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Ventura County

Fans Urge Fair Board to Keep Raceway Open

Recreation: Dozens turn out to ask for renewal of Seaside Park contract. A subcommittee will be formed to negotiate with the promoter.

September 18, 2002|JESSICA BLANCHARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Calling the Ventura Raceway an integral part of the community, dozens of supporters urged the Ventura County Fair Board on Tuesday to renew the contract between the operator of the racetrack and the county fairgrounds.

Following a four-hour hearing in a packed room of Seaside Park's Derby Club, board members postponed a decision on whether to renew the contract, which expires in December. Instead, they voted to form a subcommittee to negotiate with raceway promoter Jim Naylor.

Naylor vowed to work with the board to keep the raceway operating by finding ways to reduce noise at the track and addressing other concerns, such as generating more revenue for the fairgrounds.

"We're never going to make a lot of money for you," Naylor told board members. "But we care a lot about the place, and you can't weigh that."

Board members are creating a master plan for Seaside Park and have said one of their primary goals is to find ways to raise more money and better serve county residents.

The panel has several options to consider, including limiting the number of races for the 2003 season or discontinuing Naylor's contract.

About 50 people spoke during Tuesday's hearing, most describing the racetrack as an important attraction for both tourists and the community.

"Car racing is an important part of the fabric of Southern California life," said Steve Wilson, a racing enthusiast who supports renewing Naylor's contract.

He said the weekly races pump thousands of dollars into the local economy, as people travel from miles around to attend races at the only dirt track in the region.

Speakers also cited the lack of other low-cost, family-friendly activities available locally on the weekends.

And they questioned the logic of removing the raceway before an alternative revenue-generating business had been lined up to take its place.

Earl McPhail, a former fair board member from Santa Paula, told panel members that they should hold off on taking any action until they complete their master plan.

"This is family entertainment at its absolute best," he said. "Really consider what you're doing today."

A handful of speakers said they wouldn't miss the racetrack if it were closed.

"The noise level has gone up dramatically in the last few years, and it's not just ambient noise," said Doug Halter, a longtime downtown resident. "It pretty much flies in the face of [downtown] revitalization efforts."

Sandra Sanders agreed that the noise is a problem. "I do not find the roar of the motors enjoyable," she said, adding that she also opposes the idea of holding more concerts at Seaside Park. "The sounds generated in the park should stay there."

But Roger Gibbs, the park's CEO and general manager, said atmospheric conditions make it nearly impossible to prevent occasional noise.

"Fairgrounds generate noise no matter what we do," he said.

He noted steps that the park and Naylor have taken to lower noise levels, such as planting trees to block sound, monitoring noise levels throughout the city during the races and attempting to install mufflers on the cars.

Deputy Mayor Brian Brennan offered several suggestions, including establishing independent monitoring of noise levels at the fairgrounds and discontinuing mid-week practice racing during the evenings.

"The issue is not getting rid of racing," he said. "It's the noise stupid."

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