Ruling Dooms Bay Meadows Referendum

A San Mateo County judge's ruling July 17 left a group opposing the redevelopment of Bay Meadows Racecourse all but dead in its attempt to qualify a referendum on the property's future for the November ballot.

Superior Court Judge Mark Forcum's decision left the petitioners 50 signatures shy of the minimum number needed. Barring a reversal on appeal, it brings to an end any chance of a referendum to block the Bay Meadows Land Company's plans for the racetrack. A spokesperson for Friends of Bay Meadows, Linda Schinkel, said a successful appeal "would be a long shot, but we may do it anyway."

The group seeks to overturn the San Mateo City Council's decision in November approving a multi-use redevelopment of the 83.5-acre Bay Meadows site. Schinkel said that the group has 60 days to appeal but a determination on going forward would come much quicker that that. "We'll need a hearing in time to still make the ballot," she said.

Even without an appeal, Schinkel said, "We're not going to give up on the racetrack.

"We've seen so many jobs and businesses leave our city in recent years. This track has been in business here for 72 years. We're certainly discouraged today but we don't see this is as the end of the racetrack."

She said the group has a few options. For one, it may throw support to recently introduced state legislation that would allow installation of "Instant Horse Racing" video machines at several tracks in hopes that increased revenue from those games would make Bay Meadows more profitable to the owners.

"I'm hoping Sacramento will wake up and give the horseracing industry some help," Schinkel said.

Friends of Bay Meadows had sued the San Mateo County elections office and the City of San Mateo after they had decided in December that the referendum measure was 136 valid signatures short of the 4,661 registered city voters needed to qualify for the June ballot. Appeals on some of the rejected petitions reduced to 84 signatures the number needed in order to qualify in November.

Forcum ruled in favor of the preservationists on some of the appeals. But he rejected attorney Stuart Flashman's arguments against disqualifying signatures that involved registered voters who had moved but were still living within precinct boundaries, or those that were signed by voters who, for one reason or another, had petition gatherers fill in address information for them, Schinkel said.

The Bay Meadows redevelopment project would convert the track and its immediate surroundings to 1.25 million square feet of office space, 1,250 multi-family residential units, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 15 acres of public parks and open space.

Schinkel noted that San Mateo currently has about a 20% vacancy rate on office space and said it doesn't make economic sense to add more.

Bay Meadows Land Company has estimated that it would be at least three years before the track is razed.