Housing Inspections Now Part of Licensing Process in California

California tracks will have their backstretch housing inspected if they want a license to conduct a horse racing meeting from the California Horse Racing Board.

The state's racing board is nearing completion of an amendment to its license application that would require tracks to pass the inspection before the meet is approved. The new regulation is primarily due to a sweep last summer by state inspectors who found backstretch workers often live in substandard conditions.

However, one main question still remains: Which agency will conduct the inspections?

According to the CHRB's legal staff, local housing agencies have the authority. Not only are they equipped to handle the inspections, they are also most familiar with building codes.

One track in particular, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, owned by the state of California wouldn't be subjected to local housing laws, said track vice president Craig Fravel.

"There are a lot of gray areas in these regulatory schemes," he said. "Requiring any jurisdiction that doesn't have the mandate for inspection would be difficult."

Fravel said Del Mar officials aren't against the inspection but they want to ensure the proper authorities conduct the work. Peter Tunney, vice president and general manager of Golden Gate Fields, worries there may be problems with getting inspection approval.

"We contacted our local housing agency in Berkeley and they didn't want anything to do with it," he said.

If a local housing authority doesn't inspect a track's backstretch, staffers from the state's horse racing board will do so.
State inspectors found a pattern of violations at various tracks across the state last summer. Employees such as grooms, hot walkers and exercise riders who travel from track to track were found to be living in small, unsanitary rooms. Inspectors also found that the workers weren't being paid overtime and, in some cases, not even minimum wage. The response from horse racing officials was the industry was exempt from overtime laws.

Inspectors have issued nearly $100,000 in fines. They have also ordered employers to pay workers back wages but many trainers haven't kept adequate records.

Officials at Magna Entertainment, which owns Santa Anita in Southern California, and Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows in Northern California, said they have pumped more than $3.5 million to renovate backstretch conditions. At Santa Anita, Magna owner Frank Stronach has plans to expand the facility, which would include new dormitories for workers. Stronach needs approval from the Arcadia City Council before moving ahead with his plans.