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Lompoc City Council Pulls Plug on Controversial Motorsports Project Proposal

Motorcross, drag strip complex on Lompoc Airport land sought — but won’t get — $140,000 from city for a newly required federal environmental review

Lompoc City Manager Patrick Wiemiller, right, discusses proposed requirements for the Lompoc motorsports park. At left are Councilmen DeWayne Holmdahl and Victor Vega. Click to view larger
Lompoc City Manager Patrick Wiemiller, right, discusses proposed requirements for the Lompoc motorsports park. At left are Councilmen DeWayne Holmdahl and Victor Vega. (Carol Benham / Noozhawk photo)

The Lompoc City Council pulled the plug on a planned motorsports park Thursday evening after a contentious four-hour meeting that brought forth catcalls, applause and threats of lawsuits from a packed chamber of about 150 supporters and opponents.

Mayor Bob Lingl and Councilmen DeWayne Holmdahl and Victor Vega voted to end the Lompoc Valley Park, Recreation and Pool Foundation’s (LVPRPF) planned motorcross and drag strip complex when it became clear the city would have to pay up to another $140,000 to keep the multilayered approval process moving forward.

“Just remember, the foundation has always told us right from the beginning that they would not be asking for city funds,” Lingl said. “And here we are again tonight, and they’re asking for more money.

“We cannot let this become another LHCDC where the city is obligating ourselves to millions of dollars, which this project has the potential of obligating the city to upward of $1 million,” he added, referring to the troubled nonprofit Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation.

Project supporters reacted with anger when the council voted to end the project, which was first approved in June 2012 and is now more than a year behind in scheduled performance benchmarks.

“A few things that bother me is all these people coming forward saying ‘right park, wrong location,’ where is their solution?” asked Susan Ellickson. “They don’t have one.”

She added that the vehicles allowed to race at the park wouldn’t create as much noise as opponents feared.

“They are no louder than the vehicles you are driving next to up and down H Street and up and down Central,” she said. “They didn’t do their homework and y’all bought into it.”

Resident Beth Barto was one of many residents opposed to the proposed park. Click to view larger
Resident Beth Barto was one of many residents opposed to the proposed park. (Carol Benham / Noozhawk photo)

Thursday’s special meeting was convened after city staff discovered the Federal Aviation Administration — which has jurisdiction over the Lompoc Airport where the project would be located — will require a federal National Environmental Protection Act review and an updated airport layout plan before it can approve the use of airport land.

The unexpected work on the federal environmental review and airport plan would have to begin immediately. The foundation asked the city to pay the estimated $140,000 cost because it does not have the funds at this time.

Although city staff said a $1 million state grant the city received in December 2013 would be available to repay the added expenses, the time required to complete the two unplanned FAA requirements could result in the city defaulting on a key grant deadline it must meet to be eligible to receive reimbursement.

“Even though there’s an anticipation of repayment, there’s no guarantee that this will be repaid, absolutely no guarantee,” Lingl said.

Teresa Gallavan, assistant city manager, said Friday the city could be at risk of losing a total of $315,859 if it agreed to pay for the FAA-required work in addition to funds the city already has spent on a state-mandated environmental impact report, which has yet to be released for public comment.

“I think it’s money that’s going to be lost,” resident Ed Mandibles said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to get through all the environmental impacts for this project. I urge you not to obligate any more money for something that doesn’t have a solid future.”

Most of the 20 residents who spoke against the park said it was a good project in the wrong location and should be relocated outside city limits.

About 150 people packed Lompoc City Council chambers for a meeting on the proposed motorsports project at the Lompoc Airport. Click to view larger
About 150 people packed Lompoc City Council chambers for a meeting on the proposed motorsports project at the Lompoc Airport. (Carol Benham / Noozhawk photo)

Residents of Glen Ellen, Stonebrook, Mesa Oaks and La Purisima Highlands objected to the noise, dirt and traffic impacts on their neighborhoods from park activities. Several residents said they planned to move if the project is built.

An 85-year-old woman who has lived in Lompoc since 1963 said, “This whole situation you’re talking about here is ridiculous. ... It’s going to drive everyone crazy. I’m really, really sad to see this happen to our town.”

Proponents have been working to build a motorsports and drag strip complex since 2010, according to foundation chairman John Linn. The proposal to build the park on 39 acres on airport land was approved when Linn was mayor.

An agreement signed in 2014 between LVPRPF and the city called for the foundation to reimburse city staff time and pay all environmental reviews and mitigations for the use of the land bordering the Santa Ynez River. So far, LVPRPF has given the city only $55,726, including $10,000 on Thursday.

“We were told that this effort would cost the city nothing,” resident Steve Tribble said. “The foundation has only raised between $40,000 and $150,000, depending upon who you ask.

“Require proof of funding before committing any city assets. If they can’t pay for this raceway, then we shouldn’t approve plans to build it either.”

Linn said Friday that the council’s vote was a “poorly thought-out action. The thing that’s so discouraging is we could have let the process finish. And at the end of the process, if the council chose not to let the project be constructed, they could have done that.”

If the city tries to collect the $123,000 the foundation owes it under terms of their agreement, Linn said it would “probably close the foundation and all of its community projects. We don’t have $123,000. It’s that simple.”

Noozhawk contributing writer Carol Benham is a longtime local journalist who lives in Lompoc. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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