Arroyo Grande mayor speaks out
June 8, 2015
OPINION By ARROYO GRANDE MAYOR JIM HILL
After a dramatic five-week write-in campaign last fall, it’s continued to be an interesting and exciting first six months as Mayor of Arroyo Grande. I believe we have contributed to many positive changes for the city.
Beginning as the City’s representative to the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District Board, my first initiative as your mayor last December, was to propose consideration of an audit of that district’s past practices. The board voted to engage Knudson and Associates, a well-respected firm recommended by a citizen advisory committee, to begin work on that project.
The sanitation district is still caught up in the very unfortunate litigation against the State Water Board set in motion by the previous sanitation district staff and board, and the $1.1 million fine for the 2010 sewage spill is before the court. I have urged a negotiated resolution that will stop the legal bills, over $800,000 to date, and position our district to move forward with important projects, and my fellow board members concurred.
Last week’s resignation of the long time district legal counsel may also facilitate the district to move in this new direction. I have since initiated contact with the Regional Water Quality Control Board and hope to explore any possibility for a beneficial settlement and end to the litigation.
To continue to protect public health, we need to add a redundant processing component to the sanitation plant so existing equipment can be taken out of service for repairs. Reasonably settling the current litigation will facilitate commencing the redundancy project. Meanwhile, the district operating staff reporting to Superintendent John Clemons has been cutting cost, implementing efficiencies, and more than meeting all permit requirements to optimize our position.
Other issues facing the sanitation district include considering the viability of water recycling in context with other similar proposals and other options for increasing area water supplies; reducing costs for worker’s compensation insurance and certain employee benefits; assuring member agencies equitably and publicly agree on the apportionment and reasonable cost of services provided to the district as required by law; and consideration of televising district meetings for convenient access by all district residents.
With respect to the city itself, the December engagement of Interim City Manager Bob McFall has seen city operations carried forward smoothly.
In April, our City Council was able to hire a new permanent city manager, Dianne Thompson, who will start on Aug. 1, and to name a new city attorney, Heather Whitham.
We’ve avoided potential litigation by swiftly settling matters with former city manager Steve Adams and instituting a moment of reflection at council meetings.
Changing from the previous council’s track, in December we denied a large housing project proposed at Courtland and Grand Avenue, and have entered a memorandum of understanding with the developer to facilitate a new project with a larger commercial component there. The MOU will save both the developer and the city time and money processing permits.
In January action, our council decided to pursue both a “rehabilitation” plan and a plan to replace the original Bridge Street bridge with a new one, using pieces of the original’s distinctive green steel truss as a decorative element. The option I tend to favor would rehabilitate the existing bridge with new supporting structure underneath.
Our council took a step to fix the Brisco Road interchange congestion, starting two possible options through the environmental and public review process. Option 1, at relatively lower cost, would eliminate the northbound on- and off-ramps at Brisco Road, widen the Grand Avenue bridge, and improve the freeway ramps at both Grand Avenue and Camino Mercado to alleviate traffic.
Option 4c, the other, more expensive option, would relocate the northbound freeway ramps away from Brisco Road into a new roundabout at West Branch Street and Rodeo Drive.
SLOCOG has committed approximately $6 million to help fund this project regardless of the alternative chosen. I urge all residents to learn the details, consider which proposal would be most beneficial to them and to share their thoughts with staff and council either in a series of upcoming meetings, or directly.
The council is listening to public concerns and in February clearly heard the desire to keep the Elm Street dog park open after an unfortunate turn of events with the previous partner that could have forced closure. In parallel with outstanding work by committed volunteers, I believe we have found a path to keep the park open as well as make viable improvements.
During recent televised meetings, the council also received the capital and general fund budget proposals for the next two years. The collaborative interdepartmental budget preparation process considered staffing, service levels, and proposals for the future. Consideration includes the difficult legacy issue of paying down $14 million in previously unfunded liability related to the CalPERS retirement program. I will work hard to consider all options and choose the best path forward.
We are also looking forward to the grand public reopening of the police station on June 13 after a comprehensive and cost effective reconstruction project. The Women’s Club facility, which served as the interim police station, is being refurbished and returned to its prior uses.
We have also had time for fun activities including the annual Easter Egg Hunt, Arbor Day tree planting, and Father/Daughter Dance.
As slow as government can be, we have accomplished a lot is a very short time. As your mayor, I find the challenge and opportunities exciting and welcome your input.