Track Takes Legal Action to Block Albany Initiative

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday June 13, 2006

Though foes of a planned mall at Golden Gate Fields collected enough signatures to qualify an initiative for the November ballot, the race track’s owners have filed a legal challenge. 

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Judith Ford Wednesday ordered a July 19 hearing on Pacific Racing Association’s motion for a writ of mandate and a permanent injunction blocking the initiative. 

Pacific Racing Association is the legal name of the entity that owns the track and is in turn owned by Magna Entertainment Corporation. 

At issue is whether or not proponents of the Albany Waterfront Specific Plan Initiative failed to issue proper public notice before they began circulating petitions to qualify their measure for the ballot. 

The initiative would ban new development within 500 feet of the shoreline and create a planning process for new projects outside that limit. The boundary would effectively block plans by track owner Magna Entertainment and Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso to build an upscale open air mall at the site. 

Citizens for the Albany Shoreline (CAS) collected 2,446 signatures from Albany voters, nearly three times the number required, which they turned in to City Clerk Jacqueline Bucholz on May 16. 

But the petition filed Monday alleges that the signatures have to be tossed out because the initiative’s backers failed to give proper legal notice before they began collecting them. 

The state Elections Code requires initiative sponsors to publish notice of their plans in a paper that a judge has previously declared eligible for printing the notices. 

Initiative backers printed their notice in the West County Times, the same paper regularly used by the city for its notices. 

Albany City Attorney Robert Zweben said that while the paper hasn’t been judicially recognized, the city publishes notices there because it is widely read in the community. 

“We satisfy the legal requirement by posting notices in the city,” he said. The state Elections Code allows the requirement to be fulfilled by posting the notices prominently in at least three locations within the community. 

Zweben said court rulings on the issue are mixed. While some cases have cited the need for specific compliance, in recent cases findings have looked at whether or not the intent of the law was fulfilled. 

“Their response could be, ‘Do you think the 2,400 people who signed didn’t know what they signed,’” he said. 

“I’m not going to predict the outcome, but there’s a significant risk” for the initiative’s proponents, Zweben said. 

“Magna’s attack is aimed at keeping the initiative off the ballot,” said Sally Douglas Arce, one of the initiative’s proponents. “Despite the fact that this initiative has received extensive press and TV coverage, Magna’s lawyers are claiming there was inadequate public notice.” 

“This is a heavy-handed effort by the race track to prevent the citizens of Albany from voting on an initiative for waterfront planning, said CAS co-chair Bill Dann. 

Named as defendants in the action were Bucholz, the Albany City Council and Alameda County Registrar of Voters Brad Clark.