Thomas Sowell

In typical California style, T-shirts have begun to appear with the slogan, "Save Bay Meadows."

What are Bay Meadows? A lovely pristine natural vista? Not really. Bay Meadows is an old race track that has seen better days, both physically and financially, and is scheduled to be torn down.

Who would have thought that people who play the horses would become sentimental about the place where they lost their money? Actually, this too is not quite what it might seem to be.

The drive to save Bay Meadows is being spearheaded by a woman who never went to a single race at Bay Meadows in all the 19 years that she has lived in San Mateo County, where the track is located. Why then the concern, the angst and the T-shirts?

Like so many campaigns to "save" this or that, the campaign to save Bay Meadows is as phony as a three-dollar bill. An old race track is not the issue.

The real issue is that there are plans to build housing and offices on the vast acreage currently taken up by the race track, its stables and its parking lot. More than half of San Mateo County is already off-limits to building anything.

It is not a question of nature or beauty. You couldn't build the Taj Mahal in San Mateo County. The objection to tearing down an old nondescript race track is about preventing anything from being built in its place, least of all apartments or town houses or whatever else passes for "high-density housing" in California.

"We are against the character of the city changing," said one of the founders of the Save Bay Meadows Citizens Group.

Just what is the character of San Mateo County and how might it change if -- forgive the word -- developers got hold of the sacred soil on which the race track now stands?

San Mateo County is an affluent liberal community where most people are home-owners, rather than renters, and where both housing prices and rents are astronomical. There are some nice homes in San Mateo County, though you would never mistake it for Beverly Hills or Malibu. It is not that there are so many grand homes in the county, but that ordinary homes command grand prices because of severe restrictions on building.

San Mateo County has 707,000 people, fewer than 25,000 of whom are black. Moreover, the black population of San Mateo County fell by nearly 10,000 in one decade, even though the total population of the county rose by more than 50,000. The rising average age in the county suggests that families with children are finding the housing prices too rich for their blood, just as blacks do.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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