Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 3:49 am | Fair 36º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: ‘Motor-Head’ Dream at Root of City Government Cronyism

The Lompoc Motorsports Park is the dream of every “motor head” in town and consists of an off-road recreation area and eventually an International Hot Rod Association-sanctioned eighth of a mile drag strip.

But the city doesn’t have enough money to make their dreams come true, so a bold group of racing enthusiasts organized themselves under the umbrella of the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation to build and operate the project on city-owned property.

The relationship of the LVPRPF and city government is interesting, to say the least — let’s say it is a poster child for small town political cronyism on steroids.

The founder of the LVPRPF is former mayor John Linn, and when he was elected mayor he persuaded his pal Jim Mosby to take the reins of the foundation. 

It is questionable to say the least that Linn never chose to recuse himself when the business of the foundation and the city was being discussed while he was mayor.

While Mayor Linn assisted the foundation by assuring that some very favorable conditions were included in the memorandum of understanding between the city and the foundation for the Motorsports Park. They finally agreed to a specific timeline and a cost sharing plan in March 2014.

The Motorsports Park project began to take root when council member Mosby was leading the foundation. He assisted them while they negotiated with the city to use 65 acres of city property for the project. 

Mosby was appointed to the council after Linn’s ouster in November 2014. He hasn’t recused himself either.

The Motorsports Committee applied for and received a $1 million grant from the state off-road vehicle fund to complete the first phase of the off-road recreation area (the environmental impact report and project design). 

This left them needing to raise some serious cash to pay for the portion of the EIR that dealt with the drag strip and their share of the off-road parks EIR costs.

They also agreed in November 2015 to deposit their share of funds with the city prior to certification of the EIR.

Just as they were getting started, Linn was soundly defeated and returned to take the helm of the foundation. This was also about the time that the Motorsports Committee started running into trouble paying their share of the project costs. 

It seems that they were having a tough time with all the paperwork required to receive their grant money.

The EIR is supposed to be completed before the end of this year, but processing an EIR is a time consuming task. First the draft must be completed, then there is a public comment period. 

There were over 200 comments during the notice of preparation phase, and there will likely be more comments to the draft, responses to the comments and after careful review hearings would begin to discuss the results. 

This could take several months given the deliberate pace of government and the need for careful analysis.

The city council wisely required regular updates on the status of the project from city staff, who have dutifully reported that the foundation still hasn’t paid their fair share even though the EIR process has started. 

Each time this issue is discussed, Linn promises that they will have the money “soon” and that it’s only a matter of paperwork. Then another couple of months pass and the same story line is repeated.

On Feb. 16 there was another update. Mayor Bob Lingl asked “what is the risk for the city (if the foundation doesn’t pay)” and staff replied that if the project is completed (EIR certified by Dec. 31), then the grant pays the bills, and if not the city may have to repay $231,585 minus any money received from the LVPRPF. This would likely come from the General Fund.

I checked Friday, March 11, and that status has not changed. The LVPRPF still hasn’t paid their negotiated share.

Concerning the risk, Linn said that if the project wasn’t completed it would be because of negligence by the city!  Once again he has his facts wrong.

The project description is the basis for the EIR. The LVPRPF had problems submitting a complete project description for several months, so it’s hard to see why it would be the city’s fault if the foundation couldn’t even provide an adequate description of the project for the EIR analysis until late in the process.

This entire process has been unduly influenced by decision makers on the council who have a vested interest in the outcome of the project, one of many reasons why people are so wary about how governments are run. 

At the outset, Linn should never have participated, and because of his close association with the project Mosby should step down from the dais during any further discussions of Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation business.

As one commenter pointed out during the public comment period following this update, “transparency is a key issue in government.”

In this case the water is murky and has a distinct odor.

— 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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