project a while longer by appealing Judge Mark Forcum’s decision.

Appeals are easy enough to file, so the Friends of Bay Meadows seem virtually certain to do so. A pending appeal would continue to hold up groundbreaking for a much-needed project of 1,250 transit-oriented residential units alongside the Hillsdale Caltrain station. The appeal is likely to fail.

Last year in Redwood City, a petition by a determined band of neighbors did force a referendum onthe bayfront Redwood Shores development, which in turn led to the developers being soundly defeated at the polls. However, Bay Meadows is considerably more attuned to community attitudes than the original Redwood Shores proposal was, and as such it deserves the green light as rapidly as possible.

Redwood Shores would have concentrated 16 towers in the highest-rise development between San Francisco and San Jose. Its location alongside already-crowded Highway 101 was well away from downtown and public transit, and within a city already using more than its Hetch Hetchy water allotment.

On the other hand, the Bay Meadows Land Company put its plan through more than two years of citizens advisory committee feedback. Officials can also point to the success of its mixed-use Phase I development, with its sold-out low-rise housing, upscale retail and office tenants, well-planned traffic flow and attractive central landscaping.

The fact that the Friends of Bay Meadows had such trouble achieving the required 10 percent signatures for a referendum petition seems to be evidence there is little citywide opposition to replacing the 73-year-old racetrack with high-density housing. Bay Meadows has the Sierra Club’s seal of approval, due to the project’s public transit access and mixed-use density. Environmental activists point out that with another 1.7 million in population growth projected for the Bay Area by 2030, San Mateo’s only choice will be between more fill-in, high-density, transit-oriented development or starting to pave over the green hills that make the Peninsula so special.

If the Bay Meadows racetrack is demolished, jobs would be lost and a recreational activity much prized by some would disappear from the county. However, if no new housing is built, every fixer-upper would be priced at $1 million-plus and the Peninsula would ultimately lose the middle-class and working-class population necessary to keep its commerce contributingto local prosperity and life quality.

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