Environmental concerns could cause a delay in plans by Golden Gate Fields to install an all-weather racing surface this summer, the planning manager for the City of Albany, Calif., acknowledged May 16.
"It's hard to say at this point," said Jeff Bond, the planning official for the Bay Area community. "The application is being reviewed. Because the track is in such an environmentally sensitive area, we're taking a very careful look."
Two environmental groups, a local chapter of the Sierra Club and the Citizens for East Shore Park, have expressed misgivings about the project. Bond said he is preparing a report to the Albany City Council, which plans to discuss issues surrounding the plan May 21. Bond said even with the planning department's approval, appeals or potential legal action could set the project back.
The track is hoping to comply with a California Horse Racing Board mandate requiring that major Thoroughbred tracks in the state have synthetic racing surfaces in place by 2008. The board implemented the requirement to improve safety for horses and jockeys.
Golden Gate Fields, owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., plans to install a Tapeta Footings brand synthetic surface to replace the conventional dirt track at the Bay Area facility. Removal of the dirt track would begin June 11, one day after the close of the current meet, according to Robert Hartman, general manager of the track. He said a decision from the city is needed quickly so that plans can be implemented for stabling more than 1,000 horses at Golden Gate that would have to vacate.
Bond said there are a number of environmental issues that need addressing, including the toxicity of the soil that is going to be removed as well as that of the synthetic compound that will replace it -- and whether it will have a negative effect on bird and marine life. Water drainage and flooding issues from Codornices Creek, which flows through the track property from the nearby Berkeley Hills, also are concerns, he said.
Hartman said that the track isn't seeking anything more complicated than a grading permit, but has responded to every request.
"We have done every report they have asked us to do," he said.
Hartman noted that the city is using its own experts to analyze those reports "and there has not been one negative comment on the peer reviews."
In the meantime, Hartman said track management has been meeting weekly with trainers and grooms to keep them apprised. "They need a clear time line so they can make decisions about where to go" while the track is closed.
Hartman said arrangements have been made to ship horses to the Solano County fairgrounds in Vallejo, the Alameda County fairgrounds in Pleasanton and Bay Meadows.