Continued economic growth, improved infrastructure, expanded borders and a new project on a parcel of coveted city land were among the topics explored Thursday by Lompoc City Manager Patrick Wiemiller during the annual State of the City address.
Wiemiller reviewed several of what he felt were accomplishments and setbacks for the city over the past year and discussed some of the issues facing Lompoc in the near future during an hourlong presentation at the Dick DeWees Community and Senior Center.
While Wiemiller was generally upbeat throughout his address — at one point he combated what he described as common pessimistic views by residents of the city by leading the audience of about 150 people in declaring that “we deserve and expect the best in Lompoc” — he expressed strong thoughts about some recent decisions made by city leaders.
After reinforcing his belief that Lompoc desperately needs a new fire station, Wiemiller turned his attention to the proposed station that was rejected by the City Council last month, in large part due to its $14 million price tag.
That cost would have jumped to more than $28 million through a financing plan recommended by the city.
Although a majority of the council members said they believed that high cost — which would have caused the city to dip into its emergency reserves — was more than the city could afford, Wiemiller disagreed with his strongest public statement yet.
“I am willing to put my professional reputation and my career on the line to back that up, because I believe that strongly about it,” he said of his belief that the proposed financing plan was in the city’s best interest.
He added that he and Lompoc Fire Chief Kurt Latipow will work with city staff to develop an impact fee model that will help fund future projects, including a new fire station, throughout the city.
“It’s exactly what I wish they’d done 30 years ago,” Wiemiller said. “And although yesterday would’ve been a better time to do it, today will work. At least today is much better than tomorrow.”
Other areas cited by Wiemiller as needing improvement included the city’s parks, streets and computer systems used within the financial department.
He listed several renovations needed at Ryon Park, although he highlighted the construction done last summer to straighten the arches that tower above the park’s entrance.
That work on the arches, he said, was awarded the American Public Works Association project of the year.
Wiemiller shared a photo of the outdated computers used in the city’s financial department, noting that some of the hardware is more than 30 years old, “which is like 210 in computer years.”
“We’ll be biting the bullet to make significant investments to automate our systems and allow them to cross-communicate, reducing significantly such things as billing errors (and) service delays and enabling us to automate processes that are currently way too manual,” he said.
Noting that city streets are deteriorating, Wiemiller said the city will begin lobbying this year for the state to eliminate its gas tax and adopt a license fee that charges drivers based on the weight of their vehicles and the number of miles driven.
The gas tax, which hasn’t been adjusted due to inflation, has become inadequate, he said, as more roads have been built, maintenance costs have risen and cars have been designed to travel farther on less gas.
The city manager also brought up the proposed California Space Center, another project that was ultimately rejected by the City Council.
The CSC had been proposed by a businesswoman who was looking to build a $460 million complex on 83 acres of land that was donated to the city by the federal government on the condition that it be used for education, recreation or open space.
Wiemiller said he supported the council’s decision to effectively kill the CSC project, but he said that land — which is located on the city's northern end — likely won’t remain vacant for long.
“The city of Lompoc staff is developing its own concepts for using this site to develop amenities for the community that are consistent with its allowable uses,” he said.
“That’s just a teaser and you’ll have to wait to hear more about it, but just let me tell you: It’s gonna be neat and it’s gonna kill the old, tired line that there’s nothing to do in Lompoc.”
Wiemiller also touched on the economic development of the city, which he said will go hand in hand with the city’s growth.
He pointed to current construction of a Hilton Garden Inn near the intersection of North H Street and Barton Avenue.
Upon completion, the inn is expected to add 156 hotel rooms to the city’s current total of 991.
Other businesses that have expressed interest in entering the Lompoc market include Chipotle and The Habit Burger Grill, two restaurants that are tentatively being planned for construction near the intersection of North H Street and Central Avenue.
“We are growing as a destination,” Wiemiller said. “This is a good thing for our economy.”
Noting the city’s recent annexation of northern land for the Summet View Home project, Wiemiller said the city will face an important decision soon on whether to annex parcels west of the city.
He said he felt that doing so is necessary for the city’s continued growth.
Lompoc Mayor Bob Lingl, who was a member of the City Council that hired Wiemiller in December 2013, said Lompoc is approaching a critical point where many upcoming actions will have lasting impacts on the city’s future.
With that in mind, he added that he is confident in the city’s direction under the current leadership.
“I am committed to making this city a better place than when I found it,” Lingl said. “I’m equally committed to putting the tools in place that will perpetuate this concept.”