A three-hour workshop to set goals and priorities drew approximately 100 people to City Hall for a Saturday meeting that served as a prelude to the budget review process later this spring.
The workshop occurred five days after a teenage girl babysitting her siblings was shot and killed outside their residence. A known gang member, believed to be the target, also was injured in Monday night’s shooting, which followed what Lompoc police say was another gang-related incident a day earlier.
On Saturday morning, former Santa Barbara residents Erika and Joe Santillan, accompanied by their 3-year-old son, told the City Council that they moved to Lompoc where they could afford to purchase a house although they now commute south to their jobs.
Since moving to Lompoc 18 months ago, burglars broke into their home, taking away their feeling of security.
More young middle-class families should move to Lompoc due to the affordable housing, “but they’re not. They’re scared of coming,” Erika Santillan said.
Instead, she added, their friends are purchasing homes in Buellton, Santa Maria and Ventura.
“Please invest in your community,” she said. “Give the police more funding.
“If they (families) feel safe, maybe you’ll have economic growth in that way. If they don’t feel safe, how are people going to invest in your town? It doesn’t make sense.”
D.A. Taylor said the council’s goal should be to create a safe community.
“For me, the most important thing is before we can do economic development, before we can do our parks, before we do anything, we absolutely have to have a community that is safe, and we don’t have that,” she said.
Another long-time resident, Lee Davis, said the community needs to work together to battle crime and clean up the city. The city also should to partner with community groups “to bring” good things” to Lompoc, instead of looking to taxes and permits, she added.
“But I do think we should it make it more uncomfortable for crime to be here,” she said. “That’s the only way we’re going to get rid of it.”
Public safety and economic development also topped a community survey recently completed by 1,000 people, city leaders said.
Other speakers called for boosting tourism and focusing on youth programs.
But empty buildings and limited jobs in the city led some speakers to rank economic development as their top concern.
“We need to create policy that creates more economic opportunity and, when that occurs at all levels … we’ll get a more realistic community that’s good for everybody,” Nick Gonzales said.
Ultimately, the council agreed to goals focused on fully staffing and equipping public safety departments, implementing community development programs to improve opportunities for residents and businesses, providing support and partnerships that empower community members to improve Lompoc, and determining a financial plan for facing pension costs.
For several years, Lompoc has struggled with insufficient revenue to meet expenses along with high pension costs, with many positions, including in police and fire departments, left unstaffed to save money.
While Santa Barbara and Santa Maria successfully asked voters to approve sales tax increases to boost revenue, City Manager Jim Throop said a 1-cent sales tax hike for Lompoc would generate up to $5 million, nowhere near the $18 million Santa Maria expects to see.
“Lompoc is different, and not always in a good way when it comes to finances,” he said.
“The ratios are completely different,” he noted, adding that sale tax hike revenue still would provide breathing room.
While residents called for public safety improvements, the council members revealed they have different opinions about what that would involve.
“It’s not just putting more cops in cars making a safer city,” Councilman Jim Mosby said.
He blamed Lompoc’s shortfall on a recent pay increase that added up to $900,000 in raises for police officers and $600,000 for firefighters.
In addition to police officers, public safety includes library programs and other opportunities for residents, Mosby said.
But if police leaders say they need new positions, those other programs would lose out on funding, he added.
Expanding the police force would put Lompoc on the level of a police state, Mosby said, and “we don’t need to take ourselves down that track.”
“I agree with Councilwoman (Gilda) Cordova, this is not about instituting a police state,” Mayor Jenelle Osborne said.
She added that she wanted to see specialty units to focus on problems related to gangs, narcotics and the homeless.
“We can’t have those if we don’t have enough manpower patrolling as expected for your daily safety,” Osborne added.