‘Very vocal critic’ of former Arroyo Grande mayor avoids jail for vandalizing signs

Arroyo Grande mayor candidate Caren Ray reacts to first election returns

Arroyo Grande mayor candidate Caren Ray celebrates an early lead while watching initial election returns Tuesday night, November 6, 2018.
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Arroyo Grande mayor candidate Caren Ray celebrates an early lead while watching initial election returns Tuesday night, November 6, 2018.

An Arroyo Grande woman will have to complete three years of supervised probation and 50 hours of counseling after accepting a plea deal for vandalizing former Mayor Jim Hill’s campaign signs in October.

Patricia Welsh’s plea of no contest Monday to a felony charge of vandalism causing more than $400 in damage also means she will avoid jail time if she stays out of trouble while on probation, according to court records.

Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen also stipulated that should Welsh not re-offend and a yet-to-be-determined amount of restitution is paid in full, the court would grant a motion to reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor after one year, based on the recommendation of the Probation Department, court records state.

Welsh’s attorney, Ginger Ortiz, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

The bizarre vandalism spree occurred weeks before the November General Election, in which Hill was running for re-election against then-Councilwoman Caren Ray.

Brown paint splotches one of Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill’s campaign signs. Police say about a dozen of the signs were vandalized. Courtesy of Julie Tacker

According to an affidavit drafted by Arroyo Grande police officers on Oct. 9, 2018, they were called to Hill’s home for a report of damage to a fence and a posted campaign sign.

Officers reportedly found two of Hill’s campaign signs, a fence and the sidewalk splattered with brown paint; fragments found nearby indicate Christmas ornaments were filled with paint and used as projectiles.

After initially speaking with officers, Hill later reported to police that while he was installing a different sign in the city, Welsh “yelled out to him that the sign was going to be missing later.”

The affidavit described Welsh as a “very vocal critic of Hill.”

On Oct. 10, officers photographed brown paint in a trash can outside Welsh’s home. The department also released security footage appearing to show Welsh’s car near where one of the signs was vandalized.

Welsh was charged on Nov. 14 with one count of felony vandalism for damage to real and personal property and posted bail of $20,000 that same day.

A restitution hearing is scheduled for June.

Staff Writer Kaytlyn Leslie contributed to this article.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.