Bad habits hard to break in city

Lompoc Valley motorsports supporters are off to a good start. Their wishes were granted with a 5-0 vote of the City Council to ask city staff to proceed with an in-depth analysis of the hurdles and costs facing the proposed drag strip and off-road vehicle complex next to the Lompoc Airport.

The sponsoring group of Lompoc Valley Motorsports Park packed City Hall with supporters, generating an impressive show of community approval for their plans.

More impressive was the quality of their proposal and presentation. The group of community volunteers, race car enthusiasts all, did their homework, hiring a consultant and bringing a representative of the International Hot Road Association to speak to council members. In fact, if one were to contrast the presentations for the motorsports park and the Environmental Education Group’s proposal for a Space Center, the Lompoc folks win hands down for professionalism and thoroughness.

Only time will tell whether a dedicated drag strip will reduce crashes from illegal racing on city streets. Only time will tell if this motorsports complex, when completed, generates new revenue, attracting out-of-town visitors who will stay in town and spend money, or whether it will primarily be a community facility patronized by Lompoc residents.

(Full disclosure: I’m not a race car enthusiast, but I once participated in a not-quite-legal drag race on Floradale Avenue from the passenger’s seat of my boyfriend’s car in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school.)

But some in the audience had a noticeably odd reaction to council members asking questions about the total cost of the complex and who would pay for the expense of obtaining approvals from a host of state and federal entities. (To his credit, Carl Creel, chairman of the group, was refreshingly honest when asked about the cost to complete the project. He said he didn’t know.) Some in the audience reacted as if council members were being rude and offensive to question the potential cost to the city down the road.

The disapproval from the audience was so obvious that both council members Ashley Costa and Cecilia Martner felt compelled to explain why they were conducting the due diligence council members should perform routinely for every applicant seeking council approval to proceed. “Many times I have to be the bad guy,” Costa said, explaining her questions before voting to proceed.

Some folks must have selective amnesia, because they’ve apparently forgotten that it was the lack of due diligence and probing questions from previous councils that resulted in some very costly mistakes this city is still trying to get out from under.

How soon some have forgotten that the fiasco of the senior center occurred because not enough council members looked ahead and asked hard questions. Because they didn’t, the eventual cost of demolishing the old center and creating a replacement went from an estimated low of $1.5 million to nearly $8 million.

They must have forgotten too that the lack of tough questions by past council members gave us an Aquatic Center built without a dehumidifier and without the built-in infrastructure needed to hold swimming competitions residents were promised would generate revenue for city coffers. Instead, the general fund is still subsidizing Aquatic Center operations and residents complain of insufficient public access to the pools they’re still paying for.

They must also have forgotten that it was the lack of proper oversight and asking questions that allowed Lompoc Housing and Community Development to wreak such devastation in our city and leave behind millions in bad debts. Not to mention the historic Lompoc Theater that is now in worse shape than when LHCDC purchased it with help from the city.

It’s worth noting that one former council member —Jan Keller — who consistently asked tough questions while those costly mistakes were being made, oftentimes being the lone “no” vote, was also vilified for being “rude” and difficult. Now, we know her concerns were both accurate and prescient.

Rather than looking askance at council members who ask tough questions, we should look askance at those that don’t. We’ve got plenty of examples of what can happen when council members choose to be complacent rather than vigilant and fiscally responsible. Bad habits are hard to break in this city.

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