Sound Wall Will Allow Drag Races In Raceway Parking Lot To Resume

(October 25) The imminent construction of a sound wall at the Auto Club Speedway’s north end will clear the way for parking lot drag races to resume there by next year. The erection of the sound wall is a key part of the settlement to a long simmering dispute at the racing venue.
The raceway opened in 1997 and hosts a variety of racing events, including NASCAR sanctioned races. Starting in 2006, what were at first unsanctioned drag races were initiated in the raceway’s parking lot, creating 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, as county officials were persuaded by participants and others 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. 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.
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 formed an action committee, CCOMPRESS (Concerned Community Members and Parents of Redwood Elementary School Students) and intensified its protests with county leaders. When that did not convince the county to end the events or enforce the state’s noise standards, CCOMPRESS  hired the law firm of Chatten-Brown and Carstens to represent them.
CCOMPRESS, represented by Chatten-Brown and Carstens 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. CCOMPRESS  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 the county planning commission voted to recommend to the board of supervisors that it certify the environmental impact study. 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.
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 and that the sound level reached an intensity greater than 120 decibels as measured on nearby residential properties, exceeding the state of California’s industrial sound limit.
On February 23, 2012 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.
In July, 2012, a settlement with CCOMPRESS was reached by the sponsors of the drag race evemts, but it was only within the last few weeks that a move toward building the sound wall, which is estimated to cost about $1 million and be roughly a half-mile in length, has been made. It will be placed between the drag strip and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks. Auto Club Speedway President Gillan Zucker said financial commitments by Auto Club of Southern California, NHRA, SEMA and K&N Filters are scheduled to cover the cost of the wall’s construction.
Sal Lopez, who since 1991 has lived with his family in a home in a residential area adjacent to the drag strip and was a founding member of CCOMPRESS and the most vociferous of protesters against the drag strip, this week told the Sentinel, “The Auto Club Speedway has reached a settlement with CCOMPRESS, represented by Chatten-Brown & Carstens, related to the operation of the Auto Club Dragway. As a result, the Auto Club Speedway may resume operations at the Auto Club Dragway if it first complies with a series of requirements intended to mitigate the environmental impacts to the surrounding community, including construction of a soundwall.”
Beyond that, Lopez said, “We have no further comment.

Leave a Reply