Bay Meadows Supporters Win Round in Court

A group supporting Bay Meadows Racecourse moved a step closer June 29 to landing a referendum on the November ballot aimed at reversing a San Mateo City Council action allowing redevelopment of the track.

A San Mateo County judge refused to throw out petitions for the referendum submitted to the city clerk by the Friends of Bay Meadows. The Bay Meadows Land Company, owners of the 83.5-acre parcel whose plans for converting the track were approved by the City Council last November, brought the action, contending the wording and framework of the referendum petition was vague and misleading.

"Had we lost today it would have pretty much knocked us out," said Linda Schinkel, founder of the Friends of Bay Meadows, of the ruling. "But we were confident the judge would not allow the developer to set the bar so high that it would have made it impossible for other citizen groups to ever challenge a decision through referendum. This is a basic right."

The ruling against BMLC by Superior Court Judge Mark Forcum means the Friends of Bay Meadows lawsuit challenging the disqualification of a number of those petitions can proceed. The action filed by the Bay Meadows support group alleges that San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum, City Clerk Norma Gomez and the city of San Mateo improperly disqualified about 150 signatures on the referendum petition. A hearing before Forcum is scheduled July 17.

Those signatures were among ones listed on petitions originally aiming for a spot on the June ballot. The petitions were turned over to the city clerk in December but were deemed 136 valid signatures shy of the 4,661 registered city voters needed to qualify.

Schinkel said that in negotiations over the challenged signatures, the number needed to now qualify the referendum is 84 with about 100 left to process. If the court finds enough of them valid, the measure would be placed on the November 2006 ballot.

"We have a pretty good shot," said attorney Stuart Flashman, representing the supporters. "At the start of this, I said we were a real longshot. But the odds are getting better."

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.