Elections

From water to bankruptcy: Here’s where Arroyo Grande candidates stand on the issues

Here are this year’s candidates for Arroyo Grande City Council

Five people are running for city council in Arroyo Grande, California. Here's where each candidate stands on the issues.
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Five people are running for city council in Arroyo Grande, California. Here's where each candidate stands on the issues.

Election season is well underway in Arroyo Grande, but some residents may not yet know much about the candidates running for public office.

To help that, here’s your first introduction to the two people running for mayor and the five running for city council in Arroyo Grande. Each of the candidates were sent a three-question survey from The Tribune sussing out their initial stances on some of the issues facing the city. From the city’s close call with bankruptcy to ever-present water concerns, here are their responses:

(Also make sure to stop by the candidate forum from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the South County Regional Center, 800 West Branch St., to hear from them in person.)

Jim Hill126074
Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill is running for re-election. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Jim Hill

Running for: Mayor

Age: 65

Educational background: BS nuclear engineering technology, University of the State of New York Regent’s College; Juris Doctor, University of San Luis Obispo School of Law

Occupation: Engineer at PG&E Diablo Canyon Power Plant since 1981

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: Elected Mayor of Arroyo Grande as write-in candidate in 2014, re-elected 2016; Arroyo Grande member of South County Sanitation District Board, 2014-present; previously elected to two terms on Oceano Community Services District Board, with service on the Sanitation District Board and as a charter member of the Five Cities Fire Authority Board.

1. In June, the city took several steps to avoid bankruptcy in the future, including laying off employees, closing city offices to the public on Fridays and raising fees. Is there more the city should do to improve its financial situation?

First, although Five Cities Fire Authority’s performance is excellent, administering three stations is financially unsustainable. Oceano and Grover stations essentially duplicate coverage, making significant savings possible. Alone, or with one partner, Arroyo Grande can provide equivalent service maintaining a balanced budget. Second, since property tax isn’t even sufficient to pay for police and fire services, we must support local businesses and aggressively attract businesses to generate additional revenue. Third, work with the county and state to achieve more equitable distribution of property and sales tax revenues. Finally, maintain our balanced budget, pay down pension liabilities and continue to avoid deficit spending.

2. Aside from the budget, what is the top issue facing the city and what would you do about it?

Virtually all our challenges stem from the issue of growth. Growth in our commercial sector is necessary for continued economic viability, but a critical balance must be maintained especially when considering residential development. I’m working to maximize public safety and minimize congestion, depletion of water and other resources and to prevent over-development and reduction in our quality of life. Development proposals must meet a net positive test assuring benefit to the community exceeds adverse impacts. Maintaining our roads, sidewalks, water and sewer lines must be a top priority. I’ll continue listening to residents and holding firm on budgets and over-development.

3. What can be done to ensure the city has an adequate water supply now and in the future?

In the short term, continued conservation is necessary. Residents have given up lawns and changed habits to meet challenging conservation goals. Going forward, we can capture an additional available resource to alleviate stringent conservation needs. Wastewater recycling can provide the quantity and reliability necessary while improving the environment at less cost than desalination. I’ve led the Sanitation District project for redundant secondary processing, a prerequisite toward full advanced treatment. We’re participating with Pismo Beach to demonstrate new reprocessing technology costing even less than conventional methods. I’ll continue working with neighbor jurisdictions to achieve reprocessing to meet our future water needs.

Caren Ray126069
Councilwoman Caren Ray is running for Arroyo Grande mayor. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Caren Ray

Running for: Mayor

Age: 50

Educational background: BA history, UCLA; MA Educational Leadership, Cal Poly

Occupation: Teacher

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: Arroyo Grande Planning Commission, 2005-10; Chair of Planning Commission, 2007-10; Arroyo Grande City Council, 2010-13; County Supervisor, 2013-14; Arroyo Grande City Council, 2016-present.

1. In June, the city took several steps to avoid bankruptcy in the future, including laying off employees, closing city offices to the public on Fridays and raising fees. Is there more the city should do to improve its financial situation?

Yes. We should do two basic things: Do better with what revenue we already have, and work to bring in more. We must make our city offices lean and efficient. We should streamline permit processes so every tax dollar is spent wisely. We have to get unfunded retirement costs under control, and take care of our roads to reduce future costs. To bring in more revenue, we should be proactive with our economic development and work with our business community to attract and keep jobs. By focusing on these things, we can make the city more financially secure.

2. Aside from the budget, what is the top issue facing the city and what would you do about it?

We have two huge issues coming. First, we must find a solution to the Brisco Interchange that we can afford, and that does not unfairly affect surrounding residents or businesses. I will insist that any solution the city pursues be affordable and fair. Second, we have a major issue with the cost of the Five Cities Fire Authority. I fully support our firefighters, but Arroyo Grande is paying more than our fair share compared to the other communities. I will fight to change the funding formula so we have the best service at a fair price to our taxpayers.

3. What can be done to ensure the city has an adequate water supply now and in the future?

I will ensure we work effectively with neighboring communities to implement a permanent recycled water project. Central Coast Blue is a first step, but it is just a demonstration and not a long-term solution. We also need to end the practice of releasing millions of gallons of water out into the ocean from the Sanitation District. That is unacceptable, wasteful and needs to be changed. I also support regional efforts to bring desalinated water to the South County. Our residents have done a great job of conserving. We need to continue voluntary programs that reward citizens who do more.

Terry Fowler-Payne
Terry Fowler-Payne is running for Arroyo Grande City Council. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Terry Fowler-Payne

Running for: City Council

Age: 71

Occupation: Project coordinator/team leader for construction projects; research and certification of large development sites.

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: Arroyo Grande Planning Commission, 2015-present.

1. In June, the city took several steps to avoid bankruptcy in the future, including laying off employees, closing city offices to the public on Fridays and raising fees. Is there more the city should do to improve its financial situation?

As soon as feasible, the city must analyze its role in the Five Cities Fire Authority. The recent adoption of a strategic plan has increased costs by nearly $1 million to the city. Taking this into account, it appears to make sense to return to our own fire department and let Grover Beach and Oceano Community Service District find their own support.

2. Aside from the budget, what is the top issue facing the city and what would you do about it?

Workforce and low-income housing is an important issue. When our workforce is unable to live in the community that they serve and protect, then we need to reevaluate how we are addressing our housing programs as part of new development. The current percentage of new constructions contribution to low-income housing is inadequate to build even one unit. New development should be required to provide 10 percent of its project to affordable / low income housing. We should be giving the public a hand up, not a hand out, with our housing projects.

3. What can be done to ensure the city has an adequate water supply now and in the future?

The regional water shortage has been a long running issue. It should have been addressed a long time ago with moratoria on large developments and new hotels and motels.

Coleen Kubel
Coleen Kubel is running for Arroyo Grande City Council. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Coleen Kubel

Running for: City Council

Age: 68

Educational background: Arroyo Grande High School

Occupation: General contractor

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: Architectural Review Committee

1. In June, the city took several steps to avoid bankruptcy in the future, including laying off employees, closing city offices to the public on Fridays and raising fees. Is there more the city should do to improve its financial situation?

This is the wrong approach to take to solve our city’s financial problems. We need to take another look at our planning core strategy, look for underutilized buildings and encourage developers to purchase or owners to modernize them, creating more business space. We need to expand our business recruitment efforts outside our city and target tax-base businesses. Create a pro-business atmosphere with incentives that will enhance our business community. Businesses are where the wealth of any city comes from, not from large residential developments.

2. Aside from the budget, what is the top issue facing the city and what would you do about it?

(There is an) over $900,000 shortfall next year in Arroyo Grande’s budget, in part because the Fire Authority’s budget is out of control. The Fire Authority needs a top-down financial analysis to find the best approach for fire and emergency services for Arroyo Grande. The Police Department is paying the price for the Fire Authority’s financial problems, and as a result are four positions down. It should be a priority, to bring them back to full staff immediately. Police officers put their lives on the line for us every day, now we need to take care of them, as well as our fire personnel.

3. What can be done to ensure the city has an adequate water supply now and in the future?

Continue our conservation campaign and continue our cooperation in the Central Coast Blue project that will develop a sustainable water supply and protect the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin. Currently, the water from the Pismo Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant and the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District is being treated and discharged to the ocean. Construction of an advanced treatment facility to treat water from both locations and produce purified water that is purer than most bottled water is the goal. This purified water will be injected into wells in the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin to supplement the natural groundwater supply and create a sustainable solution.

John Mack
John Mack is running for Arroyo Grande City Council. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

John Mack

Running for: City Council

Age: 56

Educational background: Architecture degree, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Occupation: Architect

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: Arroyo Grande Planning Commission, 2015-present

1. In June, the city took several steps to avoid bankruptcy in the future, including laying off employees, closing city offices to the public on Fridays and raising fees. Is there more the city should do to improve its financial situation?

Yes; pay off high-interest debt first, being credit cards, don’t be so quick to lay off long-term employees that will be receiving retirement benefits. Instead, reduce and provide flex hours equal to those benefits. Don’t hire additional city employees and approve raises for all remaining employees the same time you lay off others. Begin promoting commercial growth and require other cities to pay their fare share of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District and Five Cities Fire Authority. More can be done in the way of applying for government grants for infrastructure improvements. Incorporate advanced technology to work smarter.

2. Aside from the budget, what is the top issue facing the city and what would you do about it?

Shrinking tax revenue and no new sources of revenue being created. We should be annexing new commercial and industrial areas into the city that will host tax creating businesses. Now with the legalizing of cannabis products, these should not be allowed to be distributed in the city limits without paying local taxes as they do now. Start a movement requiring local sales tax to be placed on all online purchases originating in the city from where you live.

3. What can be done to ensure the city has an adequate water supply now and in the future?

Create a city water-management plan identifying the components of this resource and establish maximum thresholds of impacts to this resource. This plan shall also identify stages of moratoriums, priority of customers, allotments, fees, along with protocol for new developments and existing customers. Introduce water-capturing cisterns along with lining regional basins for landscaping and non-potable uses to benefit residential, commercial and city buildings. Require new construction to incorporate gray-water systems. Introduce water reclamation from our South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District and provide public access to non-potable water service connections to be used for landscaping and construction purposes.

Jimmy Paulding
Jimmy Paulding is running for Arroyo Grande City Council. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Jimmy Paulding

Running for: City Council

Age: 32

Educational background: Juris Doctor, Santa Barbara College of Law; BS city and regional planning, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Occupation: Project Manager/Claims Analyst/Attorney

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: Recently ran for District 4 SLO County Supervisor

1. In June, the city took several steps to avoid bankruptcy in the future, including laying off employees, closing city offices to the public on Fridays and raising fees. Is there more the city should do to improve its financial situation?

The identification and maintenance of core and essential services was an important first step to take before making the cuts discussed. We should always strive to identify areas we can scale back in order to use taxpayer dollars wisely. I believe it is necessary for the city to focus on economic development with the goal of creating a more conducive atmosphere to the retention, expansion and creation of quality businesses. This effort will result in maintaining and increasing the number of jobs and enhancing the fiscal position of the city through increased sales tax and property tax revenues.

2. Aside from the budget, what is the top issue facing the city and what would you do about it?

Aside from water security (discussed below) and budget, policies that support strictly controlled growth that does not outpace our ability to provide adequate city services is a top issue facing our community. All decisions related to development must take into account our water shortage issues, traffic constraints and our current police and fire service capabilities. To this end, we must prioritize funding of these infrastructure and resource capacity improvements along with robust economic development policies that will result in increased revenues for the city to ensure our fiscal responsibility and acceptable service delivery.

3. What can be done to ensure the city has an adequate water supply now and in the future?

I support further conservation efforts. Developing permanent water-efficient habits will make the most significant impact. Continuing strategies including placing more emphasis on water-storage opportunities, use of gray water for landscape applications and water reclamation. Currently, the water from the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District and Pismo Beach Wastewater Treatment Plants is treated and discharged to the ocean. I support implementation of the Central Coast Blue project, which will provide an opportunity to capture this lost water and use it to recharge the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin to create a drought-proof, sustainable water supply for the community.

Keith Storton
Keith Storton is running for Arroyo Grande City Council. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Keith Storton

Running for: City Council

Age: 53

Educational background: BS criminology, CSU Fresno

Occupation: Retired from San Luis Obispo Police Department

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: Arroyo Grande Parks and Recreation Commission; Arroyo Grande Architectural Review Committee; Lucia Mar Unified School District Measure I Citizen Oversight Committee

1. In June, the city took several steps to avoid bankruptcy in the future, including laying off employees, closing city offices to the public on Fridays and raising fees. Is there more the city should do to improve its financial situation?

A majority of the city’s general fund is driven by property and sales tax. Sensible growth in housing, supporting existing businesses and encouraging new business development that fits Arroyo Grande will improve our financial position. Working with strategic partners to provide common services and addressing needs will reduce costs. Organizing with our business and tourism community through our new marketing contract will boost our local economy. Public participation will be key as we discuss fiscal needs and revenue-building opportunities.

2. Aside from the budget, what is the top issue facing the city and what would you do about it?

The most immediate issue is the Five Cities Fire Authority and whether the city of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano can continue under their existing agreement. Negotiations are underway to determine each community’s commitment to this structure. I strongly support this continued relationship, but costs and services must be equitable. I am optimistic about the outcome, but my commitment will be to ensure our fire department is capable of meeting emergency response needs in the city of Arroyo Grande.

3. What can be done to ensure the city has an adequate water supply now and in the future?

Wasting water is not acceptable. During difficult times, the citizens of Arroyo Grande responded favorably and exceeded expectations by reducing water use. Awareness is key, and conservation should be a continued standard. I support Stage 1 fine structures for waste and overuse. Partnering in wastewater filtration technology, such as the Central Coast Blue project, present great opportunities. Accessing state water and identifying other storage possibilities must be discussed. Water purification methods will advance. We need to keep those in mind as we look into the future. Rain dances are encouraged.

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Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, Oceano and Grover Beach are celebrating a pilot project that purifies wastewater to drinking standards. The project, named Central Coast Blue, is aimed at creating a drought-proof water supply.

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