Public safety, financial concerns and marijuana were among the matters explored Thursday night at the second public forum for candidates running for Lompoc city office.
Each of the two mayoral and three city council candidates participated in the event, which was hosted by the Lompoc Chamber of Commerce and Vistors Bureau in the council chambers at Lompoc’s City Hall.
Those included Mayor Bob Lingl and challenger John Linn in the mayor’s race, and incumbents DeWayne Holmdahl and Jim Mosby, who are being challenged by resident Jenelle Osborne for the two open city council seats in the Nov. 8 election.
Several of the questions at the forum, which included seven prepared questions and seven from audience members, involved the recently failed fire station proposal and how the candidates would address public safety issues — new stations for both the fire and police departments have been identified as city needs — in the future.
Osborne, a former chair of the city’s Economic Development Committee, pointed to a way of obtaining money for future public safety infrastructure that had not been mentioned in this election by any other candidates.
“I’m gonna propose a couple of radical ideas and that may cause me to lose several of your votes, but I’m gonna put them out there,” she said. “Cannabis is about to be legalized potentially in California. We, instead of avoiding it, need to address having distribution facilities, distribution licenses and a local tax — and that tax be dedicated to public safety.”
She said that such methods have proven to be successful in other places, such as Colorado, that have legalized recreational marijuana use.
“I know it’s a little out there,” she said, “but as it comes down the pipeline, we need to be proactive and not resist the ability to have permits and taxation related to that legalization.”
Holmdahl suggested that the city look at ways to fund the stations immediately, while the other candidates said that starting to save right now is important.
“It’s too late to start (saving) 15 years ago,” Lingl said. “We start putting away today.”
Linn said that a new capital improvement plan needs to be developed, which is currently underway, and once that is done, the new revised impact fees will help fund a new fire station that he suggested should be cheaper than the one that was proposed and voted down this year.
“I would probably characterize the station that came along as an idea that just expanded over time,” he said of the proposal that would’ve cost about $14 million to build, but would’ve totaled about $30 million with financing.
Mosby also defended the council’s decision to vote down the fire station proposal — the council voted 3-2, with only Lingl and Holmdahl favoring the project — and pointed to an independent analysis that suggested the proposal called for more than the city could handle.
Forum moderator Ken Ostini, who is the president of the Lompoc Chamber, also asked the candidates about ways in which they would help stabilize utility rates in the city.
Linn pointed to water and wastewater rates as the two biggest risers in recent years, raises that were triggered by a need to pay for a new wastewater treatment plant, and said that “going forward we need to look at cost reductions and we need to have some growth so we have more businesses and more homes to share in the costs of those utilities, which will lower the cost for all of us.”
Osborne said the city needed to implement slight rate increases on a regular basis in order to be more able to deal with infrastructure planning and repair needs. That sentiment was shared by Lingl and Holmdahl.
Mosby, however, said he was against any new raises in utility costs.
“Unless there’s an emergency, I am not for another rate increase,” he said after noting the reserve levels in each utility fund. “I think we’ve got enough already. … We have a reserve policy and we’re doing well with what we have right now.”
The forum opened with a question about how the candidates planned to address conservation efforts with another year of anticipated drought conditions.
Lingl offered a promise to area residents after suggesting that one way to produce potable water, if the drought were to continue over the next decade, would be to hang on to the water produced by the wastewater treatment plant instead of letting it run off into the Santa Ynez River and eventually the Pacific Ocean. He said that water was the city’s “ace in (the) hole.”
“If push came to shove, and I see some faces (not liking it), we could take this water, put it back into our aquifer, let it percolate up and we could regenerate our aquifers using our drinkable wastewater,” he said.
“I would do it today,” he added. “I’ll go to our wastewater treatment plant and I’ll take a cup (and fill it) with water coming out of there and I will drink it. It is that pure.”
Osborne suggested the city look at ways to incentivize drought-tolerant landscaping.
The candidates also shared their ideas on how to draw business and jobs to Lompoc, how to get youth to invest in the community and ways to help residents in need, such as those who are homeless and/or suffer from substance abuse issues.
The forum, which lasted about two hours, included just one brief mention of the Lompoc Valley Motorsports Park project, which was a primary topic of discussion at the first candidate forum on Sept. 19.
Osborne mentioned the proposed park, which has been at the center of public debate within the city for more than two years, as a possible cause for developers being wary and delaying construction of new homes in the area.
The event closed with each candidate making his or her final pitch for votes.
Lingl, who was elected in 2014, and Linn, who was mayor from 2010 to 2014, each outlined some of their accomplishments from their terms in office, while the council candidates brought up some issues that were important to them.
“I think it’s important (to have) venues like this, so you can see where people stand — or where people want us to stand later,” Mosby said.