It didn't take long for foes of the Dixon Downs racetrack in Northern California to attack plans for the $250 million Magna Entertainment project approved by the Dixon City Council on Oct. 23. Already, a citizen group has turned in petitions seeking a referendum to overturn the action, and on Nov. 21, the nearby city of Davis filed a lawsuit aimed at mitigating the development's impact on the region.
The suit, filed in Solano County Superior Court, contends that Dixon violated the California Environmental Quality Act in approving the project's environmental impact report. It charges that Dixon planners did not adequately address regional effects, especially vehicle traffic on a much-used portion of Interstate 80 between Dixon and Davis, located a few miles east of the proposed site.
"We have a long working relationship with the city of Dixon. We aren't opposed to its development, nor do we oppose the horseracing track," said Katherine Hess, Davis' community development director. "The environmental analysis that Dixon did failed to look at the cumulative effects of the project on the region. (It) didn't answer the questions we asked."
She said several developments along I-80 in Dixon have caused serious traffic congestion in Davis, in adjacent Yolo County.
Harriet Steiner, the Davis city attorney, said in a statement that "Dixon would receive all the revenue benefits from Dixon Downs, while the costs would be spread to nearby cities and unincorporated areas." She seeks full disclosure of the project's impacts on surrounding areas and, if Dixon proceeds, proper mitigation steps.
Don Erickson, a former mayor of Dixon who is the local consultant for Magna, said that Davis wants Dixon or Magna to provide funds to build a parking structure for a light rail line.
"They told us that in a meeting – either give us $1 million for a parking garage downtown or we'll sue," he said. "My feeling is that the document (EIR) that was approved unanimously is what is being challenged here. We did not skip any steps. There was more than 100 hours of public testimony. I think it will, in fact, prove to be very defensible."
Campbell Soup Company's tomato canning plant, which borders the proposed 260-acre racetrack, has informed Dixon it also plans to file a CEQA suit. In various meetings before city officials, Campbell alleged that increased traffic around the proposed track would inhibit its seasonal trucking operation
Dixon Citizens for Quality Growth turned in more than 1,400 signatures on petitions last week to the City Clerk. Seeking to set a special election in March, they need just over 700 registered voters from Dixon to qualify. The group also must submit a second set of petitions because the council's final approval came in two parts. The citizen group contends that Dixon Downs will destroy the small-town charm for the city of 17,500 residents.
Erickson said that the problem with an election of this sort is that it ends up bringing in outside influences and issues that make what is best for Dixon secondary.
"Whether it's the Indian casinos that don't want to see this happen or someone else, historically these things get ugly, and they are expensive," he said.