A group of California property owners and residents are suing the County of Monterey (which owns WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca) over increased activity at the track and the resulting increases in noise, traffic, and other environmental issues.
In its Complaint and Petition filed with the Superior Court of California, County of Monterey, on December 12, 2023, the Highway 68 Coalition claims that the County of Monterey was incorrect in approving the current Concession Agreement with Friends of Laguna Seca in 2023 because the County used “categorical exemptions to excuse the preparation and consideration of a legally adequate environmental review pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).”
The CEQA, according to the (California) Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, “requires public agencies to ‘look before they leap’ and consider the environmental consequences of their discretionary actions. CEQA is intended to inform government decision-makers and the public about the potential environmental effects of proposed activities and to prevent significant, avoidable environmental damage.”
According to the Highway 68 Coalition, the only environmental reviews occurred in 1974, when ownership of the property was transferred from the U.S. Army to the County of Monterey, and in 1983, when the County Planning Commission approved Use Permit No. 2991 “governing the operation and general development of Laguna Seca.” Neither of those environmental reviews, however, focused on motor vehicle racing or “assessed the sound generated from such activities,” claims the Highway 68 Coalition.
The group of local residents also contends that the 2023 Concession Agreement with Friends of Laguna Seca, unlike previous agreements, places no limit on the amount of event days WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca can host and no sound limitations on any motor vehicles “including racecars,” opening the door for increased activity and noise, which they claim is already happening.
Highway 68 Coalition alleges activity at Laguna Seca Raceway has “substantially increased” from 2021 through 2023 “compared to similar operations from 1974 until 2021,” increasing noise and traffic while providing inadequate water supply and water quality, and inadequate waste water disposal.
All of that, says the Highway 68 Coalition, has adversely impacted local residents and property owners.
The Highway 68 Coalition also claims that racing activity at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca isn’t even allowed under a 1983 Use Permit and the County’s Zoning Codes, which were established in 1985. But in the same complaint, the coalition quotes Section 21.68.020 of the County’s zoning code, which reads “Any use of land, structure or land and structure which was legally established but is nonconforming to subsequently adopted land use regulations is a legal nonconforming use.”
But unlike some media reports and Internet forum headlines, the lawsuit is not trying to completely shut down WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Highway 68 Coalition is asking the court to order the County of Monterey and Friends of Laguna Seca to “cease and desist” from allowing activity at Laguna Seca Raceway to produce noise levels “in excess of the level of use and noise that existed at the time…when the applicable zoning was established” in 1985.
The Highway 68 Coalition is also asking the court to “vacate and set aside” the County of Monterey’s approval of the 2023 Concession Agreement and to “rescind the Notice of Exemption for the Concession Agreement” and to direct the County to “comply with the requirements of CEQA” and “to comply with Monterey County Code Title 21.84.050 when reviewing any proposed Concession Agreement.”
In a statement, the County of Monterey responded: “It is unfortunate certain individuals have chosen to file a complaint against the County concerning operations at Laguna Seca. The County does not recognize any merit to the allegations and expects a favorable legal conclusion. In the meantime, the lawsuit does not impact Laguna Seca’s scheduled activities and events for 2024.
“Laguna Seca, a world-renowned racetrack and recreation area, has been under the successful ownership of the County of Monterey for 50 years. The facility has become a vital economic asset for the County and the entire region. Beyond its economic contributions, Laguna Seca has served as a hub for charitable initiatives, allowing local organizations to host events and raise millions of dollars for noble causes.”
In 2022, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca produced an economic impact of $247 million in the Monterey County area from just its six spectator events, according to a survey of ticket purchasers. And that does not take into account spending by people attending the dozens of track days, schools, and non-racing events at the track.
“The County of Monterey is dedicated to continuing its responsible stewardship of Laguna Seca and ensuring that the community benefits from this unique resource,” the statement from the County of Monterey continued. “Business operations will proceed as usual, reflecting our steadfast commitment to maintaining the legacy of Laguna Seca as a thriving recreational destination.
“While the County acknowledges the existence of the legal process initiated by the local coalition, it remains confident in the merits of its position. The County anticipates a speedy resolution to the litigation and is committed to upholding the values that have made Laguna Seca an integral part of Monterey County for half a century.”
A hearing on this case has been scheduled for June 20, 2024.