On Jan. 19, the Lompoc City Council discussed a resolution to accept a “Grant Award from Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment Military Installation Sustainability Program.” The grant has not been awarded yet, but may be by the time you read this.
The staff report began with this statement: “Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), including its predecessors and successors, has been a significant driver for the city’s economy for several decades and is expected to continue to do so in the future. VAFB is poised to significantly expand its commercial and defense space capabilities in the coming years.”
That is somewhat of an understatement. From the days when Camp Cooke (now the north base) and Point Arguello Naval Air Station (now the south base) were first established, the base has been the largest employer in the North County. As the Army and Navy operations grew in World War II and continued throughout the Korean War, the city of Lompoc and the surrounding area grew, too.
After those wars, there was a short lull in activity until the Department of Defense (DOD) needed a safe departure route for their newly created space access program for polar orbits in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The peak of this growth was in the 1980s when the Space Shuttle Program was under construction, and three other major space launch programs were in full swing.
Arguably, Vandenberg has had a major impact on the city, and contributed to its growth. The staff report continued, “VAFB’s proximity to the city has resulted in a number of mutual efforts that have benefited both organizations. It is this proximity that would encourage additional collaborations to the benefit of both organizations, as well as the wider Central Coast region.”
A grant of $1.5 million was being offered, but how would the city spend this new revenue? First, the city would be required to match 10 percent of the grant, which would be used for “administrative costs” of about $150,000; the rest would be used by a consulting firm to author the plan and coordinate with DOD.
You won’t notice any tangible improvements for a few years; its purpose is to begin a “study” of utility and infrastructure needs to support Vandenberg. The focus would be on creating redundant systems, which would improve service reliability such as housing, transportation, and utility systems for any growth of the base population.
The city manager pointed out that this grant could easily lead to other considerably larger grants to construct and maintain projects identified in the initial study.
One item that raised some eyebrows was a Vandenberg suggestion that the study include a renewed effort to extend Central Avenue east from A Street to Highway 246.
This would require acquisition of a right-of-way on the east side of the river, a change to the city General Plan circulation element, a new Environmental Impact Report, close coordination with the county and Caltrans, and finally installing a bridge across the Santa Ynez River.
It would be a lengthy, controversial, complicated and expensive process.
The council quickly approved acceptance of this grant to study future needs without any significant discussion.
In any new project like this you must start somewhere, and this study is only the beginning of a lengthy process that could either lead to a major expansion of city services to encompass much of the support infrastructure at Vandenberg to include potential annexation of the main industrial and housing areas, or only some smaller projects within the current city limits.
From the tone of the discussion, it appears DOD is trying to shift from a self-sustained approach, used in the past to support military bases, to integrating the nearest established community as a working part of their mission support system. We’ll see if this concept plays out in the future.
The county Board of Supervisors recently approved joining a regional group to look at the same issues.
What happens at nearby VAFB is of multijurisdictional interest, and special districts such as Lompoc Unified School District, Lompoc Valley Medical Center, Allan Hancock College; and community service districts like Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village should be paying attention to this.
If the anticipated growth occurs, it will impact the entire Lompoc Valley — not just the city of Lompoc.
A word of caution: Government programs can be started and stopped at the whim of Washington politicians. Over the years, many such “growth surges” have come and gone at Vandenberg.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.