Grand Jury Report Raises Concerns Over Lompoc’s Oversight of Tourism Group Funding

Marketing photo for Explore Lompoc (courtesy)

A recent report from the 2023-24 Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury has criticized the City of Lompoc for its lack of oversight in managing funds for the nonprofit tourism organization, Visit Lompoc LLC, also known as “Explore Lompoc.”

The report highlights concerns about unaccounted-for funding amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, prompting calls for better financial management and transparency.

The report focuses on the funding generated through the tourism business improvement district, which is funded by guests staying in Lompoc hotels. These funds are then allocated to Visit Lompoc to attract tourists to the area.

In May 2023, Lompoc City Attorney Jeff Malawy addressed many of the claims in an eight-page report to the City Council stating the allegations “are without merit.”

However, the grand jury report highlighted several areas where the nonprofit organization demonstrates a lack of transparency in the allocation of funds. The report raises questions about the accounting practices and expenditure of thousands of dollars, emphasizing that proper financial records must be maintained.

Under California’s Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994, organizations like Visit Lompoc are bound by specific rules, including spending funds only on tourism enhancement projects and not for general purposes.

The grand jury report provides six key findings and recommends ten measures for better oversight and transparency. One recommendation calls for the Lompoc City Council to instruct Visit Lompoc to conduct an independent audit, with the expenses to be covered by the organization’s excess funds.

Financial discrepancies, totaling more than $500,000, have been noted by the grand jury, pointing to a consistent lack of oversight by Lompoc authorities. The report also highlights a volunteer Visit Lompoc board member who reportedly offered to initiate an independent audit during a council meeting. However, the grand jury found no evidence to suggest that such an audit has been requested or completed.

As a result, the grand jury recommends that by the end of 2024, the Lompoc City Council reassess the terms of the agreement to evaluate the effectiveness of the 3% fee imposed on hotel customers and its impact on achieving the intended objectives.

Visit Lompoc’s board members did not explicitly agree or disagree with the grand jury’s findings, according to the report. The organization currently engages the services of consultant firm Civitas Advisors to help prepare its annual reports. However, the firm did not complete the 2023 report due to several undisclosed issues.

Unlike other similar tourism groups, such as those in Santa Maria and the Santa Ynez Valley, Visit Lompoc does not readily provide board agendas and regular reports on its website, further contributing to the concerns raised in the grand jury report.

The Lompoc City Council has been given a 90-day period to respond to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations. A formal response from the city is expected to be submitted within the specified time frame.

Edhat Staff

Written by Edhat Staff

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