Lompoc is a quiet and friendly place. If you haven’t visited, you might give it a try. There are nearly 30 boutique wineries and tasting rooms, an awesome array of murals on walls all over town and some nice restaurants serving wholesome food.
But this isn’t a travel column — this is about the political scene and some of the more questionable decisions that are being made by our elected leaders and, specifically, Mayor John Linn, who regularly implies that he is the only one who knows the facts during council meetings.
Linn was elected and re-elected by an overwhelming majority of the voters, but this seems to have gone to his head as he rides roughshod over his fellow council members.
He frequently besieges the council with many self-produced fact sheets to support his arguments — sometimes his representation of an issue is much different than the staff analysis. He presents his views as facts, but no one has had a chance to validate their accuracy before council meetings. This tactic is detrimental to a decision-making process that should be based on reliable information.
Before being elected mayor, Linn founded a local foundation dedicated to improving park and recreational venues. At the time things weren’t getting done and he thought he had a better way. To be fair, this organization has made a difference; its premier project was a very popular dog park on an unused piece of city property.
After being elected mayor, Linn relinquished his chairmanship of this organization, but that didn’t deter him from remaining a strong advocate. His cozy involvement with the foundation leads some to believe that he may have a conflict of interest during council deliberations, but he doesn’t think so.
Now the foundation is in the construction phase for a BMX-style bicycle park that will cover several acres. But supporting the BMX park eliminated two Little League baseball fields and six soccer fields, which were originally planned in Riverbend Park — playing areas sorely needed for team sports.
One of his bigger flops was a proposal to build and operate a Space Center — this would have been a museum and informational facility focused on the space programs at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base — but the project proponent didn’t have the right stuff to pull it off.
This didn’t stop the mayor. Even though many well-informed people from around Santa Barbara County warned him that these folks weren’t what they seemed to be, he forged ahead and provided them a forum to present their pitch. And even though the council majority declined to pursue the project, he persisted and brought it back several times in hopes that they would change their minds. Fortunately, better judgment prevailed and they didn’t buy it.
One of the worst decisions he orchestrated was to rescind the ban on the sale of so-called “safe and sane fireworks” in the city. Prior administrations had refused to even discuss the sale and use of fireworks within city limits, reasoning that municipal government shouldn’t encourage dangerous activities.
As scores of residents stood before the council opposing the use of fireworks, Linn, once again using his own questionable fact sheets, marginalized public safety professionals’ warnings that allowing “safe and sane” would only encourage the use of illegal fireworks. He convinced two other council members to go along with his plan.
And, sure enough, during the last Fourth of July, permitting safe and sane fireworks was misconstrued by the public to mean that all fireworks were now OK to use. In the words of police on the street, “Officers who have been with the city for several years agree this year (2013) was by far the most out-of-control fireworks have been, as long as they could remember.”
Many people likened the chaos to a war zone and, according to the staff report, “The level of illegal fireworks activity was such that crews would stop to determine a responsible party, only to have additional discharges take place in the vicinity. Fire Department staff noted the typical scenario that played out over and over; illegal fireworks discharges would be mixed in with ‘safe and sane,’ which only made the enforcement more difficult.”
Linn’s latest misstep was a last-minute proposal to put a business tax increase on the November ballot. This idea hadn’t been vetted through the Economic Development Committee, the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau didn’t support it, and his strong advocacy for a full-time equivalent employee tax would have been a job killer. A clearly agitated mayor lost this battle, but what will he think of next?
So, even though Lompoc appears to be a quiet town with wine-tasting rooms and scores of thought-provoking murals beneath the surface, there are some serious leadership issues.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.