Despite suffering another significant setback this past week, a spokesperson for the Lompoc Valley Motorsports Park said that hope remains for the much-maligned project.
The Lompoc City Council dealt the proposed park a major blow late Tuesday night when it voted 3-2 to not seek another state grant for the project. The city had previously been awarded a nearly $1 million grant from the state for the park in 2013, but about $700,000 of that award went unused when the grant term expired Dec. 30, 2016.
Members of the Motorsports Park Committee, which is operating under the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation, had identified a similar grant from the California Department of Parks and Recreation and were encouraging the city to apply again. That request was denied when Mayor Bob Lingl moved that the council decline to seek another grant, a motion that was supported by council members Jenelle Osborne and Victor Vega.
“We’re disappointed that the council turned down an opportunity to get $1 million in funds to build a community facility, but we’ll look at other options to move forward,” John Linn, chairman of the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation, said a couple days after the vote.
“That was an opportunity that we found out about and hoped to take advantage of, but it didn’t happen,” he added. “It’s up to the committee to determine if they want to move forward — it’s not up to me — but I haven’t heard anybody saying, ‘I give up.’”
The new grant, if the city had applied for and received it, would have been critical because much of the environmental work is now completed for the project. More than $200,000 was used from the previous grant on environmental studies, particularly the project’s Environmental Impact Report, which was certified by the City Council on Dec. 6, 2016.
The reason the city, and not the Motorsports Park Committee, would need to apply for the grant is because the city owns the land at the Lompoc Airport where the park is planned for construction.
During the discussion Tuesday night, Osborne suggested to the project organizers that they seek out private land and go after their own grants so that the city could remain out of it.
As he has several times over the past year, Linn maintained that such a scenario isn’t viable.
“You would never be able to build in the county; you’d never get it authorized,” he said, pointing to other developers who have attempted and ultimately failed, sometimes after several years, to have projects built on county land.
“So it has to be built in the city of either Lompoc or Santa Maria and it needs to be in the 40-acre range,” Linn added. “So tell me, what other 40 acres is available in the city of Lompoc that’s not next to a bunch of houses? The answer is none.”
It also would be financially perilous for the organizers to move to a new location because all of the completed environmental work is site-specific.
One of the major holdups for the project, which has been in the works for more than six years, is that it needs FAA approval due to its location at the airport.
City staff reaffirmed at Tuesday’s meeting that it has been advised by the FAA that approval will not be granted until the plans are deemed satisfactory by Skydive Santa Barbara, which also operates out of the Lompoc Airport.
Linn disputed that characterization.
“The FAA has never made a decision — they’ve made suggestions,” he said. “They’ve never been asked to make a decision.”
Linn referred to the impasse with Skydive Santa Barbara, whose owner has threatened to move his business out of the city if the park proceeds as planned, as “an issue that needs to be resolved, like 100 others.”
An example of a possible workaround, Linn said, is for the park — which is set to include several off-road vehicle motocross tracks and an International Hot Rod Association-sanctioned eighth-mile drag strip — to be redrawn to go around the skydive drop zone.
“There’s a lot of alternative ways we can go with this, we just don’t know which one to move forward with yet,” he said.
The city reported Tuesday that the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation has paid the city about $180,300 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.
Vega, who voted to have the city stop work on the project last May and then reversed his vote days later to help it proceed, had pointed to recouping that money from the state as the motivation for his change of heart.
“On the fiscal side, we were very fortunate to have been reimbursed, in my opinion,” Vega said Tuesday. “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 earlier Tuesday that it intends to sue the city in relation to the project. Pannone noted that the city’s agreement with the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation 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 Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation.
Linn said he and others within the committee had not been made aware of any notice of litigation prior to Tuesday’s meeting, but he said the committee wasn’t overly concerned with the financial aspect.
“Everything’s at our expense anyway,” he said. “It keeps coming down to (opponents saying), ‘They can’t afford to pay for it,’ except every time the price goes up, we go raise the money and pay for it. What can I say?”
Mayor Lingl, a longtime opponent of the proposal, continued to criticize the project and the tactics of its organizers before making his motion. As it became clear that a vote to seek the new grant would go against the committee’s wishes, 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 of the foundation.
Linn said the committee will meet in early February to plan its next steps.
“We’re looking at alternatives now,” he said. “We’re just looking at a full range of what-ifs. It’s kind of a free-thinking period.”