Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 9:07 pm | Partly Cloudy 66º


Ron Fink: Lompoc Motorsports Park — Is It a Pig In a Poke?

Wikipedia explains the term: “The English colloquialisms such as ‘turn out to be a pig in a poke’ or ‘buy a pig in a poke’ means that something is sold or bought without the buyer knowing its true nature or value, especially when buying without inspecting the item beforehand.

The phrase can also be applied to accepting an idea or plan without a full understanding of its basis.”

Last Tuesday evening, the Lompoc city manager provided the council with his monthly update on the status of the Motorsports Park project; it wasn’t very encouraging.

In his update, he said that the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation’s Motorsports Park committee missed its August payment of $12,662; and the state of California is holding a request for an extension past December 31, 2016, due to concerns with Federal Aviation Administration requirements for an updated Airport Master Plan and their requirement for Skydive Santa Barbara to agree to a new landing site for their jumpers.

But none of this seemed to matter to council members Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega, who opposed a motion by Mayor Bob Lingl to discuss the city’s continued support of a project that appears in deep trouble as far as external agencies are concerned.

Mosby even threatened to try and renegotiate the agreement with Skydive Santa Barbara so that they would have to move their landing site to accommodate the park, and there are reports that he is attempting to intimidate the business by threatening to “shut it down” when the new council (meaning he and John Linn) take their seats.  

In other words, he seems willing to have a revenue-generating business tossed out of town just to accommodate his pet project! This should give voters an idea of how a John Linn/Jim Mosby partnership in concert with their two allies will work if they are elected.

The FAA, which controls the airport, recently said “it would not be appropriate for the airport drop zone to be displaced, downsized, or unwisely located to make room for a non-aeronautical use of the airport.  For the FAA to ultimately approve a land-use change to permit the conversion of airport land to a non-aeronautical use, the motorsport center is required to be a revenue producing venture that contributes market-based rental revenue to the airport.” 

When Linn testified to the council in favor of the Motorsports Park, he reeled off a “Linn fact” that the city could reap $1.7 million in transient-occupancy taxes over a 5-year span – that would be a rental rate of 841 rooms a week (average room rate $75 a night with a 10 percent TOT), every week for five years, a myth that is not even plausible.

So, clearly Linn is fully prepared to grossly overvalue the project to convince decision makers that the project is viable.

During this election campaign, I think it should be firmly established who is responsible for the delays that have led to this situation – the foundation or the city.

The current effort has been fraught with misinformation, delays by the Motorsports Park committee in providing needed information, and former mayor Linn withholding vital information concerning the FAA requirements for two years. 

The committee changed the conceptual design of the park several times leading up to the start of the EIR process, and each delay led to a late start on an 18-month to 2-year public process.

They also renegotiated the terms of their memorandum of understanding with the city three times; each time a willing council majority ruled in favor of the committee and they still consistently missed deadlines.

Is the city going to be stuck with a pig-in-a-poke?

By failing to ask the right questions at key turning points, failing to hold the committee responsible for missed deadlines, and ignoring the government clock concerning public meetings, the council, specifically Mosby, Starbuck and Vega, seems to have abdicated their responsibility to govern responsibly and preserve public resources. 

As the project continues its glacial move forward, the costs seem to be rising, and no one really knows with any certainty if the EIR can be certified by the state deadline.

So, what’s the bottom line here?

When ideas like this are proposed, the decision makers, those we elect to act on our behalf, should take a deep breath and think the project through to its logical conclusion.

Failing to consider cost impacts from conception to final operation is the definition of “buying a pig in a poke”.

If this campaign is going to be about leadership, then somebody needs to step up to the plate and start asking some really hard questions before the city treasury starts bleeding huge sums of General Fund cash to support a “free project”.

So far only Lingl has been willing to do this.

In the meantime, Linn’s allies on the council continue to lead the city deeper down the rabbit hole as in “an entry into the unknown.”

— 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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