Lompoc Police Department Capt. Kevin Martin told the City Council last week that the agency is now almost fully staffed for dispatchers.

The pending hire of an eighth dispatcher completes the long-awaited rejuvenation of the unit and marks an increase from three full-time dispatchers when he and Chief Joseph Mariani took on their roles 2.5 years ago.

In addition, Martin reported the record department is fully staffed, and there are three candidates in the background-check process for the last open position in the jail. Of the 48 officers budgeted, 44 are in place including: 26 patrol officers, five station detectives, four administrators including Mariani and Martin, three in police academy, two in field training, and one new hire who will begin Aug. 2.

Once officers currently in academy enter full duty, the department intends to redeploy its motor officer for a greater focus on traffic incidents. It will also then redeploy its homeless liaison officer.

“The chief and I are very excited. We haven’t been able to see these numbers since we took over, but we’re excited with what the future has and what we’re going to be able to do for this community moving forward,” Martin said.

In addition, three detectives have been assigned to the newly minted special investigation unit. The unit will focus on trending issues in the community beginning with the city’s “gang problem,” working with other agencies including parole, the FBI, and “whoever we have to support us.”

“Once we have dealt with that, and I’m confident we will make a huge dent in that problem, we will then reassign them to do a different task. Stolen vehicles are a problem in our community, so we’ll assign them to deal with stolen vehicles. That’s why we’re calling it a special investigation (unit). They’re not just one thing; they’re going to deal with those problems in the community,” Martin said.

The city will test for other officer candidates at 9 a.m. July 30 at Hancock College. Mayor Jenelle Osborne encouraged any interested potential officers to apply.

Also at the July 20 meeting, the Council approved a number of business items on its consent agenda including levying a special tax on Summit View Homes, entering into an agricultural lease agreement with Rancho Laguna Farms Inc., providing an increase in pay to the city manager and members of the city’s police officers association, and accepting a donation of land to the city.

Among the consent agenda items, council members unanimously approved a 3% increase in salary to sworn and nonsworn members of the Lompoc Police Officers Association with an additional 2% increase for dispatchers. In addition, the agreement with LPOA includes an increase in monthly medical benefit of $50 for individuals and up to $150 for members’ family coverage.

City Manager Jim Throop said the additional $554,632 cost will be covered entirely by the general fund reserve, which saw a $1.3 million surplus last year.

According to a staff report, the special tax levied on Summit View Homes will raise $20,051 for the annual operation, maintenance, servicing, and repair and replacement of streets, parkways, roads, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, street lighting, signals, street signage, and a contribution to public safety services costs related to the development.

Responsible parties will be assessed $871.77 per developed parcel and $2,423 per acre on 3.13 acres of undeveloped property. The remaining 3 acres is tax exempt.

The city will also raise $20,000 in rent over the next five years and save money on weed control and other maintenance by leasing city owned property to Rancho Laguna Farms, Inc. The business already owns and farms parcels adjacent to the three vacant, unimproved, city-owned parcels on H Street.

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Under the lease, the tenant will be responsible for supplying its own water source from a well located on adjacent property and will be responsible for all other utilities, as necessary.

The council also accepted the donation of 123 North H Street, currently used as a parking lot, as offered by Lorraine M. Cox in memory of her late husband Terrill F. Cox. No conditions were placed on the donation, and the city initially plans to retain it in its current use for downtown parking.

And lastly, the council held the second of four required public hearings on the mandated redistricting process and heard an explanation of the process from consultant Daniel Phillips of Glendale-based National Demographics Corporation.

Lompoc established voting districts in December 2017 after threat of a lawsuit by two Lompoc residents who claimed the at-large system led to racially polarized voting. They sought, and won, the district-based system.

The council is currently comprised of one representative from each of Lompoc’s four voting districts with the mayor presiding regardless of district of residence.

Two years after Lompoc established its first voting districts, the state adopted the FAIR MAPS Act establishing new criteria and timelines for city and county redistricting in California. The law requires redistricting every 10 years in alignment with the latest census data.

Council Member Victor Vega, representing District 2, said he didn’t appreciate that the district seemed to have been defined by a race-based demographic.

“I think we should mix it up a little bit more just to make sure we include more, there’s just not a line there where just the Hispanic population ends. Yes, there’s a higher demographic, but when we can, use the percentages to expand a little bit more so we’re doing it with a methodology that is aimed at reducing crime and helping others. Let’s just keep that mentality in mind, ok,” he said.

“I hate to be boxed up and saying, hey, District 2 is … 57 percent Hispanic, and that may be a true statement, but I want to be a little more color blind when we do this so we can be more with crime statistics instead of more with your heritage,” Vega said.

Lompoc residents can put their culinary skills on display following the passage of countywide ordinance AB 626, which allows the operation of mini-food businesses — known as a Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations or MEHKOs — from private home kitchens.

At the mayor’s request, Phillips attempted to clarify the requirements of state versus federal law in redistricting.

“The (federal) voting rights act is really designed to make sure that historically marginalized communities, what it calls ‘protected classes’ — in your community it would be Latinos, Latinx, Hispanics, however you want to call them — you do not want to dilute their voting strength, their power,” Phillips said.

One way that dilution can occur is to split up those groups’ concentrations when drawing lines, which the city should avoid, he said.

“However, on the flip side, the Supreme Court has said don’t make race or ethnicity the paramount or only factor. Look at other things. Look at demographics like percent renters, percent Spanish speakers, percent lower income or lower education levels and you can define communities of interest that way and thereby satisfy both the federal voting rights act while also observing communities of interest and not racial gerrymandering,” Phillips said.

Vega said he still believes Lompoc is too small for districting.

“In essence, we would all be doing a better job if there were no districts in my opinion. … Lompoc’s a little too small at 40,000 to be cutting it up. As a whole, we should be at-large,” Vega said.

Series: Lompoc City Council

Read this collection of stories on Lompoc City Council from the past year. Read all of our coverage of local government in Vandenberg Village and the Lompoc Valley on LompocRecord.com.

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