Grover Beach City Council candidates face budget challenges

clambert@thetribunenews.comOctober 12, 2012 

A visitor to Grover Beach doesn’t have to look any further than the potholes marring some city streets or a few vacant properties along West Grand Avenue to know that the city and some of its residents and business owners have weathered a tough few years.

Despite that, residents of the small, working-class town could see the city bounce back from several years of cuts with new leaders at the helm and large visions looming on the horizon that some hope could serve as catalysts to new growth.

The new Grover Beach City Council will be challenged next year to maintain a balanced budget while finding ways to bring in new revenue to the South County city after several lean budget years, difficult cuts and, more recently, layoffs.

There are some bright spots: City officials are moving toward a longtime goal of building a 150-room lodge and conference facility at the western edge of Grover Beach development.

They’ve also laid the groundwork for a citywide broadband network and tried to streamline an approval process for new businesses in certain areas. Street improvements were made on a section of West Grand Avenue, with more in the works.

November will also usher in a new era for the Grover Beach City Council, as current Mayor John Shoals, who has served 10 years, is ending his tenure on the council.

Two current council members, Phyllis Molnar and Debbie Peterson, are vying to replace him. Peterson’s council term is up, but Molnar still has two years left on the council should her mayoral bid be unsuccessful.

Five candidates are running for two council seats, which carry four-year terms: Incumbent Karen Bright, a buyer for the San Luis Coastal school district; Jeff Lee, a civil engineer; Louis Robles, a journeyman ironworker; author Anita Shower; and Liz Doukas White, a court reporter.

The city is also asking voters whether they approve turning Grover Beach into a charter city.

Two candidates — Molnar and Robles — said they were not in support of the charter, in part because the city would be exempted from paying prevailing wage on local projects funded with city money.

“I would be willing to stand behind anyone who wants their independence,” Robles said. “But why does it have to be at a cost of someone else’s independence?”

Molnar, who voted against putting the charter on the ballot, said she didn’t think residents had been properly asked for input on the issue.

She also questioned whether the charter would really guard the city from future state grabs.

“The charter is not the panacea that everyone sees it as,” she said.

Her opponent, Peterson, disagreed, saying the charter will provide additional protection from state raids.

Peterson, and the other candidates who support the charter measure, Lee and Bright, said they want to pay workers a living wage. But all said they believe local dollars can stretch further without the prevailing wage requirement.

“I think the opportunity to provide a living wage for union members is still there,” Lee said. “I think these local dollars can do more if we are not strapped to using prevailing wage.”

Shower and White could not be reached for additional comment on the issue.

Other issues

Most candidates strongly support plans to build the Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center at the corner of West Grand Avenue and Highway 1.

Bright called it a flagship project and believes it will bring pride to the city as well as temporary and permanent jobs.

Robles said it gives Grover Beach the opportunity to become a destination.

Molnar, however, voted against the proposal in June, including a plan to finance public improvements, including an equestrian staging area, a new putting green and street upgrades, as part of the lodge project.

She was concerned about committing city money before knowing whether the project will be a success.

Peterson countered that safeguards have been put in place to ensure the city wouldn’t be on the hook for funding improvements should the project be unsuccessful. Also, she said, the city would have to make infrastructure improvements “no matter who goes in there.”

On the issue of city streets — many of which need repair — candidates were asked if they’d be willing to put either a sales tax increase or a bond measure before voters to fund street improvements.

Molnar and Robles said they be in favor of putting a sales tax increase before local voters; Lee, Bright and Peterson said they’d be willing to put either a sales tax increase or a bond before voters.

Shower and White could not be reached for comment, but their candidate statements both mention finding a solution to fixing rundown streets.

White said “a strong infrastructure with street rehabilitation” is her No. 1 priority.

“If people get tired enough of the roads, they might be willing to throw a little more money on (them),” Peterson said.

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