Bay Meadows Supporters to Continue Fight

Bay Meadows Race Course supporters said Thursday they'll likely challenge the San Mateo County Registrar of Voters in court after the referendum drive to save the aging track was deemed 136 signatures shy of the number needed to qualify for the June 2006 ballot.

"We're not finished yet," said Linda Schinkel, founder of Friends of Bay Meadows, who circulated the petition for the election after the San Mateo City Council on Nov. 9 unanimously approved the 83.5-acre mixed-use development that would result in the demolition of the 71-year-old landmark.

Supporters turned in 5,708 signatures to the city clerk's office, but the election commission found that only 4,525 belonged to registered San Mateo residents, leaving the petition short of the required 4,661 valid signatures.

Schinkel said she plans to challenge 88 recall cards sent to City Hall by persons requesting to have their names taken off the petition they signed earlier. She said the postage on those postcards was apparently paid for by the city clerk's office, which she believes violates standards requiring the city to be "scrupulously neutral" in election matters. One petition with 25 signatures was disqualified because a date was left off.

"That would leave 23 signatures for it to qualify," Schinkel said. "The count of total signatures was off by four from what was turned in. And we want to look at the rest (of the disqualified signatures) to see if something was missed. It's so close we could ask for a recount, too."

Friends of Bay Meadows began the signature drive the day after the council's approval of the project, which would convert the racetrack grounds into 1,250 homes, 1.25 million square feet of office space, 15 acres of park land and 150,000 square feet of commercial development.

About 85 volunteers were part of the effort. Donna Bischoff, whose group Save Bay Meadows helped collect signatures, said "mobsters" hired by a public relations firm retained by property owner Bay Meadows Land Company created difficulties. She said they blocked petition tables, rudely shouted down gatherers and intimidated and confused people who approached the petitioners outside of stores.

"There's no question that had we not had these mobsters, we would have had many more signatures than we needed," Bischoff said. "They scared people off by using intimidation to disrupt the process. It doesn't seem right."

Bay Meadows Land Company spokesman Adam Alberti has estimated the timeline for getting specific design approvals for various aspects of the project at two years. The company announced recently that it is seeking an alternative Bay Area site for a racetrack that would also accept slot machines if such state legislation gets approval.