Monday, September 24 , 2018, 5:39 pm | Fair 67º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: Lompoc Parks/Rec and Pool Foundation Barely Treading Water

The Lompoc Valley Parks Recreation and Pool Foundation, a nonprofit group, was organized in August 2008 with lofty expectations.

The group's focus was to construct, operate and maintain recreational facilities the public wanted but the city was unable to provide with public funds.

At the time, its leader John Linn had just lost his first race for mayor, so he needed a platform to gain leverage for the 2010 campaign.

The premise of the foundation is that one or more committees would be formed as people came forward with ideas for new recreation venues. To date, three venues have been taken on by the foundation.

The first was Barkin’ Park, a place where folks could exercise their pets. It quickly became a busy spot, even today, several years after it was built, it remains popular.

But, the promise was that the foundation would operate and maintain the park. They don’t and they haven’t.

Another venue, the Bike Skills Park is still operated and maintained by the committee members who built it.

It, too, is a popular place where folks can go to learn how to navigate their bicycles over low hills and valleys on a dirt path. Unlike the others, this project met its promise.

Linn was elected mayor in 2010 and so Jim Mosby, who contributed large sums of money to Linn’s election committee, was asked to assume leadership of the foundation.

Another project, a temporary off-road riding area for children, dubbed the Kid's Moto Fun Park, was rammed through the city approval process, without any plans and built in less than a week through the overbearing involvement of Linn who by now had been elected mayor.

The reason this project was needed so quickly was to qualify for the larger prize — a $998,107 grant from the California Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation division to build a bigger motorsports complex.

But any government grant comes with a requirement to submit periodic billings for funds based on expenses incurred. The foundation rarely turned its billings in on time, and once audited they turned out to be incomplete.

But never mind, Linn was mayor and he ruled the roost at City Hall.

Even though he badgered city employees throughout the grant process, the foundation was required to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding for its projects that included a time frame agreed to by both the foundation and the city.

The larger grant was to design, build and operate an off-road riding area and drag strip in Lompoc for adults, on 38 acres of airport property in the city,

As with all other Linn projects, this one got off to a rocky start and met with all sorts of regulatory obstacles. The reason for all these hang ups was the location — in an urban area, on the Santa Ynez River bank and on an airport.

The first step was the California Environmental Quality Act requirement to certify an Environmental Impact Report.  To process one of those, a complete project description is needed so future environmental issues can be adequately assessed.

But, like the incomplete paperwork for the Kid's Moto Fun Park, Linn and his crew couldn’t come up with a solid plan for over a year. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking on the government grant.

This saga continues with missed payments, missed deadlines and several changes to the MOU initiated by the foundation.

Instead of acting on behalf of the city in these matters while mayor, Linn seemed to represent the foundation’s interests as he proposed more changes to benefit them than the foundation requested.

Eventually, Linn lost his reelection bid, but his cohort Mosby was elected to the City Council.

Even though Mosby was the signatory on behalf of the foundation to the MOU, he participated in every discussion of changes or approvals; he never questioned anything, defended the foundation and always supported Linn’s proposals.

Facing the immovable state milestone to “complete the project” and submit billing information to the state, the council bypassed the Planning Commission and approved the EIR so the city could be reimbursed for its efforts.

According to city records, the foundation has spent more than $176,000 of its contributors' hard-earned money, and the state has provided in excess of $237,000 in grant money for a total of more than $405,000 on this project.

Meanwhile, both the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have serious reservations. In fact, the FAA has repeatedly said the motorsports park is not an appropriate use on an airport.

So, now it would appear the time is up for the motorsports park. A hearing is scheduled soon to discuss termination of the MOU. However, Linn has another trick up his sleeve.

Apparently, he has a new plan for this project. Of course, with the aid of his three willing accomplices — Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega — on the City Council, he has a fair shot at breathing new life into the project.

But, would a reasonable person continue to support the LVPRPF considering its track record?

The foundation website at https://www.facebook.com/lompocfoundation/ speaks volumes about its accomplishments. It is void of any information.

— 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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