Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 7:54 pm | Fair 64º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: Transparent Government in Lompoc — A Week Can Change Your Perspective

Last week I wrote, “I have been observing Lompoc politics for the last 25 years, and this is the most transparent council I have witnessed.”

Well, last Tuesday the city council slipped on a significant issue and now I have egg on my face!

The issue was whether they should take any action regarding a request to process applications for annexation, a General Plan amendment and a zone change for two properties located along Bailey Avenue.  

This strip of land contains several separate parcels and has been a bone of contention in the community for decades. To understand the complexity of this issue we need a historical perspective.  

Several decades ago, community leaders had a vision of Lompoc expanding all the way to Surf Beach, but over time the urban limit line was moved farther east to Bailey Avenue.

This decision was not without controversy. When the 1997 General Plan established the current line it, was done without the support of the Planning Commission or a citizens advisory group that had crafted the plan over the course of several years. 

The commission and advisory group recommended that the city end at Z Street, but four council members disregarded their recommendation and without much public discussion or study chose to move the line to Bailey Avenue.

It is interesting to note that all of the intersections on Z Street are four-way, with one leg ending at the farm fields. Alleys were also built on the western edge with the expectation that development would continue to the west.

Now to the current transparency issue. As a planning commissioner, I have been personally involved in at least a dozen lengthy public hearings regarding this strip of land over the last 15 years.

Each time a hearing is conducted, the commission hears the same arguments both for and against development of this land, but these discussions, with the exception of one nearly completed project on the north end of the corridor, have always been general in nature.

(The exception was presented three times before it was finally approved largely because the developer had not adequately considered the flood plain and an open space odor buffer needed between the waste water plant and housing units.)

Another multi-year discussion resulted in a draft Specific Plan for the corridor, which would have guided development; however, after several years and several changes to the council and Planning Commission membership, it was scrapped.

Even after all the discussions this issue is far from settled.

While I agree that it appears that there has already been enough debate, it also appears that there are still some significant disagreements that need to be aired and evaluated.

The staff recommendation for the Planning Commission — to review the current application and determine the level of environmental review required to process the request, hold a workshop to present the project to the community and prepare a recommendation to the City Council — seemed appropriate.

At the urging of former mayor John Linn — who advocated taking the “simple way to move forward” to favor developer and councilmember, DeWayne Holmdahl, who made the motion to ignore the Planning Commission in 1997 — now made a motion to ignore the staff recommendation and avoid one step of the public process.  

Three other members of the council agreed. Linn never did like to follow the rules and apparently the council majority agreed with him.

Only Mayor Bob Lingl opposed this action. His opinion was that if more new housing was needed, then why haven’t developers built projects that have already been approved?  

In other words, there is no compelling need to annex new land if we haven’t even built the approved projects.

The 2030 General Plan Land Use Element requires a detailed analysis so that requested annexations do not negatively impact city fiscal health.  

Such requests shall be accompanied by a study to assure that the proposed annexation is self-sustaining and will produce enough property tax and user fees to support city services.

This analysis was not included in the information provided to the council. It was not discussed publicly, and now it won’t get any public review until it’s presented to the Local Area Formation Commission, yet the council majority chose to move ahead anyway.

Besides, LAFCO will probably want detailed information about any potential impacts before they consider supporting this annexation.

By circumventing the Planning Commission, the council has chosen to limit the amount of public discussion and technical input on a very controversial subject.  

This is an odd position to take when all councilmembers have expressed support of open government, and one of the councilmembers who supported this move is hosting a forum on transparency this week.

Yes, we have discussed this issue many times, but in the interest of transparency, the debate isn’t over until the last person has had their concerns addressed.

— 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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