Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dixon Is Torn On Its Future

Dixon Is Torn On Its Future
Farm Town Galloping Forward or Forsaking Its Past? Residents Split As Vote Nears.
By Bill Lindelof - Bee Staff Writer

On the outskirts of the Solano County town of Dixon are businesses common to communities that skirt a freeway: franchise fast food outlets and a Wal-Mart.

That's part of the new Dixon, a farming town that has sprouted from a population of 1,500 in the mid-1950s to more than 17,000 today.

The old Dixon -- incorporated in 1878 -- is off the freeway where the homes have big porches and the businesses retain an agricultural connection.

The western wear shop in old town sells boot-cut Levis. Hay trucks rumble through town past the John Deere tractor dealership.

In Dixon's barbershops and restaurants, conversation is about an upcoming election that will affect the new and old.

The April 17 referendum is over a proposed horse-racing track along the freeway edge of Dixon. Some residents say the track will bring higher property values for their homes and generate jobs.

Others say they like Dixon the way it is. They worry about crime and too much growth.

As the election for the farm town and bedroom community 25 miles southwest of Sacramento heads into the home stretch, folks have taken sides.

In a chair at Prime Time Barbershop, Robert Stake, a 27-year-old electrician, is sure how he will vote on the four ballot questions that will decide whether the racetrack is built.

"I'll be voting for it. We purchased a house about a year ago," he said. "The track will bring up home values. And it's a job builder."

The alternative, he said, is worse. He worried aloud that developers could decide to construct a truck stop on the freeway frontage site if the racetrack is defeated.

Less than a block away from the barbershop, Clay Hart, a 42-year-old cook at Dawson's Bar and Grill, was writing "Fish & Chips $6.99" on a sign outside the restaurant.

All the talk around town these days is about the proposed track, Hart said.

"It's the Hatfields vs. the McCoys," he said.

Dixon residents will vote on four referendums -- measures M, N, O and P -- that will decide the fate of the project. Hart said he understands why people support the track but he will say nay to horseracing in Dixon.

"I feel that the Chamber of Commerce isn't savvy enough to deal with the track people," he said. "I'm voting against it."

Canada-based Magna Entertainment Corp. wants to build a $250 million racetrack near Interstate 80 at Pedrick Road. The company also will provide a spot for other sports at its proposed Dixon Downs horse-racing track by converting the track's infield into 14 acres of community athletic fields.

Dixon, on the Interstate 80 corridor between the Bay Area and Sacramento, has long been a farm town. Increasingly, it has become the home of new housing for commuters.

Regina Fish, waiting for her order at the Dixon Drive-in, went to Dixon High School and recalled how there was not much doing in town. She said kids in her day would have a keg party under some trees for something to do.

There's still not much for kids to do, she said. Fish, who has plenty to keep herself busy today with motherhood, hopes the track will bring activity for young people.

Specifically, she hopes her three boys -- Nicholas, 6, Nolan, 2, and Nathan, 4, sucking on milk shakes in the back seat of her car -- will enjoy the ball fields promised as part of the new track and perhaps even the employment when they grow up.

She has already voted for the track by absentee ballot.

"We gotta grow," she said. "Everybody used to know everybody when I was younger. We have to continue to change with the times."

The election, she said, will be close.

In his house nearby, John Grahl, 86, being tended to by a visiting nurse, is sure he doesn't want any horse track in town.

Grahl, a retired Bechtel piping superintendent, has bad circulation in his legs that requires them to be bandaged. He said he will ride his motorized wheelchair to the polls to vote against the track.

Big signs, erected on the perimeter of his property by track opponents, say: "No Dixon Downs." Other signs in favor of the track just down the street retort: "Don't Let Dixon Down."

Grahl, like the political signs, is of two minds on the question of a racetrack.

"First of all, I don't feel I have a right to tell a man what to do with his property," he said. But he doesn't like the element that some tracks bring.

Grahl said he still owns a house near Magna's Gulfstream Park racetrack north of Miami. He said he had to put a chain-link fence around his property to keep out people he called "trash."

"They would break the windows in my car to get in to sleep at night," he said.

Back at the Prime Time Barbershop, talk about the sport of kings -- horse racing -- continued for some time. Prime Time is a sport-themed barbershop -- its walls decorated with the likes of a framed Mike Bibby jersey and a poster of Muhammad Ali.

Barbershop owner Carlos Preciado lives in Woodland so he is not eligible to vote. But he still has an opinion.

"Some people want Dixon small, some people want it big," he said. "I just want more business."

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