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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 9:30 am | Fair 57º


Ron Fink: 3 Lompoc City Council Members Insist on Repeating Past Mistakes

The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury recently reported that the Lompoc Police Department headquarters are undersized and unable to serve the needs of the community.

Their report says “the Police Department’s building needs a serious upgrade or replacement. The department has outgrown the facility, with dispatch workstations so close to each other they can hear conversations, and closets converted into offices.”

This situation was predictable because when the station was constructed the City Council gleefully pinched pennies. 

On the day they cut the ribbon, the station’s design and construction budget had been cut so drastically that it was already too small — and that was in late 1987. It hasn’t gotten any better in the last 30 years.

Earlier this year the council was considering a proposal to move fire station 2 to a new location to better serve the community.

Instead of trying to correct the mistake made by their predecessors, three council members (Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega) doubled down and rejected the plan.

Keep in mind that when the current station was constructed in 1986 it too was undersized, and the council said it was only “temporary.”

Both of these conditions still exist 30 years later.

Over the last couple of years’ former mayor John Linn has brought two hucksters to town to pitch construction of a Space Center near Allan Hancock College.

Both failed proposals consumed large amounts of staff and council time while exciting the community to support grand proposals that had no economic viability.

Now Linn is proposing a Motor Sports park with the same type of unrealistic economic growth predictions. A nonprofit group he founded and currently chairs has committed to funding the construction, operation and maintenance of this park but has consistently lagged behind in providing the funds they agreed to provide for the environmental reviews that must occur before the project can start.

The foundation has also never been asked to explain how they would generate enough funds to construct or maintain the facility and insure themselves and the city against any claims made because of mishaps, which often occur doing these type of activities.

And even though the council majority has agreed to loan money to the project, they haven’t asked for a review of the foundations financial status.

Considering their difficulty at raising funds so far, it would seem reasonable to ask about their financing strategy.

This is reminiscent of the mindset of an earlier council when they continued to allow the Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation to receive funds for projects that they never developed.

The city staff had warned them many times that LHCDC was delinquent in the financial reports required by federal, state and local governments and that their projects had numerous safety and health issues, but they kept shoveling money their way until the organization collapsed, leaving the city with several derelict properties including the Lompoc Theater lot in the center of old town.

Apparently the three council members didn’t learn from this experience either as they continue to rely on “trust me” statements from the organizers of the Motorsports Park and keep loaning more General Fund dollars to the project.

Earlier councils have grossly overestimated the city’s future prosperity. For example, the Manned Orbiting Laboratory was scheduled to arrive at Vandenberg Air Force Base 55 years ago.

the city expanded its footprint to the north and west with hastily constructed new housing tracts, a new school system and a shopping center to handle the expected population explosion that would happen if the MOL project would start launching men into space, but the government canceled the program, and the city slumped.

Then the unmanned space program took off, and once again big plans were made for all the people and businesses that would come to Lompoc — once again city leaders were baffled when all the industrial growth seemed to migrate towards Santa Maria.

Then there in the 1980s there was the Space Shuttle program, and city leaders decided to move the city’s business center to the north end of town and encourage “big box” commercial development, a move that caused mom-and-pop businesses to close, leaving the old town store fronts empty, a situation that still remains today.

More new housing tracts were built, but the city infrastructure was suffering. Why? Well in their zeal to attract developers the council set the developer fees well below what surrounding areas were charging and even waived them for favored projects.

The moneys collected from those fees are used to construct things like fire and police stations to serve the growing community.

They still haven’t established rates that will ever allow enough money to be accumulated to construct new police and fire stations.

With the available area for development becoming much harder to get, it is unlikely that that significant piles of cash can be accumulated.

Council members and voters of the present and future should take these lessons seriously. Let’s not continue repeating mistakes of the past or electing people who do.

— 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]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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