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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 2:34 pm | Fair 63º


Ron Fink: Lompoc Motorsports Park Disappears in a Cloud of Dust

The Lompoc City Council had yet another in a long series of updates and discussions May 12 concerning a proposal by a bold group of racing enthusiasts who organized themselves to build and operate an off-road motorsports park on city-owned property.

Their proposal was simple — just provide them with some space and they would raise enough money to pay for the project; they claimed it wouldn’t cost the city a dime.

The project, under the umbrella of the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation, began to take root in 2012 when current council member Jim Mosby was leading the foundation. Mosby assisted them while they negotiated with the city to use 65 acres of city property for the project.

John Linn, then mayor, was the founder of the LVPRPF, and he lobbied hard to convince the council to approve the project. In November 2013, the City Council approved an application for and received $1 million in state grants.

Linn, after not recusing himself because of his close relationship with the LVPRPF, assisted the foundation from the dais by assuring that some very favorable conditions were included in the Memorandum of Understanding for the motorsports park. The LVPRPF finally agreed to a specific timeline and a cost sharing plan in March 2014.

Mosby, a close Linn ally who took the reins of the LVPRPF while Linn was mayor, was appointed to the council after Linn’s ouster from the mayor’s chair in November 2014; he hasn’t recused himself from LVPRPF discussions either even though he had a vested interest in the project and his signature appears on the MOU.

Each time this issue is discussed, Linn, who resumed his position as the LVPRPF leader, promises that they will have the money “soon” and it’s only a matter of paperwork — then another couple of months passes and the same line is repeated.

At the May 3 council meeting, City Manager Patrick Wiemiller said “We’ve got new information. For us to continue with the project, we’ve got additional environmental work to do.”

In a May 4 Noozhawk article, Carol Benham reported that Wiemiller said the NEPA review is estimated to take 18 to 24 months — delaying the completion of the off-highway vehicle riding area of the proposed complex beyond the state grant’s deadline to complete the environmental review process by the end of December.

Wiemiller went on to say that an additional $140,000 would be needed to prepare a federal EIR and a new airport master plan that the Federal Aviation Administration would require prior to allowing the park, a non-aviation activity, to be placed within the boundaries of the airport.

He asked for a special meeting May 12 to discuss the matter.

When asked about the new revelations, Linn said the nonprofit would come up with additional funds, if necessary.

“As an organization, we will rise to the needs and move the project forward,” he said. This would have been a first for this crew.

LVPRPF agreed to deposit $116,370, their share of project costs, with the city prior to certification of the EIR. However, after two and a half years they still owe well over half of it and don’t appear to have the ability to raise the funds needed to fulfill their agreement.

The council chamber was packed last Wednesday with both supporters and opponents, each expressing their views.

According to a local report in the Lompoc Record, Linn reeled off a new set of “Linn facts,” such as the city could reap $1.7 million in transient occupancy taxes over a 5-year span — that would be a rental rate of well over 800 rooms a week (average room rate $75 a night with a 10 percent TOT), every week for 5 years from a crowd that travels in “toy haulers” that include sleeping areas.

At the end of the four-hour discussion, the council majority, Mayor Bob Lingl and Councilmembers DeWayne Holmdahl and Victor Vega voted to kill the project.

It was no surprise that Mosby, former leader of the LVPRPF, would vote to keep it alive even though he has tried to give off the appearance of a fiscal watchdog.

It also wasn’t a surprise that former Mayor Linn would imply that the city might have to sue the LVPRPF if they wanted them to pay the money they owe. This from someone who it’s rumored would like to be mayor again. I guess a legal agreement doesn’t mean anything to these guys.

Now Linn’s credibility is at serious risk because of the many commitments he has made and been unable to deliver.

Mayor Lingl likened this to an earlier fiasco with the Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation, which had similar financial difficulties. After that mess the council resolved to never allow another situation like that to occur, but two council members were all too willing to go down the same road again.

The three fiscally wise council members who voted to stop this nonsense must have concluded that the city couldn’t afford a project that “wouldn’t cost the city a dime.”

— 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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