Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sacramento Bee: Placer County Struggles with Raceway Noise

Placer County to address noise concerns about Roseville speedway

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 19, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Thousands of spectators enjoyed the high-speed action as Roseville's All American Speedway kicked off the racing season this past weekend, but for some nearby residents it marked the return of a deafening noise that they say makes them prisoners in their homes.

While neighbors contend the race track has always been loud, they say unauthorized track upgrades in 2007 have made race weekends unbearable.

"We don't schedule any outside activities. We are basically sequestered in our homes," said Mike Kassis, who lives about a mile from the track, located north of historic Roseville off Washington Boulevard.

Trying to hold an conversation outdoors during race day is a chore. Inside, residents say they have to turn up the television to hear over the noise.

Neighbors said complaints to the track operator, the Placer County Fair Association, the city and the county fell on deaf ears – until a Placer County grand jury report took the county and the fair association to task in February. The panel said the proper environmental studies had not been done before the raceway expanded its track.

The negative attention seems to have pressed the county into action.

"This is a high priority," said Jim Durfee, the county's facilities director. "I understand their concern. We are working to resolve it."

He said the county wants to address the noise concerns through a new, multiyear agreement with the fair association that would specify operating hours and require physical upgrades to reduce the noise volume.

The nonprofit Placer County Fair Association runs the speedway to help subsidize the annual county fair. While its contract to operate the track expired in 2007, it has been doing so on a year-to-year basis since then.

Durfee said it's hard to say when a new agreement will be in place. It could be months away, if the county determines an environmental study is not needed, or a closer to a year from now, if a study is required.

The association's new chief executive officer, Joan Bartosik, said it's already working to improve the situation.

"We want to be good neighbors," she said as last-minute preparations were being made for last weekend's races. "If there is something I can do right now I'm going to do it."

She said the association has already replaced the raceway's old speakers with new directional ones in hopes of keeping the public-address announcements from spilling into the neighborhood.

The issue isn't only the noise, but whether the track acted inappropriately in starting the 2007 upgrades without a formal study of the environmental effects of the work.

Track officials say the work was done to upgrade safety. "When you have cars flying off the track … you have to do something," Bartosik said.

But the grand jury found that the upgrades went beyond safety concerns.

"In addition to repairing safety walls, safety fencing and on/off ramps, they extended the race track 70 feet in one direction and widened another portion 30 feet," the report said.

With the upgrades, the track is now sanctioned for NASCAR races, which feature louder, more powerful cars. However, Bartosik said the work was not done for that reason.

Saturday's K&N Pro Series race featured cars that are similar in appearance to elite race cars but with less horsepower. NASCAR Sprint Cup race cars pack around 850 horsepower, while K&N series cars top out at 625 horses.

The track opened in the 1950s, well before many of the surrounding homes were built.
Still, Bill McAnally, the local promoter running the weekend's races, said he'll do what he can to keep the noise down.

"These people could have been taken care of a long time ago. I sympathize with them," he said. "I'm trying to help them by running the louder cars earlier. I'm doing all I can to help them."

Kassis thinks the ultimate solution would be to build a new track, possibly near Thunder Valley.

He and other neighbors built an opposition website, www.nowayspeedway.org, and have peppered the neighborhood with fliers.

The neighbors don't sound impressed by the county's push to deal with the longstanding noise problem.

As nearby resident Mike Bloom puts it: "We have all been complaining to the city and the county for years and got nowhere."

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