Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong first name for one of the City Council candidates; her name is Kristen Barneich.
Arroyo Grande’s possible pursuit of becoming a charter city was at the forefront of a forum Tuesday held for the candidates vying for a vacant seat on the city council.
Only four of the five candidates attended the event, hosted by the League of Women Voters, with contender Christopher Fontes unable to make it. A sixth resident, Gloria "Glo" Rivera has dropped out of the selection process.
The Arroyo Grande City Council will appoint one of the five candidates to the council on Nov. 11, filling the seat recently vacated by Caren Ray.
The four candidates in attendance, Kristen Barneich, Dale Hanson, Barbara Harmon and Burke Nelson, addressed a crowd of about 30 residents at the city’s Community Center. It was the only public forum planned for the public to question the candidates.
Although the candidates agreed that deciding whether Arroyo Grande should become a charter city was a key issue, none of them took a definitive stance on how they would vote if the matter came before them.
Charter cities are governed by their own voter-approved charter, rather than structured by state law as is the case with general law cities. A city advisory committee is now drafting a charter that is expected to go to the council soon. The council will decide whether to put the charter in front of voters.
Harmon, a retired probation officer for Santa Barbara County, said she was leaning toward supporting a city charter because of its potential to save the city money and give Arroyo Grande more local control but is now undecided because of the passage of Senate Bill 7.
SB 7, signed into law Oct. 13, prohibits a charter city from using state funding for construction projects if the city has a charter provision that allows a contractor to not comply with state prevailing wage laws.
State law defines the prevailing wage as the hourly rate within the local labor market that most workers in a particular trade are paid. The law ensures that contractors don’t pay their workers less in order to underbid competitors on public projects.
Barneich, vice chairwoman of the city’s Planning Commission, said she wasn’t familiar enough with the proposed charter issue to take a stance.
Hanson, a self-employed real estate appraiser, retired from a career in human resources said he has not yet taken a position.
Nelson, a contract research attorney, said because a charter would give the city more autonomy, “it might be a good idea to give that a shot.”
When asked what the three most important budget priorities are for the city, most of the candidates agreed the maintaining a conservative budget and infrastructure ranked at the top. They also agreed that developing a comprehensive water conservation plan should be a main concern.
All but Barneich said they were not familiar with the city’s proposed climate action plan. Barneich, who said she reviewed the document while on the Planning Commission, supports the proposed plan which is meant to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.
The forum was scheduled to last two hours but ended early when the moderator and the audience ran out of questions.