Magna Envisions Another California Training Center

Magna Entertainment Corp. hopes to build a Thoroughbred training facility for up to 2,000 horses on 326 acres in California's Ventura County, in the heart of perhaps the leading strawberry-producing region of the country.

Magna has submitted a bid on the property, and officials for the Toronto, Canada-based racetrack company have had exploratory talks with county planning officials, according to Ventura County supervisor John Flynn. However, no official application for the proposed facility has been filed.

"I had a brief presentation a couple of weeks ago from three of (Magna's) representatives," Flynn said. "But I would like to have quite a bit more information on the impacts of a project as big as this" before committing to it.

The supervisor said Magna representatives met with county planning staff in September to go over some of the general provisions of the project. Flynn said he was interested in the potential for jobs that would be created by the training center but concerned about the pay scale of such employment. He also wondered about the effects of horse manure odor on the nearby community of Nyeland Acres.

"They told me they have ways to mitigate the odor, but I would want to know more about that," Flynn said.

The facility would include dirt and turf training tracks, barns, storage buildings, administrative offices, and a cafeteria. It would primarily serve the needs of horsemen for Southern California tracks, including Magna-owned Santa Anita Park.

Currently, there are about 2,000 stalls in 61 barns at Santa Anita. Hollywood Park has a capacity of 1,958 stalls. Both operate year-round, but the need for additional training facilities has been recognized for some time.

Jack Liebau, director of racing for Magna's California tracks (including the Bay Area1s Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows), could not be reached for comment. A phone call to the company's Toronto headquarters was not returned.

Flynn said he has a meeting scheduled with the property owner, Jerry Reed, and his attorney to go over the project. Reed is strongly in favor of the proposal, Flynn said.

The acreage in question, near Oxnard, is an L-shaped parcel bordering U.S. Highway 101 that is a small part of more than 105,000 acres in the county devoted to strawberry-growing. Strawberry growers grossed more than $230 million in 2001, according to the Ventura County Agricultural Commission.

Flynn said the project would comply with current agricultural zoning requirements. But he said: "The people of this county have passed a law called 'Save Our Agricultural Resources' that requires that all agricultural land be preserved for the next 20 years. I doubt that horses would be considered agricultural production."

If not, the project would have to be put to the voters, he said.

Otherwise, an environmental impact report and approval from the county planning commission is all that would be needed.

The issue has already drawn the opposition of Ventura County's agricultural commissioner, Earl McPhail.

"Horses is not the best possible use for that piece of ground," McPhail told the Ventura County Star. He could not be reached for further comment.