03/16/2007 12:00AM

Dixon track nears crucial vote


A special election next month could decide the fate of Magna Entertainment Corp.'s seven-year bid to build a new racetrack in Dixon, Calif.

The election will be held April 17 in Dixon, located 20 miles west of Sacramento along the Interstate 80 corridor. Four measures are on the ballot that pertain to construction of the track and an accompanying business center, and if all four pass the way will be clear for Magna to build the facility in this town of 16,103 residents. The special election was called in January after petitions were presented to the city council to rescind its 4-1 vote in favor of the project in October 2006.

The Dixon city clerk, Janice Beaman, said she expects voters either to approve or reject all four measures. If voters pass some of the measures and reject others, the city attorney would then have to determine if the project could continue, Beaman said.

The measures deal with a revision of the traffic plan for the area where the track would be located; an amendment to the city's general traffic plan; a zoning amendment to permit the development of the track and accompanying business center; and an ordinance approving the development agreement for the track and business center.

The Bay Meadows Land Co. has said its plans include closing Bay Meadows in San Mateo in the next few years. That presumably would open up racing dates that could be snapped up by a new track. Magna also owns Golden Gate Fields in Albany, and the closing of Bay Meadows and opening of the Dixon track could give the company a monopoly on Northern California racing dates outside of the fair circuit.

The project revolves around a new track that would include a 1 1/8-mile main track with a synthetic surface and a double-wide one-mile turf course. It would be located off the interstate along Pedrick Road in Dixon's northeastern quadrant.

The track's main seating area, called the Finish Line Pavilion, would double as a concert hall. Plans also call for upscale shops, a hotel, conference center, movie theater complex, and restaurants to be built in the area.

The project has met with local opposition since Magna revealed its plans in 2000. Opponents say their concerns include traffic congestion, overextension of municipal services, and quality-of-life issues in the small town. After assurances from Magna that the track would not include slot machines without state and municipal approval, the city council finally voted in favor of the project in 2006.

Opponents circulated four petitions - each one addressing one of the issues on the April 17 ballot - and they got roughly double the 700 signatures needed to place each issue on the ballot from the approximately 7,000 registered voters in the town, according to published reports.

"I think this is going to be a tough battle," Magna spokeswoman Erin Lehane said. "A couple of months ago our polling was down, but now, in racing terminology, we're neck and neck.

"This isn't a community that will be swayed by television. We have supporters going door to door. This will be about who can talk to enough people and convince them of the merits of the project."

Proponents of the project have spent roughly $300,000 toward passage of the measures, according to Beaman, the city clerk.

Gale Preston, one of the opposition leaders, also expects a close race.

"We're cautiously optimistic we're going to win because we think the project is bad for Dixon," he said.