A group that rents Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress 10 weeks a year for quarter-horse racing has asked for a court order blocking its landlord's plans for a $100-million development project near the track.
The Horsemen's Quarter Horse Racing Assn. claims that the development plans of Hollywood Park Realty Enterprises Inc. would "interfere with or destroy" its lease, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court.
Cypress Mayor Otto J. Lacayo said he was surprised by the court challenge to the development proposal, which he called important to the city. The City Council had scheduled a final vote on the proposals Monday.
The association sought a court order Friday that would block the building plans of Hollywood Park. In 1984, Hollywood Park in Inglewood bought the track and 300 acres of surrounding land for $58 million.
Hollywood Park has announced deals to develop three parcels of land covering 160 acres surrounding the track. Officials said the development--which would involve a combination of land sales and joint-venture projects--is needed to pay off the debt Hollywood Park incurred to purchase the track.
The development would include a hotel and light industry, as well as office and retail space.
'Fly on an Elephant'
The lawsuit is like "a fly on an elephant," according to Neil Papiano, lawyer and spokesman for Hollywood Park Realty. Papiano said he is confident the suit will not delay the $100-million development package on the largest undeveloped parcel of land in northwest Orange County.
The horsemen's association claims that the developments--principally that of land at the northwest corner of Katella Avenue and Walker Street--will interfere with the lease by:
- Eliminating two gates to the track, on Katella and Walker.
- Destroying part of the parking lot, requiring a reconfiguration that will "severely restrict traffic flow and cause congestion that will discourage patronage."
- Eliminating landscaping and destroying the "aesthetic appeal" of the track.
The association is requesting a court finding that its lease would be affected by the development plans and is seeking an order blocking the projects.
Papiano said Hollywood Park has plans for more than $5 million in improvements to the track facilities, including replacing the existing clubhouse and the construction of a turf club. He said parking would be increased by 10% to 20% if development plans are approved.
"Either it's just for harassment, or they don't understand what's being proposed," Papiano said of the lawsuit.
"This catches me totally cold," Mayor Lacayo said. "I understood (that) the horsemen were under the impression that a portion of the current parking lot that has not been used would be rezoned."
Lacayo said the development around the track is "definitely important" to the city. The city has no interest in the land, but tax revenues it now receives from all 300 acres amount to about $750,000 annually, mainly from the track. Lacayo said future tax revenues are estimated at $900,000 a year on just one 10-acre portion of the property planned for development.
Suit to Determine Rights
Racing association vice president James S. Smith said the lease dispute made it "necessary to file a lawsuit to have the court determine what our rights really are."
"The park is attempting to sell for development property which we have under lease," Smith said. "We are particularly concerned about plans now before the City of Cypress to develop part of our existing parking lot."
Los Alamitos is used more than 200 days annually. The association leases the track for 10 weeks each year for quarter-horse racing. The remainder of the racing dates are staged by Hollywood Park and the Orange County Fair.
"We want to make sure our lease rights are enforced," Smith said. "We have been a substantial tenant for 15 years. Our only objective is to see Los Alamitos is developed into a first-class facility for our patrons and our industry."
Lacayo said he understood that a portion of the development package includes a commitment by Hollywood Park to make substantial improvements at the Los Alamitos track. The track is in about the same condition as it was at the time of Hollywood Park's purchase.
"One of the specific requirements we're asking Hollywood Park for is a development agreement that requires some of the proceeds from the sale would be put back into improving the race track," Lacayo said.
"Hollywood Park has presented plans for improvements to the clubhouse," Lacayo said. "We're looking for a commitment on paper that as land is sold off money will be put back into the race track to improve it."
Two weeks ago, the secretary of the California Horse Racing Board severely criticized Hollywood Park's operation of harness racing at Los Alamitos. In a letter from the board, security, staffing and quality of publicity were criticized. Papiano said the letter was a routine list of suggested improvements in park operations.