Are we treating our volunteers fairly in Arroyo Grande?

October 26, 2015


I was appointed to be an Arroyo Grande  parks and recreation commissioner in January 2015, and looked forward to serving this year. However, I stepped down this month because of political mudslinging from some of our council members.

The backlash of speaking my mind as a resident at council meetings was not well received by some on the council and they threatened my seat on the commission.

Many years ago, the council decided each member would choose an appointee to each of the city’s commissions. Almost without question, and as a matter of courtesy, the appointees have been approved by the council. Most are approved unanimously.

Yet, my potential replacement has learned one of his references was contacted by Councilmember Barbara Harmon and asked to pull their support of this volunteer. Councilmember Kristen Barniech wants to interview the volunteer prior to considering him for an appointment.

During last year’s campaign season, Barniech attempted to stop me from putting up political signs. She called the police, not once or twice, but sometimes 12 or more times a day for weeks. All she accomplished was having the police contact me again and again to be assured I was following the rules, which I was.

Arroyo Grande is a city that relies heavily on volunteers. At issue is the motion made by Harmon at our last council meeting. To my knowledge, no council has ever voted to remove a commissioner, yet council members Harmon and Barniech are now trying to remove AG Planning Commissioner John Mack. By weighing in on the Courtland and Grand avenue project, he tried to make the gateway project a better fit for our city by making positive suggestions as well expressing numerous concerns.

The project developer, Nick Tompkins, has since filed numerous complaints with the Fair Political Practice Commission (FPPC) against Mack. Harmon wants to remove this volunteer, before the FPPC even has a chance to decide if Mack has done anything improper.

Councilmember Harmon stated it is because of the “perception” of wrong doing. Barneich quickly seconded Harmon’s motion. Councilman Jim Guthrie asked for the item to be discussed by the council on Nov. 10. This will allow the FPPC time to determine if the complaints have merit.

We have some great new appointments to the Architectural Review Committee, Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation, and Traffic Commission. These advisory bodies are part of the process for approval of any big changes going on in our community. These residents are volunteers who ask hard questions, and they take these positions seriously.

It seems as though Council member Barneich has forgotten that she herself was appointed to her position. Harmon has only been on council for 10 months, the same as Mack and I as commissioners.

Rather than attempting to remove a commissioner, let’s all be thankful for our volunteers, give them proper training and the chance they deserve to be successful and contribute.

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You claim you never post here, but read often. Please read the following, they represent just a few of your posts in support of Caren Ray during the last election. For a “Bako transplant” you seem to know more about Ms Ray’s personal residence than an AG native.

The motivation for your negative comments about Mayor Hill and his appointees is clear. Now work on getting your facts straight.



10/08/2014 at 4:36 pm

Sadly, the author’s obsession with Karen Ray and his endless unsubstantiated attacks and false statements undermine most peoples belief in any of his words. The author has spent all he had in the integrity bank, no story here.

On a side note, a quick call reveals that this campaign is not alone in dealing with the electronic filing troubles.

(-17) 53 Total Votes – 18 up – 35 down



10/11/2014 at 3:55 pm

yea, what projects?

(1) 1 Total Votes – 1 up – 0 down



10/24/2014 at 12:59 pm

That comment is 100% lies. The story has no basis but gets twisted as it goes. There is no basis to say Ray does not pay the same property tax as every home owner. Yes, she lives in a historic home. That home was designated as historic in 2009 not 2014 as reported. The developer never completed the registration work as required by the conditions of approval in 2009. The 2014 action was the completion of a 5 year process. Being historic does not save anyone a dime on property taxes, in fact its a pain in the butt to deal with. I personally looking into buying this property and can tell you that it had unoccupied for years and the last work done on it dates back to the mid 70s.

There is something called the Mills act which allows property tax offsets for historic maintenance and restoration work done to state guidelines. Its a very complex process and according to the city of AG only one person has pursued it in AG and that person is not Caren Ray. We can easily see that your statement is a complete lie and easily verified through public record.

(4) 8 Total Votes – 6 up – 2 down



10/23/2014 at 5:15 pm

Very odd comment since part of the group attacking Ferrara is fighting development in the city of AG (Otis Page for instance). So your attempt to link the two rings hallow.

Most people don’t want to see the run away growth that Compton’s position would bring.

I am a Bako transplant and that good ole boy program long ago created problems that have made the town the butt of jokes for decades.

(9) 19 Total Votes – 14 up – 5 down



10/23/2014 at 5:10 pm

Well for someone without a horse in the race, that certainly is slanted.. It is surprising that the story is what Ray said instead of what Compton said.

Compton has been clear in being against land use policy that puts housing near existing development and infrastructure. Compton has said developers should not have to carry all the burden of their development costs.

In no less than three public recorded appearances, Compton has said environmental review and development review process should be less restrictive. All these are the things that lead to out of control development and pollution. All those are public positions of the candidate yet the complaint is Ray insulted Bakersfield. Very confusing

(6) 16 Total Votes – 11 up – 5 down


I appreciate your interest in my posting history from a year ago. While it shows that upon occasion I can’t take the lies and distortions any more and abandon good judgement to engage on these boards, it also shows that I am generally correct. A quick call to the city shows the assertions from a year ago remain true.

So to attack the author and not the argument remains a empty way to support a position.


You’re missing the point

When you begin you’re post with a lie it calls all other statements into question.

I really have no interest in your posting history other than to point out you are not being truthful.


Well having to go back a year to find a half dozen posts in the same general subject area certainly indicates that I was inaccurate in the statement it also shows that I am far from a regular poster (which was the intent) who could not recall the last time I had done so.

But must importantly shows that you would rather set up a straw man and attack that than actually have a discussion on the substance. Certainly one of the weaker tools for persuasive aguements.


Look how far we have come!

Sad Insider says: 09/05/2014 at 9:55 pm

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the city of Arroyo Grande. They have done a remarkable long-term job of keeping the ship upright, until now, which isn’t a compliment. There is a behind the scenes culture within this city which can only be described as absolute arrogance and double standard hypocrisy. Most everyone on the inside knows this…it has been rampant for several years.

It’s been sad for insiders to watch the last several elections when no one ran for city council, and the positions went unopposed. The incumbents strut around, like one of the infamous Village Roosters, telling everyone what a great job they are doing because no one ran against them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Healthy cities have several viable candidates every election cycle. A city which doesn’t is indicative of a community which has turned apathetic towards their council and it’s behavior.

To Adams: if you are innocent as you claim, initiate litigation and prove it. Trust me when I say, the line of city-wide employees likely goes out your office and around the corner, in terms of who would like to see you subjected to a legitimate deposition. Same goes for a couple other high level city Management folks, and the Mayor too.

To Ferrara: there have been a bunch of new citizen bloggers on these stories, several of whom have been critical of you. Insiders know you run this city with an arrogant temper and an iron fist. It is your dictatorship style which has not only emboldened, but also protected, the culture we have been subjected to. Don’t think for one second you can’t be recalled, even if you did just become president of the League of Ca Cities. The odds on a recall would likely be far better against you, than they were in Morro Bay. Respectfully, it’s something you should very seriously think about.

At last count, the City of Arroyo Grande is 0-3 at the ballot box which includes two police station bond measures which both failed, and a fire tax assessment which failed even after the City voted “yes” with all of their own properties. With the way this city has conducted itself over the last several years, it’s likely going to be 0-4 anyway come November regarding the Charter city issue. Keep going down the road your going, and 0-4 might be a sure thing…


In response to AGDon,

Why didn’t the FPPC uphold the complaint if there is so much dirt as you claim? How ethical is it for a council member to make up their minds about issues prior to hearing public comment?

Just curious about your thought to those specific questions. And maybe you haven’t been truly following the mess that Mayor Hill is attempting to clean up with the San Dist…which was created prior to him being in office, thanks in part to Ferrara and crew, but hey, what’s 1,000,000 dollars plus when it comes to litigation that should have ended months ago? I am sure that your boy Ferrara and his pals didn’t benefit at all from the issues now coming to light in the San Dist.


Whether the FPPC complaint holds up and according to other news sources it is still under review and according to Julie is not the correct venue, is not the real point. The FPPC deciding not to investigate hinged on Mack’s ownership of the property which he divested in on the day of the vote, not his conduct. The kindest thing that can be said about this is that he used poor judgement. Apparently the complaint did not address his Impermissible bias either.

So it is really the city leaders whose job it is to evaluate if the public trust has been damaged. I am sure if Julie’s developer husband was in Tompkins position this would be a whole different story.

The fact remains that this commissioner organized opposition against the project, is attempting to use legal maneuvers to circumvent the spirit of a law, presented himself as representing the planning commission durning public comment at a city council meeting, was observed coaching other speakers at the city council meeting, took other professionals work and presented it as his suggested compromise (I assume suggesting again he speaks for the planning commission).

This certainly sounds like the type of conduct that the city council should be discussing.

This is conduct that most would view as a breach of public trust. It is the nature of our system that none of us always gets their way, but it is how we conduct ourselves that matters.


The Planning Commission, and all other commissions are purely ADVISORY.

That is why many applicants want the Planning Commission to deny their project so they can make a bee line to the Council.

If MACK is removed, why not REMOVE all advisory bodies and allow the COUNCIL to be the supreme being and do the grunt work of park and rec fee waiver applications, architectural designs and traffic concerns?

The commissions serve the City well because they are the first line of defense, the first group of stakeholders to review concepts prior to the very public Council meetings.

The COUNCIL should be listening to their advisory bodies as most of the time they scrutinize applications in detail that the COUNCIL cannot begin to devote the time and energy to.

As a past Planning Commissioner, you should know this.


In response to AGDon: I think it would be interesting to have you comment on the fact that with the passing of this project, the City of Arroyo Grande has lost out on a opportunity to bring in more commercial given the fact the General Plan was changed for this project. I think it would interesting for you to comment on that as well.

I have nothing to loose, and nothing to protect, no special interests except for what is best for AG and what is ethical. I am a straight shooter and don’t play politics well—I call it like I see it. Maybe you do as well.

What I do know is that specific council members do not make decisions that are in the best interest of AG. They made this about Mr. Mack instead of what it should be about which is what kind of development is best for the city and how we are going to generate revenue with a small inventory of viable commercial space available aside from the commercial already present. We need revenue. This project is not going to generate that.

So rather than focusing on one person’s actions, maybe we should all turn our attention to what we all need to do for our city.


At Leann

I will do my best to offer thoughtful input but a little house keeping first. The council has made a decision about the development but they have not about Mack. All these things are connected only by Mack’s conduct. And before addressing the project it is important to realize that Mack’s conduct actually goes against what you suggest is valuable here, investment in our town.

The developer brought the project all the way through the process with approvals up until a newly seated council shot it down. That process was the city’s not the developers. He spent time and money and political shifts screwed him. This is not a comment on the merit of the project, it’s a comment on the process and the need for consistency in the marketplace. It is also the risk a developer takes. That risk is why there is potential pay off, that’s Econ 101. This developer then gets an agreement from the only approving body, the city council, for what would be an acceptable project. The city comes to an agreement in a 5-0 vote. Then the developer starts the whole approval process again, working in the boundaries of the agreement.

The actions of a few planning commissioners, especially Mack, was in direct conflict with the direction of the city council and they in fact indicated that they did not feel the agreement was relevant. It should be no surprise that a developer would say he wanted to go to council because the planning commission was disregarding the council’s agreement. So we all know what happened next and the planning commissioners actions. We should all be concerned that the whole of the council did not stand behind the agreement they had made 8 months earlier.

What those actions create is instability and inconsistency, the very things investors hate. If you want better investment in our town, you should promote a stable process where investors can bring projects before the people and they are reviewed with consistency over the life of the project. That is not the atmosphere that has been created and it has the real potential to harm the future of our town. Far more potential than one project.

I will comment on the project itself in the next post.


The project was not shot down by the planning commission because of one new commissioner…it was shot down unanimously and at the request of the developer–you should get your facts straight.

I do not trust you to make good decisions for our community. You claim to have the best interests of the community of AG at heart, but your decisions and how you conduct business should be put to question as well.

I do support consistency, but consistency should be built around dealings up front and open. When Ferrara was in place as mayor, those kinds of dealings did not occur. If you cannot admit to that, then you are more blind than you even appear to be…the political shifts that screwed the developer needed to happen for our community. Rather than supporting a developer, maybe you should support the new leadership in the mayoral seat. But I understand that will be hard for you. The leader who appointed you to every position you have held in this community is not physically present to support you—that is a direct result of his and prior actions taken by the council.

What concerns me is that you and other council members are attemtping to follow the old business as usual—not recognizing that there is a spotlight on your actions and that you can no longer conduct business in the dark. And you are correct, not everyone gets what they want—you should take that statement and apply it to yourself as well.


Well I had hoped to be done.

Using a straw man argument serves no one.

The planning commission had at least three, maybe 4 new commissioners since the project came through a year before, not one. They vote unanimously because the developer did not want more continuance as he stated on record. The new commissioners clearly indicated they were not interested in honoring the agreement by the superior body (another reason I would for the Council to call up a PC member). It makes sense the developer would want the consideration the city had previously agreed to.

Blind hatred for whomever you think I might be clouds your ability to objectively view a carefully thought out opinion. The relevant facts remain undisputed.

It has been suggested that the focus should be the project not the individual. Is that only meant to cut one direction?


Psssst, hey Don- thanks for sticking to my talking points.

Love, NKT


Leann, thank you for the open discussion.

This project is indeed difficult. It has sat open forever while things developed around it. I remember the Williams Bros. lot across the street sitting empty for a decade. Not great for a town.

You are right, it is possible that the city lost sales tax revenue. But is that really true or are we looking at a change in commercial real estate?

We have one and soon to be two empty large grocery boxes. A third would do the city no good. If you go down East grand we find many empty commercial buildings and crazy low rents that would never support a new building. When we go to other communities in our area, the same is true, even on Higuera in SLO. What I am told is the internet has changed the retail landscape across the nation. So we can all say all the things that we wish would occupy the courtland project but that will not make business owners open that shop. It is a reality of the time.

Some suggested office space on the project too. These sit empty also but more to the point is that they don’t generate the sales tax revenue either, so that is of no help. The only real help may be generating a living vibrant community that brings people so businesses follow. I don’t know if the proposal is the perfect answer, but it is likely in the right direction and is the one that someone is willing to risk a lot of money on.

I would very much be in favor of actions by the city and the public to promote redevelopment along east grand, because you are right, we do need revenue, and the choices are limited. This is an area where public interest and pressure could make an impact.

Truth is, what makes cities money are new car lots and hotels. The city rezoned a couple parcels for dealerships a couple years back but nothing came of that. I understand there is talk of a hotel sometime in the future, hopefully you will be out supporting that if it is true.


Yes, the hotel that Tompkins wasnt to build—the village needs something besides a hotel…sorry, no support from me here…


No refuting the analysis. Just an indication that this is personal instead of based on the project merits as claimed.

Revenue is good only where and when a small vocal minority deems it so if difficult for me to accept as a home owner and business owner.

I think I see your cards.


AG Don funny how you had no conflict with Randy Russon being on the planning commission AND presenting the project for RRM to the council.

Can you say hypocrite?


One final comment before I disappear for another year.

This city has been very successful in attracting businesses. We have the only Walmart, the movie theater, the TJs, pier one, three national chain drug stores, a new large hotel, and let’s not forget the only In and Out burger, to name just a few. These guys come because of the business climate and this was all achieved while creating a strong and growing downtown village. And I know it is not popular to say here, but since we tossed out the baby with the bath water, much of these accomplishment owe a thank you to Tony and Steve. Like them or not, These guys were leaders with a vision and strong advocates for the city in many venues. We now lack that kind of vision and advocacy and we are not the better for it.

You are now free to flame away.


We need more than a Village to support our economy and our city…plain and simple. Big development is only in it for big development dollars—-we actually do not lack that vision…if you think that only Tony and Steve could bring a vision you are truly short-sighted. As I stated at the last council meeting, there are many people in this city who have talents, passions, and a vision, but you don’t want to listen to them or assist them in findind a platform for that vision…’

In essence, your statement regarding the visionary practices of Tony and Steve, point to the fact that you truly believe that they were the only ones who could bring anything of value to the table.

Very telling on where you stand. Which is why you and I will never aling on any important issue facing this city.


So big national companies that provide stable jobs and would be the likely tenants of a larger commercial center on courtland are bad

And supporting a small business climate like in the village is not good.

I would love to hear your silver bullet solution. Being a critic is easy. Doing, making, risking is hard.


Please disappear for longing than that would you councilwoman


oops should have proof read I meant to say

Please disappear for longer than that, would you councilwoman?

You claim to be a Bako transplant! NOBODY from Bakersfield calls themselves Bako’s, that is central coast slang.


Your other question is ethics. You imply that coming to council with your mind made up is unethical while supporting public advocacy for a position prior to a vote (as Mack did) to be acceptable. That is confusing.

No, I do not think its ethical for an official to come with their minds made up or having previously announced their position for a long list of reasons. I do expect officials to come prepared. I expect to have read the reports, perhaps questioned staff or city attorney for clarification or legal ramifications, to possibly have met or spoken to stakeholders. All these things would naturally result in a position when coming to the meeting. Then there is public comment and debate that should help form the final vote.

But to be clear, I do not expect the officials to arrive with their mind firmly made up nor do I expect their vote to hinge solely on how many and how vocal speakers might be. That would result in mob rule, something our town has come too close to already.

Kevin Rice

Here’s the FPPC complaint for those interested in the actual allegations:



Must have had an attorney compile all that.

Look at the PC minutes where all the PC wanted a less dense project!

Kevin Rice

Eh. Possibly. A little leg-work involved. It could be more meticulous. Attorneys would know news articles aren’t considered evidenciary.

Mike Byrd

Thank you, Kevin, for sharing the FPPC complaint. At least I now understand the Mack part of the piece.

On August 18 he quitclaimed his interest in his Loganberry house to his partner though he remains a party to the mortgage on that property. That evening he participated in the planning commission meeting, opposing the project, Nearly two months later while testifying against the project at the city council meeting he stated he still resided at the Loganberry home.

According to today’s CCN article the FPPC determined that quitclaiming interest to the house eliminated his potential conflict of interest even though he continued living there and maintaining the mortgage.


Living there and paying the mortgage is a kin to paying rent.

At the end of the day, Mack has no equity in the home.


The fact remains that he lives more than 1,000 feet from the development which would have allowed any official the opportunity to at least discuss and review the project. Which, by the way, is more than the 500 feet that might preclude discussions.


Back to the story…

Why are Council members calling on references and etc.

Is this not staffs job prior to submitting the applications for approval?

Seems like some heavy duty micro managing going on from Palm Springs IMO

Kevin Rice

My understanding is the gentleman has a personal stake in the project and clearly should have recused himself.

FPPC action is entirely separate, and not determinative of whether a commissioner can, or should, be removed. Many commissioners and employees have been dismissed for no cause—just look at Morro Bay.

FPPC is an administrative agency, not a finder of guilt or innocence. Neither is this a criminal case to begin with.

Commissioners serve at the pleasure of the appointing body. No cause is required for dismissal, though strong cause and misfeasance appears to exist here.

Mike Byrd

I believe his house is beyond the distance required for official hearing notices. Would that also mean he had no conflict of interest or is the distance different when acting in an official capacity?

Kevin Rice

The distances could certainly be different, or it could be a separate interest exists. A copy of the FPPC complaint would be very informative. I can’t take sides without more information, other than to restate commissioners can properly be dismissed the same way you choose where to buy groceries—no reason necessary.


Mr. Mack talked to the city attorney prior and was told he was okay to speak on the issue.

Mr. Mack lives over 500 feet away and they are 2 completely separate projects.

Kevin and Mike are correct you can remove a volunteer for no reason at all. Bottom line he is a VOLUNTEER, is this how they should be treated?


The project would not affect a property owner in Berry Gardens financially unless you live on the very last street that is already impacted by the lack of parking in the low income apartment complex.

Big Tony never recused himself because he lived more than 300 feet from the subject project!

John Mack lives at the other end of the development on Loganberry as shown in the docs.

Mike Byrd

Thanks for that info. Someone said Tony had recused himself.


Conflict of interest has to do with financial gain IMO



Calcoastnews needs to allow for readers to attach photo attachments. It would add to the comedic flavor, enhance the sarcasm and utter facepalming I am doing right now.

Can you believe this crap? Yes, it’s crap. We have citizens who want to volunteer and do good in our community, but if someone “important” takes a disliking to said citizen, well they can’t volunteer or are made so uncomfortable and harassed that they don’t volunteer. Since when do council members interview VOLUNTEERS? Can’t we just fingerprint them to make sure they aren’t sex offenders and mean felons on the run from the FBI, and leave the City Council to do stuff like FIX THE ROADS and bring LIVING wage jobs here????

I remember Kristen from when she worked her parents in real estate. It is great that her parents connections have allowed her so many opportunities. She has had some pretty neat jobs just handed to her.

Barbara Harmon was a Probation officer, what do you expect? She just thinks she can exert her power over VOLUNTEERS. Removing volunteers from positions. Calling references and asking references to retract their support. ARE YOU 12?????

If a volunteer (that means they work for FREE council members) is a BADDIE, it will show. Bad workers do bad all by themselves. You don’t have to add water or sun or anything. Bad just shows like a muffin top in skinny jeans.

If these Council Members would stop walking around our community acting so self important, maybe some REAL WORK would actually be getting done. You know, some REAL jobs moving IN and not OUT.

Lastly, my husband and I had this discussion recently because we were in downtown AG enjoying the evening. We had taken our kid to get some ice cream and the rudest women was there with her wildebeast children. She thought she was something special, with her face so shot up with botox it literally would not move and her hair blown so straight it looked like doll hair. Now, the botox and hair doesn’t matter to me. As a nurse, I have seen that underneath it all, pretty people and ugly people are all just people. This woman thought that all her “stuff” and “talk” made her just a little bit better than everyone else getting ice cream. Better than a nurse like me that has saved countless lives, and better than my Combat Veteran Hero husband, who would rather just quietly take our kid out and be humble than demand that others notice us.

This story reminds me of how our local council members in SLO, AG , Grover, Oceano, our water board issues, etc are being handled. These members dress up with their clothes and “titles”. Any dissent is not happenin’. The lowly citizenry are too stupid to know anything. Citizens don’t have fancy titles. We just have “regular” jobs.

If you got this far, AWESOME. The moral of my fable is this: WHO THE HELL DO THESE PEOPLE THINK THEY ARE???? They are no better than anyone else, and they need to remember who ALLOWS then to sit on those council seats.

/rant off.

I feel better now.



I just googled those 2 women and it is amazing what I read. It was Tony and Kristen making all the calls to the police dept about the political signs, and the chief had to inform Kristen the folks putting out the signs were not breaking any laws.

Barbara is part of the chamber of commerce and wants to bring head of household jobs, yet votes to bring in more housing and a smidgen of commercial on Courtland and Grand.We have lost Round table and The Girls restaurants, and now we have a grocery store going out. I have not heard one word out of Ms. Harmon’s mouth. She also sits on the Fire Authority board and it seems that they just keep getting more and more money from the city with Barbara on their board.

Barbara was a probation officer, so she should have some idea of “innocent until proven guilty”. Yet she is quick to try to throw Mr. Mack under the bus prior to the FPPC looking into the matter. And she wants to be mayor? Tony want to be it seems right now.

At least Ms. Barnich has sat on some commissions, but not Ms Harmon. She wants to go right to the top without proving herself, what an ego. If memory serves correctly it was Daddy chuck Fellows, who appointed Ms. Barnich to the planning commission, little conflict of interest there don’t you think.

ms. Barnich has always been appointed to every position she has held, ought to be interesting to see if the gym rats, friends she meets at the grocery store, and dad will actually be able to get her elected to something. I think the people of Arroyo Grande have more sense than to elect her.