Start, Laguna Seca, IndyCar, 2023

Racing at Laguna Seca threatened by locals’ court case


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Laguna Seca in California has become the latest circuit to face a threat to its activities from locals.

A group of residents known as the Highway 68 Coalition has brought a legal action alleging the venue is exceeding the amount of track activities permitted by the region’s zoning restrictions.

The track held CART IndyCar races until 2004. It joined the current IndyCar calendar five years ago and the series is due to return in June. IMSA and other series also visit the 3.6-kilometre permanent track.

However, Highway 68 claim the land it sits on was not approved to be used or rented out for driving and racing cars. Although they acknowledge these activities have been permitted as a “legal nonconforming use” since 1985, they believe such use must not “intensify” over that period.

In their submission to the Superior Court of the State of Monterey, Highway 68 argue the use has increased over the past three years compared to the period between 1971 and 2021. The locals state this has led to an increase in noise levels, traffic and potentially on-site pollution.

Highway 68 are seeking an injunction to prevent racing at the circuit and stop it from being rented out. Besides the national and international series which visit the venue, it is in regular use as a ‘track day’ venue.

Other permanent racing circuits around the globe face difficulties in their relationships with the communities surrounding them. Noise, traffic and pollution are common causes for complaint and it’s typical for circuits to face limits on how often they may hold events which exceed certain noise levels.

Last year the Imola in Italy was fined after exceeding a limit on noise when Red Bull ran an F1 car at the Emilia-Romagna venue the previous October.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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29 comments on “Racing at Laguna Seca threatened by locals’ court case”

  1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    22nd January 2024, 11:57

    It’s funny how the Realtor or Estate Agent somehow “forgets” to mention the near by motor racing circuit when they sell houses in these areas.

    1. Funny how people do not do their own due diligence and then complain that they didn’t know about a whacking great racing circuit!

    2. Laguna Seca was built in 1957 and surrounded by some insanely expensive real estate. Pebble Beach, Carmel By the Sea (Clint Eastwood), Monterey (Concourse D’Elegance), etc. Hard to imagine people wouldn’t know about the track or be told by a real estate agent if wealthy enough to purchase near it, but it could be quite annoying to live near it if you’re a billionaire. The track is quite busy. Their calendar is only completed till March for some reason, but every month is about half filled with events. IndyCar race in June, many other events all year.

      1. Was the area expensive in 1957 as well?

    3. Funny how the group are called “Highway 68”, named after, guess what? A road.
      I presume every single one of them drives exclusively electric vehicles? Hmm….

  2. I live less than a fifth of a mile from one of the corners at England’s only street circuit, the noise from the bikes resonates all over the town and never, ever gets tiresome.

    1. Oliver’s Mount??

      1. That’s the one!

  3. Step 1: Buy cheap land near an existing noisy and polluting installation (airport, circuit etc).
    Step 2: Build your home in said land.
    Step 3: Complaint that the noise and the pollution affect your health and wellbeing (and most importanly the value of your home).
    Step 4: ???
    Step 5: Profit.

    1. Another issue is that the land surrounding circuits like this one gained value due to people getting there for tourism activities linked directly and indirectly to motorsport, and now the residential owners want to kick out the racing? nono, go somewhere else farther. Unsurprisingly this is happening a lot around the world with traditional motorsport venues. We as motorsport fans should support the opposite, buy land close to circuits to support the continuity of the venues and block these damn realtors, and support the venues we like showing up every time we can.

      1. Totally agree with Aetost & jpvalverde85.
        These realtor vultures and their political accomplices should face some proper resistance. It’s long overdue. Decades, in fact.

        The moaning about “pollution” from one single racetrack is a method they use, as you both have correctly pointed out above. What we are seeing is realtors and politics in symbiosis – and that, my friends, is a form of financial fascism.

        No wonder most of Californians find themselves priced out of a home these days. Remember Jefferson’s words anyone…?

        It’s because of things like this. “Zoning regulations” (realtors & politics in symbiosis) are one of many things that just ruin life for many. Because this over-regulation eventually removes one of the main driving forces that humans absolutely need, namely hope.

        I strongly support your thoughts about motorsport fans considering buying places close to tracks/venues. And keep the real estate vultures out. Wherever you can.

        1. I urge you all to take a look at Google Maps and zoom in on the surroundings of Laguna Seca.

          There’s an area to the east of the track which has not (yet) been built up – between the race track and Creekside, along Highway 68. I wonder if that might be an area which has been “zoned” for (expensive) real estate recently. Would not surprise me a bit.

          I may very well be wrong of course.
          But it would be very interesting to have some input from anyone living in California, particularly in the vicinity of Laguna.

          1. The developers are likely bankrolling this new “coalition,” but whiners who knew the track was there and still complain will jump on board. Hopefully, all the wealthy and powerful patrons of Laguna Secs will ensure the wealthy and powerful developers don’t win.

          2. I hope you’re right @Nick T.

    2. I live about four hours away from Laguna. I’ve driven it, competed as a mechanic (club level), spectated and on one occasion, attended with a press pass. My first event there was the 1973 Can-AM race wherein Mark Donahue did a Verstappen in the Penske Porsche 917 Roadster.

      Fort Ord was a U.S. Army facility that covered 44 square miles (114 square kilometers). Within that area, Laguna Seca sits atop some very large hills – mostly down in a bowl and was leased by the Army to the (City of) Monterey Chamber of Commerce in August 1957.

      Fort Ord closed in 1994 and most of the land was returned to the State of California.

      In time, some of the land was developed and one-off homes were built not far from the circuit. California law requires that prospective home owners be notified of such things as noise from racing circuits; so no one living up there can say they didn’t know (I briefly had a real estate license).

      I knew a couple who bought a home up there about fifteen years ago. The next time I saw them, they were complaining about the noise to anyone who would listen. I asked them if they had been informed of the circuit and noise prior to buying and they responded (if reluctantly) that they had. “Then what’s the problem?” I inquired. Appearing incensed, they said nothing and changed the subject.

      Complaints from home owners in the area is nothing new, but it’s always kind of scary. Riverside International in Southern California closed due to urban sprawl and the political pressure brought by new home owners (who again, couldn’t say they didn’t know) and developers hoping to get their hands on the land to make a buck.

      Nothing new under the sun – disgusting as it may be sometimes.

      1. Thank you for this insight – it is very relevant. Much appreciated.

  4. California being California…

    1. This is an every state thing, but sure, buy into the stereotype.

      1. California does make it hard to run a business. It’s not a coincidence companies like Tesla, Oracle, Charles Schwab and Chevron and been relocating for years.

  5. Though it’s easy to write off the complaints as whining from people who chose to live near a race track, if it’s true that the use of said track hasn’t been properly managed since 1985 (!) that’s definitely something worth bringing to a court, who will probably refer it back to the local government to sort it out.

    Not having proper guidelines on when and how often the track can be used should have been addressed by the track owners and led to agreements with local governments, as leaving it to the whims of whoever gets to decide whether or not they’ll ‘tolerate’ the activities is very shaky grounds to build a business on. Especially one as expensive as a race track.

    1. Perhaps you make a good point but there’s a number of odd things that don’t add up with their complaints.

      Firstly it’s a golfing resort nearest to the track which I assume isn’t regular housing. There’s a also a shooting range in between the track and the resort lol. Not sure how quiet a shooting ranch is.

      Otherwise it’s some housing on the other side of highway 68 which is at least a decent mile away at it’s closest. And of course separated by a highway. Most noise from automobiles on roads is actually just from the tyres running against the surface of the road. Highways are not quite.

      There’s also a fair amount of trees in-between these housing areas and the highway, which do reduce spuds getting through.

      Also there’s an airport not at all far which has it’s runway pointed directly at this area. Hard to imagine the planes being quiet for gw residents near the track.

      It also seems that the track is up a hill for the highway and I would imagine that further reduces the noise reaching the housing below the highway, if true.

      It would be interesting to know if the complaint is coming mainly from the resort and investors looking to build east of the track.

      I don’t entirely doubt their noise complaints but you have to think there’s more going on, even as someone mentioned the unused land to the east of the track and so on. They will do whatever they can to have the track shut down entirely for housing to be built next to it

      Quite frankly it seems all a bit stupid. Race track if all kinds get a lot of flack from local residents. Even small go kart/ drift tracks that are nestled directly next to airports!! Can you believe that!?

    2. No. Changing usage has been forced down the track’s throat by these same people. Events at Laguna Seca have been reduced ten-fold since the 1980s and these people still whine.

      1. They’re going to put one of America’s best tracks out of business and then they’ll be whining their economy has dried up.

        1. A few hundred “little people” will complain about losing jobs at the track and businesses dedicated to serving racers’ needs, but the people complaining right now are mostly folks with tech and VC money.

  6. The area around Laguna Seca is packed with NIMBY types. It’s one of the most expensive areas in California, so property developers and land owners have a lot of power over the local government. In the United States local governments hold almost all the power in the land use decision making processes. I doubt this Highway 68 coalition will be successful in limiting Laguna Seca’s operations, but similar groups have successfully used these tactics to block new development or limit existing land uses. At the same time poor people can’t even get industries to stop polluting their air with cancer causing emissions like in Texas. It’s all upside down.

    1. property developers and land owners have a lot of power over the local government.

      Especially when a majority of people, as in California, don’t bother to vote in (state) elections.

      This is an unfortunate situation that, like in many other places, privileges the voices of those who do vote, which are generally the people described in other posts; the wealthy and well-connected. It’s not their fault that they do vote of course, but it does skew the results and thus the actions and priorities of local governments.

      Though it’s easy to be cynical, voting really does matter. Mail it in if you have to; don’t waste it.

  7. One day, the only permanent circuit remaining in the States will be Thermal Club, the only place where the locals are 100% pro racing!

  8. “Superior Court of the State of Monterey” – congratulations to Monterey on becoming the 51st State!

    The correct court name should be: “Superior Court of California, Monterey Division”

  9. Some of my best memories of racing, on and off the track, are of Laguna Seca. Events like the the FIA-GT in 97 and 98 watching the Mercedes Benz CLK-GTR and the then AMG Team standout plus Champcar, the American LeMans Series, etc. Most likely the local lobby group has little if any interest in racing, tourism or economic development. It must be traffic more than anything else as the circuit is built in a natural amphitheater and not much sound escapes! The scary fact is that the circuit is run by the local County so politics may well put the death nail into its future not the courts. Sad as it is regarded by most of the racing community as a special jewel with unique track features like the 7 story drop from the corkscrew to the start/finish line. Greg Moore, Riccardo Zonda, B Schnieder, Klaus Ludwig, to name a few, all loved Laguna Seca from my conversations with them at the track!

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