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Ron Fink: Lompoc Fire Station 2’s 30-Year History of Kicking a Can Down the Road

I remember distinctly when “downtown Lompoc” meant the corner of Ocean Avenue and H Street, D Street ended at the library on North Avenue, and the only way to get in the library parking lot was on a dirt road. 

Central Avenue, now one of the busiest in the city, was a narrow two-lane road with no curbs or sidewalks.

In the late 1970s and early '80s, the City of Lompoc began moving north — the space shuttle was coming and thousands of new jobs would be created. 

In the late '70s, the K-Mart shopping center was developed at North and H, the first of several large shopping centers that would cause “downtown” to eventually move 1.5 miles uptown to Central and H and kill many small mom-and-pop businesses that just couldn’t compete with large retailers.

In the mid '80s, the current Fire Station 2 was built to temporarily serve development at the north end of town.

It was the first of many times that the City Council would be penny wise and pound foolish concerning public safety — the other notable event being the building of a police station in the mid '80s that was too small the day it opened. 

This fire station was only designed to handle one engine and a four-person crew, and the door is too low to allow a ladder truck to be stationed there. 

The second engine you see there is a reserve engine that has been squeezed in for use when other equipment is out of service or supporting extended mutual-aid requests out of town.

In 1996, the city commissioned a study that predicted a 33-percent increase in responses (572) above the 1,700 service-call level in 1995 if the development planned for in the 1997 General Plan were to occur. 

The recommendation at the time was to relocate Station 2 “to a suitable location with the capacity to house an aerial apparatus.”

Subsequent studies in 2007 and 2014 reaffirmed the need to relocate this station.

The 2002 Capital Improvement Plan called for relocation of Station 2, construction of a training facility, and construction of a third fire station to address the growing city. Although the plan was approved, these plans were never carried out.

The current Fire Department Master Plan was adopted by the City Council in 2013.  It included a number of performance goals, including a requirement for the first fire crew to arrive ready to provide service within 6 minutes and 20 seconds (national average) from the time the call is received 90 percent of the time. 

The current location of Station 2 does not allow this goal to be met in the northern and western parts of the city.

So, you see that providing a properly sized and located station on the north end of town has been a Fire Department priority for at least 30 years, and has been ignored by the political brain trust on the City Council several times. 

The council has changed membership several times, and although all have professed support for public safety, none has seriously addressed the issue, and now it seems likely that it’s dead again.

During a public hearing to discuss the issue last December, Councilman DeWayne Holmdahl, who has served many times during those intervening years, said, “It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road” –

Although Holmdahl was one of those who helped kicked that can in the past, he wasn’t willing to do it this time. Along with Mayor Bob Lingl, he voted to support a new $14 million station.

But three council members — Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega, all of whom were raised in Lompoc — opposed spending this kind of money. 

While Mosby claimed that it was fiscally wrong to spend the $14 million, he had no problem wasting $144,500 of the available fire-impact fee funds that had already been spent.

What is ironic is that all three of them voted to support allocating funds to study the project Feb. 17, 2015, and Mosby voted to support spending up to $16,400,000 on the same project April 7, 2015.

Only a handful of people have spoken against the project, most notably former mayor John Linn, who is a close ally to Mosby. Could it be that his public opposition during a Sept. 17, 2015, meeting changed Mosby’s mind?

Another vocal opponent spoke strongly against the new station in December, but after City Administrator Patrick Wiemiller spoke passionately about the project and basically staked his reputation on the ability of the city to pay for the project, that opponent again rose and said that she now fully supported the new station.

Response levels in 2015 were at around 4,300 calls for service, and continue to rise as more development occurs to the north and west. A large industrial park and several housing tracts are among the projects that will produce more activity for Fire Station 2.

It’s beyond time for the Lompoc City Council — and specifically council members Mosby, Starbuck and Vega — to stop kicking this can down the road.

— 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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