Lompoc officials delivered positive news to members of the public during the annual State of the City address that made the town's 135th anniversary commemoration a little sweeter.
City Manager Dean Albro cut to the chase with an economic forecast spurning talks of a recession.
Discussions of the city's 2023-25 budget being finalized were prefaced with a few rhetorical questions, "Are we in a recession? Is a recession coming? No, we're not," Albro said.
Looking to current trends, he confirmed the unemployment rate to be comparatively low in Lompoc.
Data found at Y Charts currently reflect an unemployment rate of 5.5% in Lompoc, a 13.6% drop since the onset of the pandemic in April 2020. The rate ultimately made a recovery, with a 9% joblessness value at the same time in 2021.
Albro's statement was supported by a historical graph projected onto a screen referencing the slight highs and lows of the local economy over the years, compared to the 2007-08 financial crisis that reflects a notable dip. And though an economic slump was experienced during the pandemic — it was minimal, Albro said.
"If it was a recession, it would be a high unemployment," he said, noting that the even gross domestic product — which calculates product output versus input — is strong.
"We’re producing a lot of goods, so that’s a good thing."
Albro, in fact, predicts a strong economy for the next two years and in the overall budget.
"We’re going to see low unemployment, [high] productivity — we have a lot of wealth out there to push us through. We're predicting we're going to see really good sales tax, property tax [numbers] — on all our taxes. We’re also hoping to add more services to our budget."
Albro credits $12.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for helping to finance the revitalization of city assets including a $2.5 million replacement of Lompoc's 30-year-old radio systems, upcoming aquatic center upgrades, addition of tennis and pickle ball courts at Ryon Park, and the acquisition of the "next frontline fire engine."
Among those projects completed over the past few years, or underway, Albro pointed to various street improvements and the Pioneer Park makeover; the installation of a new playground at Thompson Park, library restrooms redesign, purchase of a new fire engine and exhaust safety equipment, and much needed maintenance of the Lompoc Aquatic Center pool.
Currently, the city is accepting feedback from members of the community on the new College Park playground design that includes construction of a skate park.
"I have the best job, I really do," Albro said. "I have the best staff."
Before inviting Mayor Jenellle Osborne to the podium, Albro acknowledged new Police Chief Kevin Martin, sworn in on March 24, as well as new Lompoc Fire Chief Brian Fallon, who was hired in January.
Setting two-year goals
Osborne brought equal amounts of fervor to her address, kicking off with a reminder to attendees to join Lompoc in celebrating its 135th anniversary as a city, having incorporated in 1888.
A "big special birthday celebration" is slated to take place in Old Town Lompoc on Saturday, Aug. 12, and Osborne invited the public to attend.
In addition, 2023 marks Lompoc's public power agency's 100th year "of helping to keep our rates much lower than PG&E."
"Sorry for any of you that live in the County," Osborne joked.
The city owns its electrical utility, providing Lompoc a comparative pricing advantage over other cities in Santa Barbara County and the state.
"It’s one of the things that makes Lompoc unique," she said.
Thanking partner agencies, organizations, city departments, and members of the community for coming together to get things done, Osborne delivered news considered a long time in coming: implementation of body cams for fire and police, and the return of motorcycle officers to traffic enforcement.
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"Start slowing down now, and get into practice,” she noted.
"I know I've stood up here before and talked about issues we need to address and you’ve heard and support the changes we needed and we’re beginning to address those," she explained. "It's many years of problems that we’re trying to recover from — so its only been two years since where we’ve had that additional revenue."
She explained the reason for a slow phase-in of body cams was due to cost, but also to outmoded radio systems which have since been replaced.
The Mayor outlined four specific goals for the next two years, goals, she said, might remain as such for some time, namely addressing the homelessness crisis.
• Develop and equip effective public safety (fire and police): emphasis on addressing homelessness in Lompoc;
• Enhance quality of life: clean up lompoc, address homelessness, enhance park maintenance;
• Promote economic vitality: expand housing options, address homelessness, increase business-friendly practices;
• Ensure long-term fiscal health: expand local housing options, invest in the city's infrastructure, and address homelessness.
"I take great pride in representing this community, " Osborne said. "We’re really on a new path, and I really want to thank you all."
Lompoc Valley Medical expands
Lompoc Health is headed for further expansion, according to hospital CEO Steve Popkin, who revealed plans for a sixth medical center — Vandenberg Village Center — located at Constellation Road and Burton Mesa in the CoastHills Credit Union building in Vandenberg Village.
The new center, which will provide a variety of healthcare services, Popkin said, is estimated to open its doors in approximately one year.
LVMC closed escrow on the building on May 10, according to Popkin, and through an arrangement, CoastHills will continue to lease "a little less than 50%" to continue their operations while the hospital utilizes the balance of the building after construction is complete.
More space is also expected at Lompoc Valley Medical Center as Popkin also revealed plans for the construction of additional parking are underway.
New programs and equipment have been added at the hospital over the past few years and include: stroke ready accreditation, a DaVincci XI Robotic Surgery program, new MRI with new modalities, bariatric surgery, in-patient dialiysis, and telehealth, among others. A comprehensive mental health and substance use disorder program is offered.
'We have a lot of work to do'
New school district Superintendent Clara Finneran offered a message of hope, beginning her short presentation with an introduction about herself and a colorful slideshow showing the faces of students and staff at Lompoc Unified.
“This is a great place, and we have a lot of work to do,” she said.
Starting the role on Jan. 17, Finneran said she has already taken a crash course on the district, learning about the students, teachers and the town and vows to make a difference.
"The work is about belonging," she said, introducing new initiatives that include staff "crafting a full life" outside of school, and requiring an equal commitment in classrooms, showing up joyful and ready to make a difference.
Despite the district "having $450 million dollars of needs," being short seven bus drivers — and, overall, short-staffed, Finneran said her plans are to focus on three distinct areas of need: build positive culture rooted in trust; increase academic achievement; and improve facilities, which are 60 plus years old and are in disrepair.
"I’m so happy to be here in Lompoc, to be working with you and serving our students and staff," she said. "I look forward to the wonderful things ahead."