Friday, March 23 , 2018, 11:41 am | Fair 59º


Ron Fink: Lompoc Motorsports Park EIR a Hot Mess for City

What a night; after four hours of staff reports and public comments, a weary Lompoc City Council sent the city’s consultant back to the locker room for a redo of one element of the Motorsports Park Environmental Impact Report.

It all started so innocently; the Lompoc Valley Park, Pool and Recreation Foundation offered to build a motorsports facility for free on city land. Then the problems began after former Mayor John Linn decided the airport was the best place to put it.

Never mind that they were going to try and put a noisy/dusty recreational venue in an urban area, on an airport and along the edge of the Santa Ynez River, he would get it done.

Since it was going to be free, the city applied for a state grant with the understanding that the foundation would pay for anything the grant didn’t pay for.

The council, believing these folks could deliver a free recreational venue agreed to apply for the grant and ultimately a little short of $1 million was awarded by the state for the effort.

After a number of false starts — primarily because the foundation couldn’t deliver an adequate project description and agree to the memorandum of understanding that described what the foundation would do and what the city would do and when they would do it — the EIR process started.

An EIR takes time to prepare. Once the consultant was finished with the first draft, it was submitted for the obligatory public review. Nearly 75 comments, some very technical and many from regulatory agencies, were received and evaluated.

In many cases valid comments were glossed over and/or ignored, and this is where the problems started.

I have been involved with the Planning Commission for many years and what I frequently note is that folks who propose projects, and consultants who prepare documents, consistently underestimate the depth of public review that will occur in Lompoc.
There are a lot of professional people — engineers, technicians, educators, lawyers, scientists and others — who call Lompoc home, and they have a serious interest in what’s going on. So, they read these documents carefully and provide thought-provoking input which should not be ignored.

But for whatever reason, the consultant did ignore public input on a key issue — noise. Their evaluation was that noise created by the project did not pose a significant risk.

However, had they read the city’s General Plan carefully, they would have seen that new projects are not supposed to create noise above a specific threshold beyond the property line, and by their own calculations this one did.

It is incomprehensible how an experienced consulting group could have missed this critical requirement.

So, when the issue was discussed last Tuesday, the folks who provided the initial noise element comments, which were discounted by the consultant, once again expressed their concern and gave the council a short tutorial on what the General Plan said.

Once public testimony was complete, the mayor called a short break and a huddle could be seen between the staff and consultant.

The break was over and it was revealed that, indeed, the citizens who had made the initial comments and then followed up at this hearing were right; they had missed evaluating noise as a “significant impact” and would have to revisit the issue.

What does that mean? Well, the EIR will have to be modified and recirculated for public comment and ultimately brought back to the council at a later date for a certification review. This could take several months considering the public process that has to be followed.

There are still a number of things that must be done before the foundation can proceed; a National Environmental Protection Act study, an Airport Master Plan and agency permits must be obtained before they can even submit building plans for the project.

These all take time and it’s not beyond belief that it could take a couple of more years until all the paperwork is completed.
In the meantime, the state is becoming concerned that this project may never be competed.

Even if they extend grant funding beyond the Dec. 31 completion date, I think they may be reading the tea leaves at the bottom of the agency comment cup and realize this project can't proceed to completion at the current location.
If the state decides this project has no life left, it could suspend the grant. If it does that, then the city has a problem. With no grant funding, the council would have to authorize the expenditure of General Fund money to allow the project to continue; that could be a tough sell to the public.
I think Mr. Linn owes his supporters and the public an explanation. Maybe he thought he could bulldoze his way through the red tape and avoid following the rules like he has in the past.
Not only that, but he has willingly spent the foundation’s money, donated by their supporters, on a project that didn’t have a snowball's chance in a hot desert of survival from day one. Just another hot mess he caused in the city of Lompoc.

— 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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