The embattled Lompoc Valley Motorsports Park Project took a major hit Tuesday night when the Lompoc City Council voted to not seek another state grant for the project.
The future of the controversial project was up for discussion following the Dec. 30 end-date for a nearly $1 million state grant that the city was awarded for the project a little more than three years ago. About $700,000 of that grant went unused and the organizers of the project were encouraging the city to reapply for another grant to help the park move forward.
After a nearly two-hour discussion, Mayor Bob Lingl moved that the council direct staff to reject that request and not seek any additional grants. That motion passed 3-2 with votes of support from Lingl and Councilmembers Jenelle Osborne and Victor Vega.
The vote prompted scattered applause from the nearly full audience at the meeting.
After the vote, City Manager Patrick Wiemiller said he would talk to members of the project’s organizing committee to see if their plans to continue the project were contingent upon a new state grant. If that is the case, Tuesday’s vote could have been the death knell for the project.
The project had been in the works for more than six years. The state grant was awarded in 2013 and the project’s Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, was approved last month. Because the park had been planned for construction at the Lompoc Airport, though, FAA approval was needed.
In a presentation to the council at Tuesday’s meeting, Planning Manager Lucille Breese said that the FAA would not approve the project due to its potential displacement of Skydive Santa Barbara, which operates out of the Lompoc Airport.
“Because of difficulties with the design of the project and the landing area for Skydive Santa Barbara, we are currently not able to proceed with the project,” Breese said. “What we’re asking is for the council to consider how they want us to proceed as staff.”
The city reported that the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation (LVPRPF), which encompasses the project’s organizing committee, had paid the city about $180,300 so far for work related to the project. The city also said that it has been reimbursed more than $211,000 from the state grant.
Another $28,000 is under review for state reimbursement.
“On the fiscal side, we were very fortunate to have been reimbursed, in my opinion,” Vega said during a discussion of the finances. “We’re very fortunate.”
Dozens of speakers offered passionate comments on both sides of the issue. Two brothers who are motocross riders both spoke to the council separately, as did their father, to stress the positive benefits that a motorsports park could bring.
Another resident, who said he lives a mile away from the airport, called the project an “abomination” and told the council members directly “I’ll see you in court” — the most recent of several threats of litigation surrounding the project.
On the subject of lawsuits, City Attorney Joseph Pannone revealed that the Lompoc Valley Community Coalition submitted notice to the city Tuesday that it intends to sue the city in relation to the project. Pannone noted that the city’s agreement with the LVPRPF stipulates that the foundation is liable for legal costs.
If the foundation doesn’t pay those costs, Pannone said, the city could choose to not contest the lawsuit. In that situation, he said it would be likely that the plaintiff would be granted a legal victory and the city could then be required to pay the plaintiff’s legal costs, which again would be billed to the LVPRPF.
Pannone said attorney’s fees alone could end up costing the city more than $200,000.
While Lingl criticized the project and its organizers before making his motion, Councilman Jim Mosby expressed dismay at the direction of the discussion.
“This group has worked its butt off for six-plus years,” Mosby said. “Thousands of hours they’ve sacrificed.”
He said that opponents of the project had offered a lot of “false statements” and “half-truths” and asked the council to move forward in seeking another grant.
“I believe in this group and I believe they can pull it off,” he said shortly before his request was denied.