The proposed Lompoc Valley Motorsports Project, downtown redevelopment and growing Lompoc’s economy were among the main topics of discussion Monday night during the first public forum for all of the candidates running for city office.
Mayor Bob Lingl and challenger John Linn, who are competing for the mayor’s seat, were there alongside City Council incumbents DeWayne Holmdahl and Jim Mosby, and challenger Jenelle Osborne, the three of whom will vie for the two open council seats in the Nov. 8 election.
The 90-minute event, held at the Lompoc Public Library’s Grossman Gallery, was put on by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). There were about 80 attendees.
It didn’t take long for the discussion to turn to the hotly debated motorsports project, which has been at the center of public discussion for more than two years.
One of the early questions presented to each candidate asked how the project should be funded.
Each candidate agreed that the park should be completed at no cost to the city, but there were disagreements about what exactly constituted a “cost” and the impacts that the project could have on other aspects of the city’s economy.
Lingl remained consistent with his previous comments in saying that he doesn’t support risking public money for the project, which is being put together by the Lompoc Valley Motorsports Park Committee, a subcommittee of the Lompoc Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation (LVPRPF).
According to a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, that the city has with the committee, the committee is responsible for covering costs for the project, though some of the costs that have been incurred by the city are eligible for reimbursement from a nearly $1 million state grant that the city was awarded for the project.
Mosby, who has supported continuing with the project while on the council, pointed to that state grant and said that the city is not on the hook.
“My main objective is that the city not pay for any of this,” Mosby said of the park.
“It might have to loan (the project money) or advance,” but that money would be reimbursed, he added.
Linn agreed with Mosby’s comments and further suggested that the park would be self-sustaining once completed and turned over to the city, meaning that it would never be a cost to the city.
Osborne said she thought the park was a “great idea” but added that she would not support spending any city money on it and suggested that it is being planned for the “wrong location” at the Lompoc Airport.
Holmdahl, who has sided with Lingl in past council decisions regarding the park, said he felt like the project was already negatively impacting Lompoc because it could potentially force the owner of Skydive Santa Barbara to move his business out of Lompoc, likely to Santa Maria.
“I’m getting tired of losing anything to Santa Maria,” he said.
During an allotted time for follow-up comments, Lingl asked Linn about the committee’s decision to cancel a $10,000 check this spring after the council voted to back out of its agreement with the committee, a decision that was later overturned. Lingl had brought up the issue before, but Monday was the first time Linn directly responded to it, at least publicly.
“We did stop the check after the project was canceled because we figured we’d need legal defense,” he said.
Lingl also reiterated that Realtors have expressed to him that the park will have a negative impact on the Lompoc housing industry. This same sentiment is expressed on some of his campaign materials.
Representatives from the Lompoc Valley Association of Realtors, however, took exception to this characterization.
Maria Aguiniga, the president of the association, and Anneline Van Dyke, the president-elect, both said after Monday’s forum that they believed Lingl’s comments were misleading.
They said the Lompoc Valley Association of Realtors, which has about 90 percent of Lompoc’s Realtors among its membership, has done no studies on the matter and has taken no position, since the effect of the proposed motorsports park would be up to the determination of each individual buyer or seller.
“We’ve chosen to stay neutral,” Aguiniga said. “It depends on who’s buying the house.”
Van Dyke added: “But we are against (Lingl) using the Lompoc Valley Association of Realtors, or Realtors in general, assuming that it’s coming from our voice, saying that property values will decrease."
The two, who did not speak publicly at the forum, said they have brought this issue to the mayor’s attention before and planned to do so again at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
In other discussions, each candidate was asked about other projects they would support.
All five indicated they would work to improve Lompoc’s parks — Ryon Park and River Bend Park were mentioned specifically — and Lingl and Holmdahl added that they would support building new stations for the Lompoc Police and Fire departments.
Linn brought up another controversial subject when he said he’d find a developer to complete a "space museum and science project" in the Lompoc Valley. The most recent attempt at such a project was the California Space Center proposal that ultimately failed late last year.
In addition to upgrading parks, Mosby said he’d like to see the city do something about the “blight” that is the old city pool building, and Osborne said she’d like to see local parks host sports tournaments, which would, in turn, bring in visitors and boost the city’s economy.
In one of the rare moments of unanimous agreement, each candidate said they believed that revitalizing downtown Lompoc was key to the city’s economic growth and each of them voiced support for potential projects that would do so.
The final question asked of each candidate, before questions from the audience were presented, involved how each of them would work to improve the relationship the city has with Santa Barbara County.
Linn and Holmdahl suggested that getting more North County representation on the board of supervisors would help, while Osborne suggested that she would meet with each supervisor and try to work with them to solve problems.
Lingl pointed to the common quote of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” and suggested that the city stop pointing fingers at the county.
“Because we have such a tenuous relationship with our board of supervisors, we cannot continue to make negative comments toward the board from the city — and I’m talking about from the council and the city staff,” he said.
“We need to start mending this relationship,” he added.
Each of the members concluded the event, which is available in its entirety in video at lompocrecord.com, and will be televised at a later date on TAP TV, by thanking AAUW and members of the community as they made a final pitch for votes.
During his closing statement, Lingl also pointed to members of the firefighting community in the audience and thanked them for their efforts battling the Canyon fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“I want to thank them and all of their brothers and sisters in the firefighting service for the great job they’re doing protecting us from this fire,” he said, drawing the loudest round of applause of the night.
The AAUW plans to host another forum Oct. 5 for the four candidates running for the three open seats on the Lompoc Unified School District Board of Education. That forum also will be in the library’s Grossman Gallery.