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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 24th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 7

Lompoc's space center project is grounded--again

BY AMY ASMAN

A complex case of “the chicken or the egg”—or, in this case, “the land or the money”—prompted Lompoc City Council members on April 16 to terminate their contract with the Environmental Education Group (EEG), a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit proposing to build a $220 million space center on city land.

During the meeting, it became apparent the council needed proof of funding for the project prior to transferring ownership of 96 acres to EEG. The nonprofit offered letters of intent from potential financial backers, but said it needed the land to secure a contract with the developer and to bring in more revenue.

The council’s needs ultimately took precedence; members voted 5-0 to give EEG a notice of termination and directed staff to issue a formal request for proposal (RFP) for a project developer.

Prior to casting his vote, Mayor John Linn questioned whether anyone else in the area would show interest in the project. He predicted EEG would be back before the council in due time—if they were still interested.

In a follow-up interview with the Sun, Linn lamented the “money before the land, land before the money,” problem: “That’s the stumbling block we’ve been at for the past five years,” he said, adding that the council experienced similar problems with the California Space Authority before it disbanded.

“No one understands how to get past this step,” he said. “I currently have someone helping me research how other cities and agencies get past this step.”

But that wasn’t the only problem discussed at the meeting. A city staff report said EEG failed to provide the council with a more detailed phasing plan of the project. The report also said the developer contract EEG provided the city was inadequate and that the proposed developer didn’t seem to have the professional experience needed for the project. It also appears that EEG and city staff disagreed over whether debt could be a significant source of funding.

EEG chairman Alan Tratner later told the Sun the staff report’s claim that his organization hadn’t met the agreed-upon development milestones was “totally and ridiculously an error.”

“I’m disappointed and shocked by the staff report because we did everything [the council] asked us to do,” he said, adding that EEG planned to send a formal response to the city.

Tratner also found faults in some recent reports from local media scrutinizing EEG’s board of directors and IRS records, as well as an anonymous letter circulated by what he called a “small attack group” opposed to growth in Lompoc.

He said if the city “gets it act together with the RFP, [EEG] would be happy to respond.” In the meantime, his organization will be discussing the space enterprise center with other entities.