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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 7:17 pm | Fair 55º


Motorsports Park Funding Gets Green Light From Lompoc City Council

The audience of about 140 residents spilled into the Lompoc council chamber lobby to hear the deliberations about the proposed motorsports park Tuesday night. Click to view larger
The audience of about 140 residents spilled into the Lompoc council chamber lobby to hear the deliberations about the proposed motorsports park Tuesday night.  (Carol Benham / Noozhawk photo)

Reversing course on a proposed motorsports park, the Lompoc City Council voted 3-2 to continue funding preliminary work on the controversial project after a marathon five-hour meeting Tuesday evening. 

Councilmen Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega voted to continue using city funds to undertake a federal environmental study and a Lompoc Airport master plan update, gambling the federal approval process can be completed in time for the city to remain eligible for reimbursement from a $1 million state grant it received in 2013. 

The vote also extends a line of credit to the park’s sponsor — the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation (LVPRPF) — increasing the amount they will owe the city to $120,939. Altogether, with the new work, the foundation’s share of costs will be $176,634. It has paid the city $55,695 so far.

Before the vote, City Manager Patrick Wiemiller cautioned that paying for the additional work required to complete all the grant requirements for reimbursement would increase the city’s financial exposure from $123,000 to $395,000, including funds already owed by LVPRPF. 

“I just want to be excruciatingly clear and transparent on what is being proposed here in terms of city liability,” Wiemiller said.

The council also agreed to amend the memorandum of understanding with LVPRPF for a third time, extending the foundation’s payment schedule and reducing the grant match the foundation needs to pay from 50 to 26 percent, the minimum required by the state. 

The motorsports project is planned on 39 acres of Lompoc Airport land near the Santa Ynez River and will include an off-highway vehicle riding area and an 1/8-mile drag strip.

Mayor Bob Lingl moved to discontinue funding the project after recounting the project’s history and the initial pledge by LVPRPF in 2012 that no city funds would be needed for the proposed park. 

In November 2015, Lingl said, the council advanced the foundation $120,000 “because after 2-1/2 years the foundation had not been able to raise the money. In May of this year, they asked for another $140,000. The foundation also stopped payment on a $10,000 check they had given the city earlier.

“Based on this type of behavior, why would you have any reasonable expectations that the foundation will repay any future funds to us if something goes wrong?” 

But Lingl’s motion failed 2-3, with only Councilman DeWayne Holmdahl joining Lingl to stop funding the long-delayed project and its missed deadlines and fundraising shortfalls.

During the 90-minute council discussion, Wiemiller and City Attorney Joe Pannone repeatedly tried to clarify that finishing the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and releasing it for public comment — as park supporters asked — does not ensure the city will receive any reimbursement from the state. 

Wiemiller said the city has no control over being able to complete the federal environmental review in time to meet the extended grant deadline of April 15, 2017.

The Federal Aviation Administration has oversight over the federal environmental assessment involving multiple federal agencies, including involvement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We’re basically at their mercy,” Wiemiller said.

Lingl also criticized the foundation chair, former mayor John Linn, for asking the city to advance more city funds on the foundation’s behalf — increasing the city’s financial exposure — so the public can see the draft EIR.

Linn said the release of the EIR would help the foundation with its fundraising efforts. 

“We’d like to see the EIR as well” Lingl said.

“My comment is that you and the foundation didn’t do your job. If you’d been fundraising the way you said you would, you would have had the money to finish the EIR,” he said.

Vega, who was considered the swing vote, defended his previous votes on the project — first, to stop work on the project and then to reconsider the stop-work vote.

“I’m not a flip-flopper. I’m looking out for the city’s money,” Vega said.

After the meeting, Vega said he voted to proceed after conversations with the foundation and the administrator for the state grant.

“This guy was very positive that it can be done in the timeframes. With those time extensions and that flexibility, those were key in the back of my head,” he said. 

“Nobody wants to put the city at risk but there’s a potential to get everything back and the city could recoup all of it. It’s unfortunate that we’re in a situation here where we’re at risk. There was a risk when the second amendment to the MOU was done. That’s where the risk started.”

The vote reverses the council’s action on May 12 to stop work on the project when the city first confirmed it would have to pay for and complete additional work required by the FAA by the end of December in order to receive reimbursement from the state grant.

The council heard more than an hour of public testimony from an audience that overflowed into the lobby of council chambers. More than half the public speakers opposed either the proposed park’s location or risking more city money by extending an unsecured line of credit to the foundation.

Lingl and some speakers compared the situation to the failed Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation, when the city continued awarding public funds long after the nonprofit stopped complying with contractual agreements and regulations.

Linn, who recently announced he will run for mayor, thanked the council members for their vote.

“I know this was a difficult decision for everyone,” Linn said. “I want to assure you that we will work diligently with the city staff to make this go forward. We will raise the money.

“We’re glad to see the environmental document will be out for the public and everyone will be able to determine what the impacts are and then based on the impacts, we can make changes.”

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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