The Lompoc City Council deals with many issues just like every other elected body. Some are mundane, and others attract considerable attention.
The Lompoc swap meet is one of those issues that just won’t go away. This event is very popular and it has a huge attendance every week. You would think that an event that draws this many people to the Old Town area would be a boon for local business people, but they say they only get folks who want to use their bathrooms.
Since it‘s city property, I checked to see how they are able to use a publicly owned parking lot. During public hearings in 2004, the council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, directed staff to establish a new contract.
At that time, the city administrator recommended that the city should not renew the swap meet contract because of a “variety of complaints from neighboring interests,” but contrary to this recommendation the city the council directed that a new contract be executed.
According to a news report in March 2004, staff reported to the council that “a spot check of vendors in late February found that only 26 of 45 vendors had purchased a city business license. Another 45 vendors had no records on file with the meet’s concessionaire.”
Somehow in 2004 the council, contrary to staff testimony, concluded that, “Historically the revenue earned from the operation of the swap meet has been used to pay for city staff time to monitor the activity on the premises. The RDA has agreed to continue to pay all fees received from the concessionaire services contract to the city to reimburse Parks and Recreation staff for their services.”
Finally three years later, in 2007, a three-year contract was signed and it ended in 2010; for the last four years and since the RDA’s demise, they appear to have been operating month-to-month.
Since this action was on the consent calendar, no public discussion occurred.
There have been two council meetings on this issue in the past couple of months — this time the council decided to terminate the city’s relationship with swap meet organizers. But recently swap meet supporters generated a flash mob at the beginning of two council meetings and tried to get their case reconsidered.
This is an election year, and the incumbents who are seeking re-election saw the large crowd and agreed to discuss it again.
There are many other events in the community, but those event organizers have current contracts and permits with the city and they work very hard to keep their events under control. One nearby event is the Old Town Market that occurs for several Friday nights each summer. In this case, the event organizers have worked closely with local businesses to make sure that their vendors use public parking lots instead of private ones and that they don’t leave a mess when they are done.
The swap meet tried to move but after only one weekend the organizers were asked to leave primarily because they didn’t have the appropriate permits — one of the many problems that exist at their current location.
Since the swap meet has a large number of Hispanic customers, one prominent local resident said, “More than one Anglo has said to me, if the swap meet was all Caucasian this wouldn’t be happening.” Throwing the “race card” is the last resort for people who are losing the argument because they don’t have facts on their side and reflects poorly on our community and the person who said it.
So, how do we fix the problem? Neighbors say that either banning the activity or moving it would fix it.
Since this is really a retail operation and not a traditional swap meet, the council could consider renegotiating the contract with the organizers. Included in any contract must be mitigations for all of the issues that have impacted the neighbors for over 25 years.
Other issues include establishing a new fee schedule to recover city costs and to strengthen the contract compliance/monitoring effort, specifically ensuring that each vendor has the proper sales license and pays the appropriate sales tax. Allowing the event organizers to “self-police” hasn’t worked before and is still a problem today, which is why people object to the way it’s being run.
This is a very popular event, but organizers, vendors and patrons need to realize that they are responsible to the community and more importantly the neighbors surrounding their event to make sure that it doesn’t adversely impact the neighborhood.
The council should keep a sharp eye on what’s going on; if the organizers can’t fix all the problems associated with their event, then the council should consider suspending their permit.
I am sure that none of the participants wants this to happen, so city and neighbor support of this event rests on their shoulders.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee 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 email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.