Sound Levels Force Drag Shutdown

Sound levels that exceeded  the state’s industrial limit and a flawed environmental impact report combined with the operators’ failure to comply with conditional use standards led to the court order closing down the drag racing strip at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, an examination of court and county land use division documents shows.
Starting in 2006, what were at first unsanctioned drag races were initiated in the parking lot of the raceway, which opened in 1997 and hosts a variety of racing events, including NASCAR sanctioned races. The drag races resulted in sound levels reaching and exceeding 100 decibels as measured on nearby residential properties.
Complaints to county authorities about the unsanctioned drag races did not result in their cessation, however. Rather, county officials were persuaded that some off-road venue was needed for drag racing activity so as to limit illegal racing on public streets. In 2007, the county began granting permits to the organizers of the events under the aegis of the Pacific Street Car Association.
Unable to convince county officials to disallow the races, which because of the intensity of speed and acceleration of the competing vehicles were a third again louder than the race track engines, nearby residents hired the law firm of Chatten-Brown and Carstens to represent them in further negotiations or legal actions pertaining to the drag strip.
Initial restrictions placed on the speedway’s operators prohibited sound emanations of more than 75 decibels reaching the near-lying residential neighborhoods east and north of the racetrack. The drag strip’s sound levels routinely exceeded the standards, but no enforcement action against the facility or its management was taken by the county.
Opponents sued and achieved a ruling in 2009 that an environmental impact report be completed before any permanent permit for a drag strip could be granted. In response, the county  approved a supplemental environmental impact report in November 2010. Drag strip opponents cried foul, asserting that the drag strip’s proponents had misled the county over the intensity of the impact on the neighboring properties.
“In September 2010, just as the environmental impact study was being conducted and was reaching a crucial phase, the speedway’s management temporarily relocated the Pacific Street Car Association events to Las Vegas,” said Sal Lopez, who since 1991 has lived with his family in a home in a residential area adjacent to the drag strip. “That relocation took place just days before a hearing of the planning commission at which the environmental impact study was to be considered for recommendation to the board of supervisors.  The attorney for the speedway recommended relocating that event because they did not want to raise any red flags, and those were their specific words. A few days after the event was moved to Vegas, we had the hearing and the planning commission voted to recommend to the board of supervisors that they certify the environmental impact study. During that hearing, planning commissioner  Michael Cramer stated they would not acknowledge documents challenging the legality of the environmental impact report attorneys from Chatten-Brown and Carstens were presenting and said they would not take that into consideration during the public meeting. Mr. Cramer was appointed by Paul Biane, who at that time was the Second District supervisor, and who had accepted free tickets and luxury box accommodations at the speedway.  Paul Biane received $38,000 from the speedway for his election campaign and all of the supervisors received money from the speedway either shortly before or after the environmental impact study received certification. On November 2, 2010 the supervisors certified the environmental impact study and on November 5, 2010, the Auto Club Speedway continued with the Pacific Street Car World Finals events.”
In certifying the supplemental environmental impact report and giving go-ahead for further drag races, the county gave permission for the speedway to hold louder events, raising the noise standards from 75 to 85 decibels to as high as 100 decibels for some events while requiring the construction of a quarter-mile, 20-foot-high sound wall.
While the sound wall was never completed, the races went on, with races taking place three weekends a month.
What was already for some nearby residents an excessive sound level zoomed to an intolerable cacophony.  According to the readings of some noise monitors, the sound reached an intensity greater than 120 decibels as measured on nearby residential properties.
Nearby residents led by Lopez, meanwhile, formed a group that focused upon the impact they believed the sound was having on students at nearby schools. That group called itself CCoMPRES, an acronym for Concerned Community Members of Parents of Redwood Elementary School.  Chatten-Brown and Carstens did not desist in its efforts to have the county seriously consider the plight of those in the area. The law firm continued to challenge the adequacy of the supplemental environmental impact report and in court filings, emphasized that the sound wall had not been completed, that the decibel level of 100, which exceeds the state of California’s industrial sound limit, was being routinely surpassed.
On February 23, Judge Barry Plotkin made a finding that the environmental impact report for the drag strip was fatally flawed and he ordered the county’s approval of the drag strip be set aside and that the races be suspended at least until an adequate environmental impact report is completed and the sound wall, which was stipulated as a condition of the November 2010 approval, be put in place.
Drag racing enthusiasts, functioning under the aegis of an impromptu organization known as Save Auto Club Dragway, are encouraging the county to lead the way in an effort to reopen the strip.  While two dozen of the drag race aficionados importuned the board to appeal Plotkin’s ruling by the April 23 deadline, county officials have put the ball in the court of the raceway and its patrons to either make that appeal themselves or in the alternative foot the bill for a new environmental impact report and complete the construction of the required sound wall.
The current supervisor in the Second District, where the speedway is located, is Janice Rutherford. Rutherford defeated former supervisor Paul Biane in 2010. Among the charges leveled at Biane during that campaign was that he had accepted free tickets and luxury box accommodations from the racetrack’s owners and sponsors. The widespread perception was that Biane had arranged for lax enforcement of regulations at the speedway. That perception, and the suggestion that Biane ended up paying a political price for his participation in petty graft at and through the raceway to the detriment of his constituents who lived in the shadow of the facility, may now be preventing Rutherford from supporting the reopening of the drag strip.

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