Laguna Seca’s Legal Challenge Follows a Stellar Few Years

Jon Ferrey/Getty Images

California 68 is a highway that begins in the town of Pacific Grove at Asilomar State Beach, winds through the Monterey Peninsula, and ends where the road meets U.S. Highway 101 near Salinas.

Along that 26.5-mile route, you’ll find WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course. Built over just two months for $1.5 million, the track opened in 1957 after the Pebble Beach Road Races. That competition was held on public roads for seven years beginning in 1950, ending in 1956 after driver Ernie McAfee, known more for his land speed exploits in his streamliner at Lake Muroc than for road racing, crashed his Ferrari into one of the many trees that lined the street circuit. McAfee was killed.

Laguna Seca Aerial Monterey CA State Gov
County of Monterey/T.M. Hill 2017

For decades, Highway 68 was just a winding, scenic way to get from Monterey to Salinas, with Laguna Seca being one of few notable addresses on the road. In the mid-1960s, California officials made plans for the Highway 68 Expressway, widening parts of the road and essentially serving as a non-stop link between the cities. The idea was popular with travelers but less so with some local residents, who were not pleased with the potential for added traffic.

Vintage Laguna Seca racing action
Flickr/Janet Lindenmuth

In 1974, those residents formed the Highway 68 Coalition to oppose the Expressway. Though the membership of the Coalition has rarely been publicized, one aspect has remained constant: It has categorically challenged growth and development along Highway 68, and multiple lawyers have been employed to make sure the Coalition, self-described as “a social welfare organization made up of property owners and tenants living and/or owning property in the Highway 68 corridor of Monterey County,” is heard loud and clear.

In that respect, the organization has been rather successful. The Coalition opposed the expansion of the Monterey Regional Airport, filing suit in 2011 over a $42 million safety improvement plan. The expansion was delayed and then substantially scaled back. The Coalition filed suit against Ferrini Ranch, a planned residential area that was approved by the government in 2014. Ten years later, there’s still no Ferrini Ranch. The Coalition filed suit against the developers of the Corral de Tierra shopping center, which was to be built on 11 acres after county approval in 2012. The shopping center never happened.

2022 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
Cameron Neveu

While Coalition has complained about Laguna Seca in the past, especially regarding race-day traffic and engine noise of cars and motorcycles, the group’s most cohesive effort is a lawsuit filed December 12, 2023, against the track’s owner, Monterey County; the county’s Board of Supervisors; and the Friends of Laguna Seca, a nonprofit group that considers itself a “steward” of the Laguna Seca Recreational Area, which includes the track. The Friends of Laguna Seca has pledged to raise millions to improve the facility, but the lawsuit asks that the county’s contract with the group be nullified.

“We live here too and share the same concerns as our neighbors about noise and traffic,” said Ross Merrill, president of Friends of Laguna Seca. “Our team of experienced business and community leaders are eager to move forward to revive this staple in our community for decades of future success and revenue generation for Monterey County.”

The Highway 68 Coalition disagrees. The lawsuit claims the track is a “public nuisance,” and wants to bar “motor vehicle racing events, rentals of the racetrack and noise levels at Laguna Seca Raceway in excess of the level of use and noise that existed at the time the legal non-conforming use was established in 1985.”

2022 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
Cameron Neveu

The county backs its 2.2-mile cash cow. “From the county’s perspective, we are asking to get this cleared up so we can continue operations at Laguna Seca, which is a large operation, and doesn’t need this cloud hanging over it,” Deputy County Counsel Michael Whilden told the Monterey County Weekly.

“It is unfortunate certain individuals have chosen to file a complaint against the county concerning operations at Laguna Seca,” said Nicholas M. Pasculli, county communications director. “The county does not recognize any merit to the allegations and expects a favorable legal conclusion.”

Barry Toepke, Laguna Seca’s director of public relations, declined to comment when contacted for this story. The track had a very good 2023 season, and much-needed improvements were made last year, including a complete repaving and a new $18.5-million pedestrian bridge at the start/finish line.

Brandan Gillogly

Indeed, the track contributes considerably to the county coffers, as well as area businesses. A year ago, the track announced that surveys conducted of ticket purchasers “who attended the six major race events in 2022 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca revealed an impressive total direct spend of $246,929,648.” In the words of John Narigi, president and general manager of the track: “Laguna Seca is coming back to life.”

For the Highway 68 Coalition, that is a problem.

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca’s official calendar lists just nine events, including a Trans-Am race, an IMSA race, an IndyCar race, a MotoAmerica Superbike race, and the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. At the same time, a press release from Laguna Seca mentions “a near-daily track rental program.” In the first 10 days of February, rentals range from the Restless Wheels RV Club to IndyCar NXT series testing, from Pacific Motorcycle Training to a Hooked on Driving high-performance track day.

Brandan Gillogly

According to the lawsuit, “These increases include, but are not limited to, more racetrack event days, higher permitted noise levels, additional track rental days with intensified noise in excess of 100 dB, increased traffic, inadequate water supply and water quality, inadequate sewage disposal and expansion of the camping grounds.”

“This stuff is well-documented,” attorney Richard H. Rosenthal, counsel for the Highway 68 Coalition, told the website “All you have to do is look at what they’re leasing the track out for between 1985 and 2000 and then now, currently. You’ll see a very intensive impact and expanded level of use and noise at Laguna Seca.” reached out to Rosenthal for further comment, but we haven’t yet heard back. We wanted to ask if the Highway 68 Coalition’s membership solely consists of one individual, Michael Weaver, who is the only individual plaintiff mentioned in court documents related to the lawsuit. We’ll update the story if we receive a response.

Meanwhile, none of Laguna Seca’s 2024 events are expected to be affected. After that, it’s up to the courts.




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    I suspect there is a developer behind this that would jump in and scoop up the track property should they be banned.

    This is all about money and land not so much noise.

    I would mostly agree. I’m sure there is someone who hates the noise even though they should have known when they moved in what to expect.

    Developers likely yes, but not to redevelop the property. One, it’s county owned and would likely revert to its use as a park and campground. Two, it’s almost entirely encircled by restricted land posted with Caution, Live Ordinace signs from when it bordered Fort Ord. Cleaning up that mess would cost billions.

    This is more about the mansions being built up the road. The whole buy a house near an airport and complain thing.

    Funny they don’t mention the on site rifle and pistol ranges. Maybe they’re next.

    Regardless, it’s too bad they couldn’t sell a few dozen of those mansions to car people. Some of us would really appreciate that opportunity if we had the money.

    We have been living on the Monterey Peninsula after my father (Navy) was transferred here in the late 60’s.
    As children we helped in my father in the Navy booth set up during the races.
    We met a lot of race car drivers.. Michael Andretti and more,he was very approachable.
    Laguna Seca events brings alot of monies to the Peninsula including for charity’s.
    Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty!!
    What kind of Narcissistic person would move to an area where they know a professional race track is located and have been and is one of the known signatures of the Monterey Peninsula..
    We who are on the Peninsula have noticed people moving to the Peninsula and bringing their attitudes of self absorbing from where they came from.
    If you don’t like what the Monterey Peninsula have & the things that are here, first it’s okay to visit but don’t move here..second if you did move here the leave..respectively

    Gotta love busybodies that want to tell everyone else how to use their land. If you don’t want races there, make an offer to buy the racetrack from the county. If you don’t want a shopping center on a piece of land, buy it. Otherwise keep yer trap closed.

    I enjoyed Rennsport Reunion VII last year. Laguna Seca is an impressive facility. Highway 68 needs additional lanes. The Right of Way is already there. It could greatly help the people who live there as well. I started tracking at Road Atlanta in the 1980s when it was in in the middle of nowhere, literally. As the development around Road Atlanta progressed,the noise levels had to diminish. It was a pain at first. After all, we, the track junkies, were there first. Now, I say to place mufflers on all the cars and keep the noise down, it helps the racers race and keeps the neighbors happy. As I say, I am glad that I didn’t discover Laguna Seca earlier. The trip to and from would have drained my personal finances greatly.

    I lived in an agricultural area where a housing development was built, 250 plus homes. Of course the city rezoned it to accommodate the site. It was next to a huge and very productive pistachio orchard. ( you probably see where this going). For decades, the farmer used bang guns to keep the birds from eating the crop. Like track days, this did not occur all year long. People were told of the noise before buying a home. Only took 3 years before the farmer was shut down, the property rezoned residential. The word is entitlement. There are so many people like this. I have a long love affair with this track like so many others. Some many Historic / Pebble Beach weekends.

    With some easy research there appears to be only one dwelling(questionable)wit

    hin the 2500 ft. rule that could be affected by the decibel limit reading.
    There us a sound box in turn 5 that monitors it. Also some wording of what creates the limit.

    Monterey County Municipal Codes
    10.60.030 – Operation of noise-producing devices restricted.

    At any time of the day, it is prohibited within the unincorporated area of the County of Monterey to operate, assist in operating, allow, or cause to be operated any machine, mechanism, device, or contrivance which produces a noise level that exceeds eighty-five (85) dBA measured fifty (50) feet therefrom. The prohibition in this Section shall not apply to aircraft nor to any such machine, mechanism, device or contrivance that is operated in excess of two thousand five hundred (2,500) feet from any occupied dwelling unit.

    (Ord. 2450 § 3, 1978)
    (Ord. No. 5250, § 5, 12-16-2014; Ord. No. 5315, § 1, 7-23-2019)

    If you build a house down wind from a pig farm, learn to live with the smell. They were there first.
    The race track was there first, put up with the noise, it is a lot more tolerable than the smell of the pig farm 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

    The racetrack brings money to the city and county. It’s been around since the late 50s. I’d say only a resident who’s lived within a mile or two of the track longer than the track has been in operation has a complaint. And that’s probably unlikely. So………… track was there first, live with a few race weekends. And the noise. Or leave.

    The Homes where in place long before the homes were built! Move if you don’t like it. So RICH must be the RIGHT!

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