For the last 3 years, we’ve been engaged in a project that could, if it is successful, have transformative impact on a community. The city of Lompoc (as you pronounce it in your mind, the second O is long like POKE), sits up against the central coast of California about a two and a half-hour drive from Los Angeles. It’s the coastal end of the Santa Ynez valley and the rolling countryside is beautiful. Lompoc has historically been agricultural, these days, like the rest of the region, that looks more and more like vineyards. It has one other major feature—Vandenburg Air Force Base. Vandenburg is the largest base in the US, covering miles of coastline. Also, they launch rockets. Lots of them.
Enter a soft-spoken former Navy pilot with a couple of engineering degrees and a decades long career in international finance. When I met him, Steve Franck had already spent two years and a significant sum disentangling a great opportunity from a thicket of political brambles. There was an opportunity, he said, to obtain an interesting site with a great viewshed into the Vandenburg rocket range from the city if a team could demonstrate that they had the right talent, funding and creativity to develop a world class attraction presenting the story of the next generation of space flight and weaving in STEAM education. That’s how IDEAS became a partner in Pale Blue Dot Ventures. It was a no brainer really. This hits all of our hot spots-starting with SPACE but also, immersive, learning enriched entertainment and a project that will not only be a commercial success, but a community builder, creating new brand and economic value for Lompoc.
This week, Steve and I attended our 3rd Lompoc city council meeting. The punch line is that the council unanimously approved an agreement that paves the way for Pale Blue Dot to raise the funds and develop the park. What struck me though was the tone and nobility of the meeting. People spoke. They congratulated their fellow citizens on achievements, presented concerns and, in good faith, agreed and disagreed with each other. On our issue, folks spoke in support and in opposition. There was passion but there was no anger, there was no hatred, there was none of the divisive rhetoric that is poisoning the national body politic. The meeting opened with a prayer read by a local person, in which he asked on the room’s behalf, for wisdom and guidance. Then, in a ritual I have not frequently participated in since my school days, we all stood, faced the flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. It has the quality of a mantra when said with mindfulness. Some of the words are difficult to say if you are truly looking deeply but “with liberty and justice for all” stayed in my mind, spotlighted. Spoken by a room full of Americans of every shade of skin, fluent in many languages, coming from both liberal and conservative points of view and from every gender, preference, and age, it reminded me that despite our current malaise, our national character is fundamentally collaborative, kind, resilient and adventurous.
By the end of the meeting, those who wished had had their say and decisions were made with the best intentions for the community. Democracy works. It takes courage, it takes respect, it takes personal accountability and you don’t always get what you want, but that’s the price of it.
Steve and I were gratified with the city’s faith in our abilities and instantly humbled by the responsibility we have to this community. We are only just beginning the tough slog through capital raising and all that goes with it, but we have confidence. After all, how could a place that celebrates the continuing human adventure into space not succeed when it was “launched” on the exact day that, 50 years ago, saw humans first launched to the Moon.