Two leaders of the Lompoc Valley Motorsports Park project committee revealed Tuesday night that the organization is withholding payments from the city due to what it deems to be a “lack of performance” from city staff.
The revelation, which was made during Tuesday’s meeting of the Lompoc City Council, is the latest turn in what has been a roller-coaster year for the controversial project.
Carl Creel and Will Schuyler, who are co-chairs of the project’s organizing committee, each stressed that they feel the city isn’t doing its part to help the project along. Their comments were made shortly after Lompoc Planning Manager Lucille Breese presented a monthly update on the project’s status, which it was revealed last month is in a state of limbo until a satisfactory agreement is reached between the city, project committee, and owner of Skydive Santa Barbara.
According to city staff, the Federal Aviation Administration won’t sign off on a required new airport master plan — the project is planned for construction at the Lompoc Airport, which is where Skydive Santa Barbara currently operates — until such an agreement is reached.
“The FAA has told the city that we are to draw a line, a spot for (Skydive Santa Barbara), but it doesn’t say where it has to be,” Schuyler said. “So I have advised my group to withhold payment, because we haven’t had any performance from the city. You’re holding us up and you’ve been holding us up for several years over this very item. The city is the landlord and (Skydive Santa Barbara) is your tenant.”
The payments in question are monthly deposits of $12,622 that the committee owes the city each month from August through November, as per a memorandum of understanding between the committee and the city. The committee made its August payment late and has yet to make its September payment. Schuyler indicated that the committee has the money, but is purposefully not paying it.
Schuyler’s comments, which were later reinforced by Creel, were immediately disputed by City Manager Patrick Wiemiller, who said that “there has been an exceptional amount of effort” put forth by staff, and added that the project has been the most time-consuming single issue for him personally.
Wiemiller added that he was “extremely disturbed” by what he deemed as an “intentional breach” of the MOU, and said near the end of the meeting that he might be forced to take extreme measures.
“As we speak, I’m considering my authority under that MOU,” he said, noting that he can direct staff to cease work on the project.
Schuyler clarified after the meeting that his comments weren’t meant to imply that the committee would never make the payment, but that he felt like withholding the payment would spur the city to act on the airport land-use issue.
Skydive Santa Barbara owner David Hughes has in the past publicly stated his opposition to the project and has suggested that it could force him to move his business to Santa Maria. With FAA approval now seemingly contingent upon his acceptance of project plans, however, he has not spoken at any recent public meetings.
On Tuesday, Creel accused Hughes of “holding the project hostage.”
If an agreement is not reached, the FAA would serve as the third-party arbitrator, according to city staff.
As part of her presentation, Breese reported that city staff is continuing to meet with Hughes and members of the Motorsports Park committee to try to develop a mutually acceptable plan.
In other updates related to the project, Breese said that city council review of the final Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 1 and that the state acknowledged on Sept. 15 that it will be reimbursing the city $171,819 as part of the nearly $1 million grant awarded from the state to the city for the project.
In separate action Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to amend the city’s municipal code relating to the parks and recreation commission, which is a separate entity from the Lompoc Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation (LVPRPF) that is overseeing the Motorsports Park project.
It was discovered in February that the commission had been empowered with fee and policy-setting authority, which was in violation of state law. That authority will now be solely placed on the city council, with the parks and recreation commission serving in an advisory role.
The next regular meeting of the city council is slated for Oct. 18.