Berkeley, Albany consider what's next for Golden Gate Fields: 'We are going to think big!'

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Saturday, June 8, 2024
Berkeley, Albany consider what's next for Golden Gate Fields
Berkeley and Albany are considering what's next for Golden Gate Fields after its permanent closure this weekend.

ALBANY, Calif. (KGO) -- When the last horse crosses the finish line this weekend at Golden Gate Fields, a new era and new opportunities will begin.

"It is the end of an era. And we recognize that. But I think now is the time for us to imagine something different for Golden Gate Fields," said Mayor Jesse Arreguin for the City of Berkeley.

Mayor Arreguin says this is big opportunity to develop one of the most prized properties in the entire Bay Area. He says the city's last plan for Golden Gate Fields dates back to 1986, which allowed for a hotel and composting facility.

"I think that we can all agree that a composting facility is not the highest or best use of that very, very valuable real estate," Arreguin said. "Now it is 2024. We are going to take a fresh look. We are going to think big and be bold about what the vision is. And I am very excited."

One-third of the 140 acres are in Berkeley. Two-thirds are in Albany. Arreguin says the two cities are working on a joint redevelopment plan. Some possibilities include keeping much of it as open space, housing and commercial developments, even a hospital.

RELATED: Final weekend of horse races at historical Golden Gate Fields begins before permanent closure

Golden Gate Fields is set to hold its last races this weekend before it closes for good as part of a consolidation effort.

Albany's Mayor John Miki was not available for an interview. But whatever the cities decide, there are huge obstacles ahead.

"We are going to have to amend our general plans to allow for whatever is going to be at Golden Gate Fields. In fact, that's going to go to the voters in Albany to approve whatever plan," said Mayor Arreguin.

Even if the area is rezoned, there are number of state and regional stakeholders that will be involved in the approval process.

The cities also don't own the land, although they do have regulatory approval over it. The property owners, Stronach Group, did not return request for comment.

There are also other issues, such as traffic and rising sea levels.

RELATED: Trainer, fans reflect on final horse racing season at Golden Gate Fields

"I think whatever happens there, we need to make sure that any redevelopment plan needs to adapt to the threat of rising sea levels. Because we know that's real. We are already seeing that," says Arreguin.

"All of the area that is in Berkeley and in Albany that's low-land, was all marsh. And it is filled. It will liquefy in any kind of an earthquake," said Robert Cheasty. He is the executive director of Citizens For East Shore Parks, and the former mayor of Albany.

Cheasty says it would require enormous amounts of diking to prepare and protect the land for housing. He adds, if it does get that far, it'll likely end up in court.

"There would be a fight over this. The environmental community would not be in favor of those kinds of development proposals, and it would resist. And there would be a knock-down, drag out. It would just never happen," Cheasty said.

Mayor Arreguin says even if everything goes according to plan, it could five to seven years before construction would even begin.