Lompoc is and has been in an economic slump for several years. The last boom was in the early 1980s when the Space Shuttle program was being developed at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base. Since then there has been little growth, especially in the industrial and housing sectors.
Is someone to blame for this? Nearby Santa Maria seems to be growing rapidly in all sectors. Some say it’s because they receive more favorable treatment from the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) as they expand their boundaries; others think it’s because they have a totally different political mindset.
The economic vitality of a city is measured by the ability of the local population to support businesses. In Lompoc, the median income is around $49,000 per year. However, many families rely on public assistance or work multiple jobs and live-in low-income housing areas.
In fact, somehow the allocation of low-income housing is dramatically higher in Lompoc than any other community in the county.
While the COVID-19 virus outbreak can be blamed for a downturn in business activity many people familiar with the economics of our city say this current downturn began long before the illness descended on our country.
The dynamics of elective politics in Lompoc changed with the creation of council districts in 2018. In that election two council members were elected, and in the current election cycle two more will be selected by registered voters in the districts they will represent. The mayor is still an at-large position.
In December 2017, the City Council used a population-based formula to establish four voting districts in the city. Some people warned this might not be the best method since the general population includes children and others who are not eligible to vote.
The unintended consequence was that there is a significant out-of-balance voter pool in each district. For example, in the upcoming election, District 1 has 5,394 registered voters and District 4 has only 4,577. The city attorney tells me: “California law actually requires that districts be substantially equal in total population, rather than equal in the number of registered or eligible voters.”
This is a pivotal election for Lompoc. Do we stick with the old-school ideas of the current council majority or do we try something different?
The current majority’s actions have supported the idea that a property owner has a right to allow his/her property to become severely deteriorated and have openly supported the appeals of property owners concerning code enforcement efforts. In fact, they eliminated funding for the code enforcement function.
Perhaps an accent on the quality-of-life issues that are important to any business looking for a new location might help. Anyone taking an objective look at our city would see many areas of blight — streets that are poorly maintained in many neighborhoods; run down parks and public buildings; and trash blowing in many commercial areas.
If they read local papers, they will see there are a number of shooting incidents in the several low-income areas of the city; and note that people are regularly complaining about the homeless who trash commercial areas, sleep on the landscaping in front of businesses, and generally make pests of themselves.
The people of Lompoc need to decide how we dig ourselves out of the hole that poor decision-making has created in the last several decades. We need an active and aggressive chamber of commerce that is focused on business development and not exclusively on tourism. We need to shift reliance on the wine and cannabis sectors to small manufacturing and engineering firms.
Our City Council needs to be able to point with pride to the appearance of public buildings and parks. Once the COVID-19 issue is resolved, we need to restore youth sports programs and local festivals to their former glory.
Yes, this is an important election that will either maintain the status quo or move the city out of an economic rut.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committees 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read his previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.