Arroyo Grande City Council race: 4 questions for the candidates

Five candidates are running for two four-year seats on the Arroyo Grande City Council: academic adviser LeAnn Akins, incumbent Kristen Barneich, Planning Commission member John Mack, former county Supervisor and City Councilwoman Caren Ray and Traffic Commission member Ken Sage.
Five candidates are running for two four-year seats on the Arroyo Grande City Council: academic adviser LeAnn Akins, incumbent Kristen Barneich, Planning Commission member John Mack, former county Supervisor and City Councilwoman Caren Ray and Traffic Commission member Ken Sage. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Five candidates are running for two four-year seats on the Arroyo Grande City Council, most of them familiar faces at City Hall.

They are incumbent Kristen Barneich, Planning Commission member John Mack, former county Supervisor and City Councilwoman Caren Ray, Traffic Commission member Ken Sage, and LeAnn Akins, an academic adviser. Incumbent Jim Guthrie is not running for re-election.

Barneich is running for a second term, after being appointed in 2013 to fill a council vacancy when Ray was appointed by the governor to the county Board of Supervisors after the death of Supervisor Paul Teixera.

The candidates responded to four questions asked by The Tribune:

Q: What do you think is the single biggest issue facing the city, and what specific steps would you take in your first six months to address it?

Akins: Communication between city staff, City Council and the community. I would schedule town hall-style or neighborhood meetings separate from City Council meetings to discuss issues outside the parameters of a formal meeting. We have many issues we need to work together as a community to solve, and without input from all stakeholders and solid communication, solutions will fall flat. Residents have shared that they feel left out of the processes and decisions and do not feel fully represented.

Barneich: In addition to water and hiring a new city manager, economic development is my next important issue. Successful business is essential to the success of our community. We need to retain and help our existing businesses grow, and we need to attract new business to Arroyo Grande. The improvements we’re seeing on East Grand Avenue and in the Village (all projects that I supported) were all part of past economic plans, and economic planning is key to our long-term success.

Mack: Water! Most importantly, we must adopt a temporary building moratorium with stages of action, similar to Pismo Beach. One requirement would be that a project only goes forward when proven it is water-neutral, or better, utilizes solutions that provide more water to the city beyond the estimated usage. Example: Retrofitting existing facilities with water-saving devices and banking those credits. It would have to be something that is measurable and can be certified through an inspection process as being complete.

Ray: Water. There’s no silver bullet: We need to do several things to stabilize the water crisis. Specific steps in my the first six months would be: (1) enact an immediate water-neutrality/offset policy that would not allow development unless water neutrality or better could be achieved, (2) put a moratorium mechanism in place with triggers for entry and exit, (3) start getting us on the path to desal, (4) support the two water recycling projects with other jurisdictions.

Sage: We need a vision of what we want to look like as a community. We need to revisit the general plan. This is key to determining what our economic engine(s) will be so that we can develop an effective economic development plan. This also will drive housing and transportation issues. I would work with council members to establish a community member working committee and in concert with the council as a whole, address these goals.

Q: Water remains a huge issue in Arroyo Grande in light of the ongoing state drought. What do you think the city and City Council can do to ensure a sustainable and secure water supply into the future?

Akins: State water is a necessary step, but not a long-term solution. The regional project currently in environmental review for water recycling is an important step in securing a more sustainable water supply, although eight years from completion. An unpopular choice is to limit growth and building in order to maintain an adequate supply for our current residents, but one we have to make. Desalination is an option but it must be considered as a regional project.

Barneich: Short term: We are facing a water crisis. Emergency state water is the best source for new water, vote “yes” on Measure E. Additional conservation measures like Cash for Grass, grey water, commercial retrofits, rain capture and a moratorium may be necessary. Long term: We have been studying recycled and desalinated water for years, it’s time to make a decision and move forward with a new water source. Either will require long-term financial commitment and collaboration with neighboring agencies.

Mack: PG&E currently pumps millions of gallons of freshwater into the Pacific Ocean each week from its current facility. I would like to begin negotiating an agreement to recapture this resource and provide it to not only Arroyo Grande but the surrounding cities as well. Joint venturing will help reduce the cost of the pipeline requiring less time to build and have little to no environmental impacts at a fraction of the cost of constructing a new desalination plant.

Ray: To secure our water supply, multiple actions need to be taken ASAP. First, we need a permanent offset policy so new projects do not impact current supply. We must vote “yes” on Measure E so we diversify our portfolio and are prepared for the worst. We must start on the path to desal. We must institute a moratorium process that also protects citizen’s individual property rights. We should restart programs like Cash for Grass and expand retrofit programs to include commercial applications.

Sage: The Northern Cities Water Management agency, of which Arroyo Grande is a member, has identified 14 possible sources of additional water. We, along with the other members, should investigate the feasibility and cost elements of at least two short-term possibilities and two long-term possibilities. Attention should be paid to cost of water supplied, reliability, infrastructure requirements (pipelines and pumps) and financing options. Neither Arroyo Grande nor any other local cities or agencies can do this alone.

Q: Tensions on the City Council, the abrupt termination of former City Manager Dianne Thompson and factions among residents have divided Arroyo Grande in recent months. What can be done to mend the rift and improve the city’s relationship with its residents?

Akins: Mending the rift can happen when people allow it to happen — you cannot force communication or collaboration. With people on the council willing to truly be open, the chances of that happening will increase. People in the community, city staff and the council need to make the city a priority, rather than their own agendas. Open and facilitated communication needs to happen, but you need to have the right people on the bus in order to assist the process.

Barneich: The hiring of a new city manager is of utmost importance to stabilize Arroyo Grande. I have learned from our last recruitment process that additional due diligence, patience and probably broader community review will be the key to our success. When I reach out to residents, I’ve been successful in developing a respectful relationship even with residents that disagree with me. This is the Arroyo Grande that I’ve known for the past 10 years in my public service.

Mack: Always lead by example and then continue by building the “Arroyo Grande Team” of city employees, council members and commissioners, without this current exclusivity. Hold regular social events that are not work-related as well as invite the citizens to participate in community issues via social media and town hall-style meetings. Lastly, booths set up with a unified council and staff at festivals shows the community we are working together for a better city.

Ray: Unfortunately, negativity and unprofessionalism have wasted serious taxpayer money. We need policy that requires new leaders to attend a workshop on city processes and proper communication channels immediately after taking office, and biannually thereafter. Leaders should always discuss city business in meetings, on camera, before the public. We must be able to discuss, debate and deliberate professionally without fear of personal attacks. Meetings must be run efficiently and fairly, with a safe and professional atmosphere for all.

Sage: The key is the hiring of an experienced and qualified city manager. The focus of City Council members should be on the bigger picture of where are we going and how are we going to get there. We need to revisit and adjust the general plan with participation of our community members. The council as a whole should provide periodic “status report” meetings to the community (perhaps quarterly). Lack of effective communications breeds dissatisfaction.

Q: Development has been a source of debate among city residents divided over how (or whether) to grow Arroyo Grande while still in a drought, and how to preserve its small-town nature. If you were elected, what will be your approach to approving or denying future developments in the city?

Akins: Given that we are in the epicenter of the drought, we need to make choices about how we grow or don’t grow. This is not an easy choice. I support a defined moratorium. It is not a popular choice, but a necessary one. We cannot sustain growth given our inability to provide a sustainable water supply. We do have a need to build and provide affordable housing, but if we have no water, who will live in the new housing?

Barneich: I have lived in Arroyo Grande for 35 years and have served in a decision-making role for the past 10 years. I know and share concerns about preserving our small-town feel. We have been growing at 1 percent a year and are 94 percent buildout. We need to make sure any development proposed fits in with the city. And we have to be assured that the impacts (traffic, noise, water, etc.) can be mitigated.

Mack: Enact stronger policies that require new projects to fully mitigate their impacts with respect to water and traffic. Any new development proposed must bear the cost of its impacts and provide solutions prior to occupancy, not after. It is only fair that our residents don’t have to pay unnecessary costs. The aesthetics also need to be addressed in policy format to give our Architectural Review Commission leadership and uniform direction for our Heritage and Historical connection to the past.

Ray: Preserving our small-town character and historic heritage are No. 1. I am for slow, planned, deliberate growth that enhances our economic base, provides jobs, fits our community vision and complies with our general plan. We should be working toward a responsible and legally defensible moratorium that also protects our citizen’s property rights. We should have a water-neutrality policy in place immediately and one that doesn’t allow development that impacts current supply.

Sage: The housing element of our general plan has specific requirements dictated by the state. Adherence to those is not an option. We already have an excellent workflow process: Developer meets with local stakeholders and adjusts plan; developer meets with Traffic Commission and ARC and adjusts plan; developer meets with Planning Commission and makes adjustments. Developer may appeal to council. We will never satisfy everyone but the process is effective and transparent.

LeAnn Akins

Age: 46

Education: Master’s degree in special education and education specialist credential, Santa Clara University; single subject teaching credential, College of Notre Dame (Belmont); bachelor’s degree in sociology, UC Santa Cruz

Family: Husband Michael Akins

Current occupation: Academic adviser, Brandman University

Previous employment: Public and private high school teacher

Previous public office: None

Kristen Barneich

Age: 46

Education: Arroyo Grande High School graduate

Family: Husband, Mike, teenage daughters and two rescue dogs

Current occupation: City councilwoman; president, Tree Guild of Arroyo Grande

Previous employment: Stay-at-home mom for the past 16 years

Previous public office: Planning Commission for seven years and Architectural Review Committee for two years

John Mack

Age: 54

Education: Bachelor’s degree in architecture and environmental design, Cal Poly

Family: Four adult children, three stepchildren

Current occupation: Architect, contractor and business owner

Previous employment: S&S Homes, RRM Design Group

Previous public office: Current Planning Commission member

Caren Ray

Age: 48

Education: Bachelor’s degree in history, UCLA; master’s degree in educational administration, Cal Poly

Family: Two teenage sons

Current occupation: Teacher

Previous employment: County supervisor

Previous public office: County supervisor; Arroyo Grande City Council; Planning Commission

Ken Sage

Age: 74

Education: MBA, University of Miami

Family: Wife, Mary Jean

Current occupation: Retired business owner and consultant

Previous employment: Small-business owner and department manager for AT&T

Previous public office: Current Traffic Commission member