Arroyo Grande battle over interchange gets ugly

December 13, 2015
Julie Tacker

Julie Tacker


Even though former Arroyo Grande mayor Tony Ferrara and former city manager Steve Adams have been forced out of leadership positions in Arroyo Grande, the new city manager appears to be taking direction from an employee tied to a sex scandal with Adams, and not the current city council.

For much of the year since Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill has been in office, an important topic of discussion has been how to fix the clogged Brisco Road interchange. Ferrara and Adams had pushed for a new exit south of the current Brisco Road exit at a cost of over $20 million.

Currently, the north bound ramps are closed, via a permit, and a study is ongoing to see if a new exit is needed, the ramps should reopen, or if the city should keep the northbound exit closed permanently to avoid gridlock.

Mayor Hill, an engineer, has studied the complex issues surrounding the projects long history and was pleased to get a traffic study underway which temporarily closed the north bound on and off-ramps. Weeks have gone by since the closure; the intersection is now a pleasure to use. There have been a few complaints, but the support for the closure has been overwhelming.

Kudos to all who have submitted input, the city continues to encourage feedback by emailing to

You may remember, Hill and Councilman Jim Guthrie penned an opinion piece last September explaining the importance of the study.

However, new City Manager Dianne Thompson appears to be working on behalf of the old guard and Community Development Director Teresa McClish, the woman caught in a compromising situation with the former city manager.

Thompson is battling against waiting for the study to come back before the off-ramp closure permit expires. She has refused to allow Hill to put an extension of the closure permit on the agenda before the permit expires in January and the ramp is reopened at a cost to the taxpayers of about $100,000.

Instead of considering the cost, Thompson recommends reopening the ramps a few days prior to the release of the final report.

At the Dec. 8, Arroyo Grande City Council meeting, both Hill and Councilman Tim Brown asked that the Brisco Interchange project be agendized. Hill had asked Thompson repeatedly before the meeting to put the item on the council’s agenda.

Hill’s concern was that the Caltrans permit would expire without the benefit of a public discussion. He was told he needed a majority of the council to have the matter agendized.

During the council’s closing comments, Brown made a motion to agendize a discussion of the project at their next meeting. The city attorney asked if there was consensus among the council to agendize the item.

It appeared there was, but just as it seemed to be affirmed, Thompson informed the council, the project was scheduled for the January 12 agenda. This will be the council’s first meeting of the new year, but it’s also one day after the ramps will be reopened.

Unfortunately, the council didn’t push Thompson to suggest they would need a special meeting prior to Jan. 12 to consider the matter. Apparently, the city manager was unaware or was hiding the fact, that California Government Code 54956(a) states, “A special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer of the legislative body of a local agency.”

Hill has the authority to call a special meeting; it is safe to expect a special meeting in the coming week. However, the taxpayers will have to cover the cost of a special meeting because Thompson refused to allow the item to be discussed at a regular meeting before the permit expires.

Much of the Five Cities uses the Brisco intersection to access the Walmart shopping hub. San Luis Obispo Council of Governments and city funding is involved; these are taxpayer dollars and should be used wisely. It is not wise to spend the people’s money unnecessarily.

Allow the study results to come back before hastily reopening the interchange. Let commuters enjoy easy access to shopping and restaurants, where more tax dollars are generated and can be applied to much needed city services.

And Thompson would be wise to remember, the citizens of Arroyo Grande voted out both the former mayor and a long-term councilman in an attempt to rid the city of old boy politics in favor of what is best for the public as a whole.

All who are interested are encouraged to contact city officials, let them know your thoughts on the closure of the ramps. You are invited to send emails or attend the special meeting. Please look to the city’s website for the time and date in the coming days.

Send communications here:


swampfrogge is correct in that Mayor Jim Hill appears hto be “met by opposition from Kristen Barniech and Jim Guthrie” — hold overs from the Ferrara administration. For reasons only she can reveal, the new City Manager appears to be sided with the “old” and also appears to be adverse in understanding Hill’s political presence.

Much to his great credit, Council member Tim Brown has been thoughtfully response in trying to set matters right. Brown was critically forth coming in revealing the intransigence of the Adams situation as well as being critical of certain council members — Harmon and Barniech — on prematurely judging Planning Commission member John Mack before the FPPC judgment establishing Mack had no conflict of Interest on a developer project.

Brown has forced the issue as to the procedure on establishing the Council meeting agendas. In the old, Ferrara was a force because of his power over Adams. Most observers believed this was the policy that the Mayor had a major say in the setting the Council meeting agandas — as is done in most Cities. Tim Brown has guts and is reseponsibly attuned to the citizens concerns.

Mayor Jim Hill has a great heart and a sincere sense of citizen’s concerns. The fact that he understands the issues confronting the city and has no political agenda except to do the right thing is a rare virtue in politics these days. He should be forgiven for this by those who wish for a more insidius attribute.


Do not think for a second that Ferrara was not running the show in AG. He was running the show and more. Telling property owners what they could do with their land, working with developers on the side and cutting back door deals for personnel transgressions.

This Council needs some serious leadership training starting with meeting protocols and courtesy. The City Manager needs to show us her stuff now instead of just “listening”. It is time to act.

Where are you Mr. McFall? The city manager needs a life coach!


I was at the last city council meeting, John Mack got up and told the council and city manager that he has been trying for awhile to schedule a meeting with the city manager and she has apparently been too busy to arrange it, and she just sat there with a strange smirk on her face. Now I know she is not supposed to say anything during public comment but come on, at least act as though you have some life and a backbone instead of just a strange expression. Too this point she has given us no reason to support her, and it may be time for the council to schedule a “Closed Session” to discuss her performance.


or lack of performance…..


I am glad someone else saw her smirking. She is pretty damn arrogant this early into her employment and there is good reason.

She is buddy buddy with Guthrie, Barneich and Harmon. She knows they will not vote to remove her.

Tonight on Congalton Tim Brown kept repeating “we have spent to much money for her to fail, she has to succeed”. Talk about throwing good money after bad.

I would rather get rid of her now instead of waiting to see IF she gets better. She does not have the experience to run a full service city, yet she is paid almost as much as Steve Adams.

I think council should have told the head hunter NONE of the applicants are worthy of the position and asked what it was going to take for this city to get someone competent. I think the council dropped the ball and the citizens should be pretty damn upset about that.


Let’s just hope two of her “buddies” are no longer council members come next election.


There seems to be a misunderstanding of those in public office and those in the public administration positions about their roles. The Council is setup to be the “voice of the people” and the City Government staff (City Manager…etc.) are to be the “doers” of the plans/actions of the Council (aka – the People). While the City Manager might have topics and thoughts about issues of suggestion, ultimately it is the City Council/Mayor that leads the entire City and those within its administration.

All that said, while I’m not an AG resident I use that Brisco road multiple times a week. It is WAY better now than before. Quite clear and it’ll be interesting to see the facts and conclusions of the study – at least I hope it gets that far (It better or citizens should be very upset). It is a waste of an on-ramp/off-ramp when you have one at Grande and another at Oak Park —- needs to stay closed.


Please consider attending the meeting to give your input.


The Brisco on/off ramps and underpass are used by more than just AG residents. agag1 is right, input from anyone who drives thru that area should feel free to comment.


Mr. MPA you could call the city at 473 5400 and ask for the site to put comments about the interchange, or email the city manager at

Please contact them, we know how well this is working and need it to remain closed.

At present time it appears that Guthrie,Harmon and Barniech will not make themselves available for a special meeting to DISCUSS this matter. And our city manager is to weak or to close to the three of them to say it is what they were elected to do.

These people really think they can hold out until election time to get anything done. How sad is that? They will let this city decay because they don’t care for the mayor. November can’t come fast enough so we can remove these cancerous growths called council members.


Does staff EVER answer the phone at city hall?


NO! And they don’t return phone calls either


It seems that if the Council always votes to have something on the agenda, they are defacto breaking the Brown Act by not allowing public comment on that vote. Why the heck do they vote to put something on the agenda?

The MAYOR and MAYOR PRO TEM should be meeting bi monthly with the CITY MANAGER to set the agenda. Of course the City Manager should have a draft of time sensitive items and know the queue.

However, the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem should have some say on timing, load of the meeting and where things are placed. Some meetings are unnecessarily packed and make the issue rushed thru!

The CITY MANAGER and STAFF work for the COUNCIL. We all know that! So do it Mayor Hill!


The Council and Mayor are elected. They hire the City Manager who runs the city on their behalf.

Got it!


Arroyo Grande city councilman Tim Brown will appear on News/Talk 920 KVEC Tuesday at 5:05 to discuss Briscoe Road and issues between council and city staff. Tune in and call in!


Your obsession with l’affaire de Adams is somewhat troubling.


It is the holidays and one always talks about the holy trinity – Adams – Ferrera & Carmel.

It’s time for McClish to go. The City will not move forward with the lack of trust heading a major department and the new City Manager needing her so much.

C’mon AG. Do what needs to move forward and get this show on the road.

Honestly, we’ve been talking Briscoe for decades!


The problem in Arroyo Grande all well as most towns is the residents sit back and do nothing until it is time to vote. They read the pamphlets the candidates send out and they make a decision on the bull crap and promises that are made,

In Arroyo Grande you had candidates running unopposed. Some folks had had enough and went out and found a candidate at the last second. He was voted in, and yet he is met by opposition from Kristen Barniech and Jim Guthrie it appears because they were Tony Fererra faithful. Is that really how you want your town run?

Show up at a council meeting once in a blue moon people, you can make a difference. And you can see how bad this council is operating. IN all my years I have never seen such contempt for a mayor by other council members, a city manager, A planning director, park and rec director and chamber of commerce.

The planning director should have lost her job, she is only there because her boss Steve Adams would not fire her, yet he lost his job. She is getting pay back hand over fist.

Show up, stand up and be heard, this town needs to gets its act together and time is a wasting.


Your point is well taken.

IMO, AG residents in particular stopped participating during the latter years of Ferrara’s time in office. What was the point? Did he or the council (who all came from appointments to the planning commission, etc) really ever listen to the public?

No, they were all in lock-step with one another, and so for the most part, the public gave up.

When council and Carmel mishandled the whole Adams/McClish matter so poorly, it gave the public the opportunity to let their voices be heard and send a clear message.

And they did when they elected write-in candidate.

Now it’s clear staff has its own agenda, and does not scrutiny from the newly awakened public. The new city manager acts as if she works for staff and NOT the council, or she’s a very weak leader–possibly both. Dianne Thompson should have put Brisco on the agenda as the Mayor requested.

The effects of the longtime leadership of Ferrara will take some time to straighten out, but it’s time for the council to work together on getting the Brisco mess fixed. The city has wasted enough time, and $$$$. The only thing we have to show for our $3 Million are closed ramps THE STAFF want to reopen! Who cares that they just spent $100,000 to close them a few weeks ago? Forget the fact that traffic now moves freely–time to open it back up and live with the disaster for another decade or so!

Why did staff even bother asking for public input when they had absolutely NO intention of listening to what the public wants?

Feels like Ferraraville all over again. Time for another election.


Apologies for the typos:

…elected a write-in candidate

…staff does not like scrutiny…


Ferrara, the council and attorney disregarded the fact that they worked for the people when they decided to downplay the tea party incident. Instead they chose to protect staff with their cover-up the event, then blame the police, rather than doing right by the very people who elected them or paid their salary.

If Thompson continues with her current strategy of not being responsive to her bosses, she needs to go as well. McFall was heads and shoulders above Thompson–not even close!


You hit it agag1

The awakened citizens have asked ot be heard. It is not a small group. That small group was a majority.

thank you for reminding us of the tyranny that existed in AG.

Perhaps SLO County can rid itself of Adam Hill now!


It’s apparent that something is amiss when a City Manager and City Attorney control the City Council agenda. The citizens of Arroyo Grande voted and a majority elected a Mayor and Council to represent the people. Yet for some reason the staff appear to be unwilling to follow the directions of the elected. As to whether the Community Development Director is part of this belligerence is a question to be resolved.

It is the understanding of the electorate that both the City Manager and City Attorney serve at the will of the Council and are subject to periodic review and readdress. It is time for that review.

It seems as if the City Manager is prepared to waste $100,000 in a rush to make a hasty decision on the Brisco off ramp. The study is due shortly, why proceed without the report? The Mayor and Council were elected to oversee staff. I appears that the staff is not here for the benefit of the people.

If the staff continues to drive the agenda without Council input or direction, it is time to change staff.


Darn spell check! *redress*, not readdress!


well stated. thank you.


Officials in San Luis Obispo County, whether they be from the county or one of the cities/towns, would figure out a way to screw up a rock fight!


McClish should have been fired with her boyfriend Stevie boy when she was caught drunk, hiding in City hall. Chances are good the lovebirds are still communicating. He’s probably giving her direction from his new job, how’s the Spanish lessons coming along Steve?


I thought the staff was to work for the council and the city manager is there to make sure staff does it job.

I have heard it from many sources that Dianne was just observing for the first few months, so staff was running the show. The problem seems to be Dianne does not have the back round as a city manager to over see her staff.

I had one council member tell me recently ” she was the best of the group they interviewed. And although she does not know all there is to know about how to over see a city, the council knew they were hiring her to do “ON THE JOB TRAINING”.

At a local meeting Dianne stood up and stated what “her goals for the city were” Excuses me, the city manager does not set the goals for the city. She needs to know what her role in this process entails.

We can’t afford to reopen Brisco only to hope to close it again, and at what cost to the city. As a resident I love the way it is right now, I can drive from one side of town to the other no problem. What are you going to tell the residents when it goes back to grid lock and the intersection from hell? You never even had a public workshop to hear from the public or let us discuss this with staff.

The city seems to forget the voting public. To bad staff does not get voted in, because some of them needed to go some time ago.


Project has been a very successful safety decision for local residents and visitors to our area.