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Border Patrol Appeals Approval of Proposed Raceway for Otay Mesa

April 23, 1986|MIRNA ALFONSO | Times Staff Writer

The Border Patrol has appealed to the San Diego County Planning Commission to block a proposed auto raceway near the Otay Mesa border crossing, arguing that the track would interfere with its efforts to stop the flow of illegal aliens.

Plans for the San Diego International Raceway have been hotly contested since it was proposed in February, 1985. Supporters tout the economic benefits to the county, but Border Patrol spokesman Ed Pyeatt counters that a race track on the site would "have a tremendous adverse effect on our border activity."

"It would be easy for aliens to lose themselves in that crowd, and it would be hard to tell which of the cars might be hiding aliens," Pyeatt said.

The Border Patrol apprehended 160,530 illegal aliens between October, 1985, and April, 1986, Pyeatt said, adding that "those were only the ones that we caught."

Pyeatt also said increased traffic generated by the raceway would endanger the lives of aliens crossing Otay Mesa Road, called the "Highway of Death" by agents because many illegal aliens have been struck by vehicles and killed while attempting to cross the highway.

But Jim Stanton, president of San Diego Motor Racing Associates Inc., one of the project's backers, said the the Border Patrol's arguments "hold no water . . . make no sense."

"We have the backing of the entire community and we've bent over backwards, but they're costing us time and money and it will have a bearing on future lawsuits," Stanton said.

He said the racing group will spend $25 million on the project, $10 million of which will go toward meeting conditions set by the county Planning and Environmental Review Board, which granted approval April 10.

Some of the conditions address the need for security expressed by the Border Patrol, Stanton said. They include:

- Fences six to eight feet high surrounding the area, with two feet of barbed wire on top.

- A 24-hour, 17-man security crew, complete with electronic surveillance and dogs.

- An additional security force of 100 to 500 officers, depending on the size of the day's crowd.

- An agreement with Tijuana police for security on the Mexican side of the border, paid for by the partnership running the track.

- Road improvements, including an overpass at the intersection of Harvest and Otay Mesa roads and an expansion of Otay Mesa Road from two to six lanes.

- The construction of a small, self-contained sewage treatment plant.

- A maximum crowd capacity of 70,000.

"It's almost like we're making a fortress," Stanton said.

The track would encompass 426 acres of flat, grassy land about 7 miles east of Interstate 805 and 1 1/2 miles east of the Otay Mesa port of entry.

It would have a 1.33-mile, banked oval track for Indianapolis-style and stock-car racing, and a 2.66-mile road course for Grand Prix racing, said Anne Ewing, environmental analyst for the county Planning Department.

The raceway would have parking for about 17,000 cars, as well as grandstand, bleacher and hillside seating, Ewing said.

Plans also include a 1.5-acre heliport northeast of the track, Ewing said.

The track will also be used for a racing-driver school, a driver training school for law enforcement officers, and a consumer driver-education program, Stanton said.

Stanton projected at least 24 weekends of spectator auto racing events a year, with the remainder of the year devoted to motorcycle and car club racing events.

Stanton said "$250 million a year . . . close to $3 billion after 15 years" would be generated for the county at large by the raceway.

"For every dollar spent at the track, at least $10 will be spent elsewhere in the area," Stanton said.

When the review board approved the plan, the track's possible effect on Border Patrol activity was recognized but was overridden by the projected economic benefits, Ewing said.

"This is generated tax by a large number of people," Ewing said.

The joint partnership of San Diego Motor Racing Associates Inc., private investors and the landowning De la Fuente family that is behind the project hopes to gross $25 million a year, Stanton said.

Stanton said the partnership expects to attract 60% of its spectators from the Los Angeles area, and as many as 25,000 people from abroad for its annual Grand Prix event.

"It is a tremendously exciting and beneficial project," Stanton said.

The issue goes before the Planning Commission on June 6, a county official said.

If the commission approves the plan and the Border Patrol once again appeals, the county Board of Supervisors will make the final decision.

MP, STEVE LOPEZ / Los Angeles Times

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