Should Ken Adam Park be converted from an outdoor location that, as a staff report discussed on Oct. 3 by the Lompoc City Council says, currently “features a large group picnic area, a children’s playground, individual picnic areas, a nature trail, horseshoes, volleyball, a flag monument, and restroom facilities” to a commercial theme park/education center?
First a little history of the park. According to a report in the Lompoc Record in 2021, the park was “named for the former longtime owner and publisher of the Lompoc Record. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Ken Adam Park was known as Spaceport Park, before it reverted to its former name, reopening in 2000.”
According to the staff report, the city of Lompoc “acquired the site from the federal government in 1984;” prior to that it was operated and maintained by the county.
In those days, there were well-maintained nature trails with instructive signs that explained the flora and fauna; most of those trails and signs are now a parking lot and education buildings for Allan Hancock College and a regional public safety training center.
Then, “in July 2019, the city entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Pale Blue Dot Ventures, Inc. (Pale Blue Dot) to undertake negotiations for a possible sale and development of the Site for a potential space-themed educational and recreational development.”
The current effort has been ongoing for four years; Pale Blue Dot has consistently failed to meet milestones and most of their submittals have been submitted just before a scheduled hearing with little time for a proper review by an impartial evaluation team.
Thus, numerous extensions of the MOU have been approved by the council to allow the proponent to improve data deliveries that PBD agreed to meet in the MOU.
On April 18, 2023, the City Council received the following report from their consultant:
“Keyser Marston’s ultimate conclusion is the information provided by Pale Blue Dot does not demonstrate that the Project is financially feasible.”
Of course, PBD could always “adjust” the spreadsheets to produce a more glowing outcome.
Now it appears this matter must go to voters for approval. According to the October 2023 staff report: “In order for any land operated as a public park to be used for a new, non-public-park use, state law requires voter approval of discontinuance of the public park use.”
Wow, it took four years for the city attorney to figure this out.
PBD’s glitzy proposal promises “On an ongoing basis, the project generates a total annual economic impact (GDP) of roughly $50M, supports more than 400 jobs, and generates more than $800K in annual tax revenue to Santa Barbara County (Pale Blue Dot Ventures also estimates a City of Lompoc tax uplift of $4M-$6M per annum).
“A one-time impact of roughly $100M and $1.7M in tax revenue will be derived from the construction of the attraction and hotel.
“The one-time construction impact assumes the construction investment equals the supportable investment targeting a 15% IRR on equity invested.”
Some of the local folks who are deeply invested in the latest venture have been involved in other failed proposals for the park (Space Park and a motorsports complex) that made similar claims.
Whether this project proposal will pass an independent review of the PBD financial submittals remains an open question. The staff says, “Consultant’s findings and conclusions for this proposal are planned to be presented to the City Council on or before the Nov. 7, 2023, City Council meeting.”
If the history of Pale Blue Dot’s submittals and the local team pushing it are any indication of the validity of the estimates they provided, this one may need more work as well.
Keep in mind that any construction/operation cost estimates today will be stale by the time the Environmental Impact Report is approved, and they are ready to start construction as material/labor costs rise, and the amount of disposable income families have left to spend on a trip continues to shrink.
And if it goes to voters, I hope they will think carefully before they agree to allow a major commercial project to gobble up an open space, destroy more of the ecosystem and cut down numerous oak trees.
As I understand the staff report it would only take one protest during a hearing on Monday, Nov. 20 to require a supermajority vote (four of five councilmembers) to move the item to an election.
How that would turn out is anyone’s guess.
Government Code: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=GOV&division=3.&title=4.&part=2.&chapter=9.&article=2.
April 18, 2023 staff report: https://www.cityoflompoc.com/home/showpublisheddocument/37477/638170695199770000
Oct. 3, 2023 staff report: https://www.cityoflompoc.com/home/showpublisheddocument/38617