Battle lines over allegiances drawn in AG Council race
July 17, 2016
By KAREN VELIE
Following a political shakeup in 2014, seven candidates have entered the race for three seats on the Arroyo Grande City Council.
Amid allegations of graft and corruption by former mayor Tony Ferrara and other city officials, in 2014 voters elected write in candidate Jim Hill over Ferrara, a 16-year incumbent. Since then, former Ferrara supporters including Councilwoman Kristen Barneich and council candidate Caren Ray have voiced their opposition to the change in leadership.
In the Nov. 2016 election battle, most of the candidates are divided between those who supported the Ferrara council and his close ties to former South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District administrator John Wallace and those who wanted change.
In the race for mayor, Hill currently has one challenger, retired teacher Richard Waller. Waller, who is supported by members of the Ferrara regime, says he wants to bring back civility and transparency to city hall.
Hill is running on a platform of reducing favoritism and streamlining the permitting process, moving forward with options for the Brisco Road ramp and providing an economical, long-term water supply.
There are five candidates running for the two council seats currently held by Kristen Barneich and Jim Guthrie. Guthrie is not running for reelection.
Two of the candidates, Barneich and Caren Ray, secured their earlier council seats through appointments by a Ferrara led council.
In 2010, the Arroyo Grande City Council voted to appoint Caren Ray to fill a vacant city council seat. In 2013, the Santa Maria High School teacher was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to a seat on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. In the 2014 election, Ray lost the District 4 supervisor seat to Lynn Compton.
Ray says she is running for council to bring back civility and transparency to city hall.
When Ray stepped down from the city council to serve on the Board of Supervisors, the council appointed Barneich to fill her seat. Barneich is the co-founder of the nonprofit Arroyo Grande Tree Guild Association. Because of financial reporting issues, the Tree Guild was listed as delinquent by the state of California for four years while still receiving funds from the city.
LeAnn Akins, a teacher who supported Hill’s campaign, said she decided to run for office after closely watching the city council over the past few years. Akins is running on a platform of promoting fiscal responsibility, open and transparent communications, and sustainable development.
John Mack is Mayor Hill’s appointee to the Arroyo Grande Planning Commission. Mack is running on a platform of protecting resources for current residents and business owners and ensuring future developments are the right fit for the community.
Ken Sage is a political newcomer who said he is not aligned with those wanting to return to a Ferrara style leadership or those seeking change. Sage’s top priorities include economic development; water planning; transportation; and enhanced communications between community members, the AG City Council, and businesses.