A regional panel denied Lompoc’s request to take a step toward expanding the city limits to the west, but the Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation agreed to possibly reconsider policies on the ag-urban interface.
Meeting Thursday in Santa Maria, LAFCO formally rejected a proposal to include 148.3 acres in the city’s sphere of influence, or area targeted for future annexation into Lompoc. The panel voted 6-1 with Commissioner Jenelle Osborne, Lompoc’s mayor, opposed.
In approving the findings of denial previously discussed in February, commissioners rejected a Lompoc proposal raised Thursday to appoint an ad hoc subcommittee to collect more information about the city’s urgency to expand the boundaries.
“Respectfully, the need to obtain more information is not a reason to deny the application,” Lompoc City Attorney Jeff Malawy. “It’s a reason to get more information, and the subcommittee we requested is one way to do that.”
State law designates LAFCO as the agency to rule on boundary changes to encourage orderly growth and development. The commission includes city, county and regional representatives.
The city request had proposed including the Bailey property at 40.6 acres and 107.7 acres known as the Bodger property, adding up to 148.3 acres in the sphere of influence.
City leaders say the future annexation would allow for building additional housing, but LAFCO members questioned whether Lompoc had adequately looked at infill development within the existing city limits.
Several speakers objected to the city’s proposal for a subcommittee, with one calling it unwarranted and urged denial of the sphere of influence expansion.
“LAFCO staff determined, among other things, the city’s proposal would fail to promote infill development, fail to address the existing jobs-to-housing imbalance and would convert prime farmland in a manner that would not achieve orderly growth,” said Maggie Hall, senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Center.
She said the findings crafted by LAFCO’s staff were well-reasoned and supported by extensive evidence.
However, Sblend Slendorio, an attorney who serves on the Alameda County LAFCO, called the city’s request for a subcommittee a reasonable method to address the mitigation for loss of prime ag land.
“This is a wise choice: Form a committee, work with the county, work with the city and see if you can come up with something to deal with the ag-urban interface,” Slendorio said.
Mayor Alice Patino noted a recent meeting where Col. Robert Long, Space Launch Delta 30 commander, spoke about the need for more housing for those working on Vandenberg Space Force Base.
“Between Lompoc and Santa Maria, we’re going to have to fill a need, not just in our own community but a need out there I hadn’t thought about at the time,” Patino said.
Commissioner Das Williams said the denial of the request didn’t mean Lompoc did anything wrong.
“It’s more about the legacy of South County’s housing sins,” Williams said. “My concern is just a premature suburban sprawl that goes to South County transplants and adds to our transportation woes in the long run.”
He said he needed to see progress on infill development in Lompoc, or creating housing within the existing city limits.
Executive Officer Mike Prater said establishing a subcommittee would not follow the agency’s traditional practices when an application has been submitted.
However, the commissioners agreed that the Lompoc proposal sparked a broader issue regarding LAFCO’s ag-urban interface.
“I do think Lompoc has raised some legitimate concerns we ought to address as orderly as possible,” Commissioner Shane Stark said.
“I think we’re going to have some significant challenges over the next few years with annexations if we don’t get our arms wrapped around the urban-ag interface and what kind of model request we want to have for cities so that they propose something that might include the reduction of agriculture,” Alternate Commissioner Bob Nelson said.
He added that he urged ag industry members to talk about the amount of ag land that would be appropriate to protect in the county — “What is the line in the sand for future development?”
LAFCO should begin considering what would be an acceptable loss of ag that could be mitigated, Nelson added.
LAFCO has considered ag-urban interface policies in the past but kept the status quo.
Commissioner Craig Geyer said he viewed LAFCO’s role as preserving prime ag land, adding that he doesn’t see exceptions for meeting state-mandated housing development numbers.
“I would support a future discussion on what an ad hoc (committee) would look like to definitively expand our policy on interaction with prime ag land rather than sitting in a place of absolute denial based on our current policy,” Osborne added.
The panel’s members directed staff to return to a future meeting with an item about appointing a subcommittee to look at policies related to the ag-urban interface.