After a lengthy discussion, the Lompoc City Council on Tuesday night ultimately decided to hold off and seek more information before potentially moving forward with a so-called Safe Parking Program that would give people who are otherwise homeless a place to park their live-in vehicles during the overnight hours.
The conversation on the pilot parking program that was recommended by city staff took up about an hour of Tuesday’s two-and-a-half-hour meeting, which also included the council approving $24,000 in additional funding for the cleanup of the Santa Ynez Riverbed and giving formal farewells to retiring City Attorney Joe Pannone and longtime Planning Commissioner Ron Fink.
The Safe Parking Program was proposed by city staff as a way to cut down on the hazards — such as dumping of human waste, obstructed views for drivers and pedestrians, and adverse effects on the surrounding neighborhoods — that are created by people living in their vehicles on city streets, and also provide a safe place for those same people to spend their nights.
The recommended program would have begun as a pilot for three months and allowed people who met certain qualifications and agreed to abide by a specific set of rules to park their vehicles between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the lot shared by Lompoc City Hall and the Lompoc Police Department.
That proposed location turned out to be one of the main sticking points for some members of the council.
Councilman Victor Vega raised concerns about how it would look for the City Hall parking lot, which is prominently located off Ocean Avenue, to turn into an RV campsite each night. Mayor Bob Lingl shared those concerns and added that he felt the program might dissuade residents from taking part in public meetings at City Hall, which routinely run past 9 p.m., due to a perceived fear they might have of homeless people.
Members of city staff, including City Manager Jim Throop, noted that the location was key in keeping the costs of the program down, primarily because it would lower the price of liability insurance for the city.
Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne noted that the safety of the people utilizing the program should be considered first and foremost as she supported the staff recommendation to host the program at City Hall.
While four members of the public supported the recommended plan, former mayor John Linn used his public comment time to advocate for holding the program in the lot at Johns-Manville Park, which is located on the corner of North A Street and East Chestnut Avenue.
Although members of city staff suggested that moving the program to JM Park would lead to the program’s failure, since Good Samaritan, Inc., would likely back out of its partnership and the insurance costs would rise, Vega supported that idea and made a motion to move forward in that direction. His motion ultimately failed 2-3, getting support only from Councilman Jim Mosby.
Lingl ended up making the successful motion to table the issue and have it brought back at a future meeting for further discussion after alternative sites have been reviewed. That passed 5-0.
In other action, the council also voted 5-0 to allocate another $24,000 toward the cleanup of the Santa Ynez Riverbed, a project for which the governing body had already approved about $532,000.
Those additional funds marked a steep decrease from the additional $450,000 that was initially requested in the city’s staff report. Throop and other members of city staff noted that the request dropped so significantly because Qwik Response, the Southern California-based company that was brought on to do the heavy lifting of the cleanup, indicated this week that it was nearing completion and expected that it would be finished either this week or early next week.
Throop said the company had removed 725,000 pounds of trash from the riverbed, which had been a living space for many of the area’s homeless residents for several years.
During the discussion about the riverbed cleanup funding, a member of city staff confirmed in a response to a question from Mosby that workers from Qwik Response had been found to have been cleaning an area east of the city that was outside of the approved cleanup zone. The staff member said that the city would be looking into potentially offsetting the costs for that work, which she said was estimated to have taken up about half of a day.
Throop also confirmed that he will continue to seek out financial assistance from Santa Barbara County and the state of California.
In other moves:
- The council voted 5-0 on the agenda’s consent calendar, which included approving $1.05 million for the purchase of three new garbage trucks, $295,000 for the purchase of three new transit buses, and to amend the city’s municipal code to allow cannabis testing in the city’s industrial districts.
- Mayor Lingl led brief goodbye ceremonies for Fink, who had served on the Planning Commission for 18 years, and Pannone, who had worked with the city of Lompoc since 1992 and been its lead attorney since 2009. Jeff Malawy was approved as Pannone’s replacement at the council’s Nov. 20 meeting.
- The council voted 3-2, with support from Mosby, Vega and Dirk Starbuck, to send a proposal to establish administrative fines for violations of the regulations related to the city’s sewer system back to the Utility Commission for further discussion.
The council is scheduled to reconvene in the chambers at Lompoc City Hall two more times this week. The first will be a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at which it is expected that Osborne will be sworn in as the new mayor and the council will discuss how to fill her vacated council seat. The council will meet again for an informational budget workshop that will be led by Throop at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
The next regular meeting of the City Council will be 6:30 p.m. Dec. 18.