05/13/2007 11:00PM

Plans face environmental scrutiny


ALBANY, Calif. - Two community groups, the Sierra Club and Citizens for East Shore Parks, are requesting that the city of Albany more closely study Golden Gate Fields's plans to install a synthetic race surface this summer. Their chief concerns focus on environmental issues, specifically the toxicity of the new synthetic surface on bird, animal, and marine life in the area, and how water quality will be affected by drainage from the synthetic track.

Citizens for East Shore Parks is an advocate for open space and habitat protection along San Francisco Bay. It was instrumental in developing an 8o1/2-mile park along the San Francisco Bay waterfront from Oakland to Richmond, including Albany. It successfully fought plans by Magna Entertainment Corp., the owners of Golden Gate Fields, to develop its north parking lot.

The group's president, attorney Robert Cheasty, said his organization wants an environmental impact report completed and studied in accordance with state laws. Golden Gate Fields has already submitted an environmental impact report to the city, but it is not as detailed as Citizens for East Shore Parks would like.

"This particular project is at a site on the waterfront that is sensitive to habitat and is on landfill that was created in the 1930's when there weren't the concerns and regulations in place today," Cheasty said. "We want to make sure there are no detrimental impacts before the project is done."

The Sierra Club office in Berkeley confirmed that the group was concerned about possible environmental issues from the new surface and removal of the old surface.

The California Horse Racing Board has set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2008, for all tracks in the state that run four or more consecutive weeks of Thoroughbred racing to install a synthetic surface. If additional environmental impact reports are required, the delay could range from nine months to a year. Albany planning manager Jeff Bond said he doesn't know when the city could reach a decision on whether to require further studies.

While concerned about the timeline for installation of the Golden Gate surface, Robert Hartman, the track's general manager, said that what was going on was "democracy at its best."

"The city takes the process seriously," he said. "They're being methodical."

Complying with requests from the Sierra Club and Citizens for East Shore Parks, the city has initiated a peer review on every report submitted by Golden Gate.

"Their experts double-check every report to be sure all tests were conducted properly with accurate assessments," Hartman said. "We haven't cut any corners. We're using the best of the best. We haven't had one negative comment on any peer review."

Though concerned as well as a bit frustrated by the new requests from the citizens' groups, Hartman said Golden Gate Fields has responded to new questions and requests "right away."

Golden Gate has worked with the city for more than a year to answer questions about its plans to install a Tapeta brand synthetic surface. The project is tentatively scheduled to begin on June 11, one day after the track concludes its current meeting. Golden Gate officials have conducted a public information hearing with Albany residents and have another scheduled for May 21.

"The city has asked for reports on the toxicity of the surface, questions about water quality, and a number of other things," said Hartman. "The process is running smoothly."

The permit that the track must obtain from the city is a grading permit, because of changes in the subsurface as well as the main track. Hartman said that the permit is basic and usually less complicated than getting a permit to build a room addition to a house.

Because of the new questions arising about surface installation, Hartman is scheduling regular weekly meetings with trainers to give updates and answer questions about the situation.

Just two definite for Camilla Urso

Vaca City Flyer and Victorina are the only two definite starters for Sunday's $50,000 Camilla Urso at six furlongs.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said it's doubtful he will run Dixie Crisp or Hot Spell, a pair of 3-year-olds, since there is a possible stakes for them the following week.

Actually, a Vaca City Flyer-Victorina match race would be intriguing, and Hartman said, "We would consider it, but I don't think we'll be put in that position."

Racing secretary Sean Greely said he is hopeful to get a field of five or six from the race's 11 nominees.

Saturday's $75,000 Alcatraz for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the turf drew 22 nominations and should attract a good field.

Hollendorfer plans to run Amazin Blue and Brave Sun and lists Boxelder as probable. Zoning In, third in both the El Camino Real Derby and Snow Chief, is another likely runner, as is Bluegrass Hill.

Well-bred filly set to debut

Fillies will be in the spotlight Wednesday in a four-furlong maiden race for 2-year-olds.

Of particular interest is the debut of Christmas Ship, who has a somewhat uncharacteristic three straight bullet drills for her debut for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. A $95,000 February Ocala purchase, Christmas Ship is a half-sister to Trickey Trevor, already a stakes winner at this meet, and a full sister to stakes-placed Brooklet. Her sire, Montbrook, has a good record with debut runners.

Gorgeous Gibson makes her debut for trainer Greg Gilchrist, while Sharrene, a full sister to Sharoana, who beat males in a stakes at 2 last year, makes her second start following a troubled try at two furlongs.

On Friday, Hollendorfer will send out another promising first-timer when Imaginary Sailor, a half-brother to multiple stakes winner Cause to Believe, makes his first start.