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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 3:45 pm | Fair 63º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: Lompoc Motorsports Park, The Drama Continues

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the Lompoc City Council will consider “Future Action Regarding the Proposed Motorsports Project at the Lompoc Airport.” It is hoped that the council will put politics aside and stick to the financial viability of the project, but if history is any indicator, politics, not reason may prevail.
 
Keep in mind that the promise of the Motorsports Committee was always been that this project would cost the city (taxpayers) nothing. And, that the three council members who have consistently been cheerleaders for the project have publicly stated that they were supporting it because “they only wanted the Environmental Impact Report to be completed.”

The EIR has been certified, so now it’s down to funding any further work. The state of California has withdrawn any further grant monies due to a lack of progress and local donations have been sporadic.

Each of the previous hearings on this matter have been punctuated by rowdy supporters and a determined group who oppose the project. Tuesday night's hearing should be interesting. We will have to see who shows up to support this white elephant.
 
There are some tough steps ahead before anyone will be able to build the park. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a new Airport Master Plan; the FAA also requires a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) study; and, the Lompoc motorsports committee has previously agreed to pay for both.

These two steps will require public hearings and could take a couple of years to complete based on public and agency comments. But, once again this is just the tip of the iceberg; there is more on the committee’s plate.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will require a grading permit because the project is on the river bank; the committee will have to find 75 acres of property along the Santa Ynez River bank, plant the endangered species it will displace and have a plan to maintain it forever. The acquisition of river bank property could be a very expensive endeavor assuming they can find a willing landowner.

The City Council then must have a hearing to make a Notice of Determination (NOD) when all of the above steps are complete. The NOD is the final step in the pre-planning paperwork process. Then, another public hearing is required to approve the “project.”

Next, the city will have to issue the required permits for construction after the committee has provided complete design plans for the project. During the initial phases of this process, the committee had some serious difficulty with the submittal of incomplete plans and the staff returned them several times for corrections.

Funding for this project is and always has been a problem for the committee and they have been consistently late with their payments; in one case, they withheld an agreed to payment because they didn’t like a decision the council made. At this point, the council should demand that funds for each stage of this process be deposited with the city prior to the start of any more work.

The committee and some council members have always said that “the majority of the people in town want this project to succeed”, but is that really the case?

The hot button issue in Lompoc during the November election was the motorsport park; two candidates (John Linn as candidate for mayor and Jim Mosby as candidate for councilman) supported it. Three candidates (Bob Lingl for mayor and Janelle Osborne and DeWayne Holmdahl as council members) opposed it.
 
Mayor Lingl won by a wide margin and council member Osborne bested Mosby by an even wider margin; it is important to note that Osborne gained the most votes ever for a council candidate. The Linn/Mosby vote totals were about the same.

So, it could be said that by using the Mosby/Osborne matchup as a guide that the public doesn’t support the park by at least a 40 percent margin (5,439 votes for Mosby; 7,657 for Osborne or against).

Considering there are some difficult and expensive steps left and the state grant is no longer available; the motorsports committee has had a poor track record for fundraising; and, the public support for this project is slim, I think it is doubtful it will ever be constructed.

The committee is going to ask the city to apply for another state grant to build the park, but considering the history of missed deadlines and late payments, the council would be wise to deny this request.

Once again, preparing the grant application will require staff time, and the committee should pay up front for the effort. With public support for this project so slim, there is no compelling need to build it.

At this point, any rational person would pull the plug, but what the council will do is anyone’s guess. I hope they will see that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train and not the finish line.

— 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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