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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 24th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 21, Issue 17

Lompoc opts out of county-led consortium aimed at addressing housing issues

By ZAC EZZONE

He may have said it four years ago, but Santa Barbara-based U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal’s reference to Lompoc as the armpit of the county still reverberates in the minds of some residents, such as George Bedford, who referenced the remark while urging the Lompoc City Council not to join a county-led consortium during a recent public meeting.


DISCONNECTED
Lompoc City Council opted to not join a county-led consortium aimed at addressing local housing issues.
FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

“Santa Barbara will not help Lompoc, they hate Lompoc,” Bedford said. “That’s why they call us the armpit.”

The majority of council echoed Bedford’s sentiment—albeit in less hostile language—and ultimately voted not to join a countywide partnership that would have directed about $200,000 annually to the city to use on affordable housing projects. While council members expressed other concerns about the program, the fact that the county would be leading the charge was a major sticking point. 

“I don’t want Santa Barbara County helping Lompoc,” Councilmember Dirk Starbuck said.

This funding is available to the city as a result of state legislation passed in 2017. Senate Bill 2, which was part of a 15-bill package aimed at addressing the state’s housing shortage and high housing costs, created the Building Homes and Jobs Trust Fund and the Permanent Local Housing Allocation program. This program is funded through fees on certain real estate transactions that the state collects and then directs to local governments.

Dinah Lockhart, who is the deputy director for the county’s Housing and Community Development Division, attended the council’s June 16 meeting to ask the board to join a consortium the county will lead. She said most other local cities, aside from Santa Barbara, which is pursuing this program on its own, have joined or plan to join the partnership.

Lockhart said as the lead agency, the county would handle all administrative responsibilities, including applying for the funding, submitting program-required reports to the state, and creating committees to review the grant applications the consortium receives from nonprofits and developers. This partnership approach, Lockhart said, saves cities from having to devote their own staff resources toward administering this grant program.

“We went into this carefully because your city, like other cities, has been hit by this pandemic,” Lockhart said. “Because we’re the county and because we have that infrastructure, we can take on the administrative burden of administering a program like this.”

Although the county would handle the program’s logistics, the city would have sole control over the projects it decides to pursue with its share of the funding, Lockhart said. These projects could include boosting the city’s first-time homebuyer assistance program or the development of affordable housing, among other options. The program also allows cities to save their allotted funding for up to three years to spend on a larger project.

But some of the language in the county’s partnership agreement brought some hard feelings to the surface between the two jurisdictions. Councilmember Jim Mosby pointed to a passage in the contract that provides the county with some flexibility in directing funds without the city’s consent. 

“People down in Santa Barbara can decide how they are going to spend and do things in the city of Lompoc,” Mosby said. “And the county has done that enough already. We’re buried in what the county is doing to benefit us.”

Lompoc officials recently chafed at another county-run program in the city. At a meeting earlier in June, some City Council members expressed frustration over a countywide syringe exchange program that operates within the city under the county’s authority. Legally the city can’t prohibit the program, so Lompoc was looking at potential ways of regulating it. Starbuck suggested asking the county if the city could simply opt out. 

During the June 16 meeting, Lockhart acknowledged that there is language in the housing consortium contract that allows the county to redirect a city’s allocated funding. But she said this would only happen if a city is not using its funding or not saving it for a specific purpose. 

“The intent of the funding is to get spent,” Lockhart said. “The state understands that you may want to bank funds and wait for that great project that’s in the wings, so they’re not forcing the cities to spend that money year after year. But at some point, there may be a need to want to spend the money.” 

In addition to this issue, Mosby and other council members also raised concerns about any administrative work from this program that would fall within the responsibility of the city’s already bare-bones Community Development Department.

Although the county will cover all administrative responsibilities, Community Development Director Christie Alarcon said that she’s concerned about any management of this program that could fall within her department, which consists of only two people. 

While acknowledging these concerns, Lockhart said in addition to the county administering the project, the state reimburses cities for costs associated with delivering the program. 

Nonetheless, without adequate staffing to handle any aspect of the program and concerns over the county having a hand in city funds, the majority of the council opted to deny joining the program in a 3-2 vote. Instead, the city will apply for the program directly on its own whenever it has the staff to do so. 

Mayor Jenelle Osborne, who voted against the council’s rejection of the program, said she believed the city was making a mistake. She said the city could have at least opted in to the program and banked funds over the next three years while trying to find additional staff. 

Councilmember Gilda Cordova, who cast the dissenting vote with Osborne, said that while she understands the anti-county sentiment, the city shouldn’t turn down funding that could help Lompoc residents because of these feelings.

“To me, turning away money that could potentially serve somebody in our community because we perhaps are looking at it on a personal, I don’t want to say vendetta,” Cordova said. “But we’re sore about the fact that Santa Barbara County doesn’t like us as a community or as a part of their whole county. I get that. 

“But it’s not smart in my mind.” 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at zezzone@santamariasun.com.








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