OPINION by JULIE TACKER
Dirty politics has again raised its ugly head in Arroyo Grande. For years, those who aligned with former mayor Tony Ferrara and his unwavering support for John Wallace have repeatedly accused Mayor Jim Hill – the new guard – of wrongdoing.
For about five years, a group of Five Cities politicos including Caren Ray, Jim Guthrie, John Shoals, Kristen Barneich and others have voted to give projects to Wallace and his engineering firm. At the same time, they argued against having Wallace investigated for possible conflicts of interest.
Ferrara has fled town and Wallace plead no contest to two misdemeanor counts of conflicts of interest. Since then, Ray, Barneich, Shoals and their supporters have repeatedly assailed Hill during public meetings.
Now they are questioning Hill’s past votes on temporary measures and studies that looked at the Brisco Road and Grand Avenue intersections with Highway 101.
Their latest tactic could be the most foolish of all. As it turns out, all five council persons in Arroyo Grande live between 1,800 to 4,000 feet from the boundary for the proposed Brisco Road interchange project.
As the Arroyo Grande City Council prepares to vote on three Brisco Road Interchange project options, Hill asked the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to decide if he has a conflict of interest. Because he lives about 2,600 feet from the project FPPC has determined Hill does have a conflict.
New conflict of interest’s laws abolished the old 500-foot rule in favor of a new rule. Currently, officials are barred from voting on projects that could financially impact that official.
Over many years, the Brisco Road project boundary is from the Oak Park Blvd. on and off ramps to the north all along the frontage road, West Branch, to East Grand Avenue on and off ramps, where the Shell gas station is, to the south. In fact, one option includes reconfiguring the gas station to accommodate a widened onramp to U. S. 101.
It is reasonable to believe that because of the size and scale of the project, the project impacts all the community and most will enjoy benefits related to less traffic and detriments leading to possible longer travel distances – including council members whose property values may also be affected.
If the FPPC did the same analysis it did on the mayor’s home for the other AG City Council members’ homes, it is likely they too would also be conflicted out. But how could they use that politically?
So instead, it appears a council member released the FPPC opinion letter to the media in an attempt to disparage Hill. Former councilman Guthrie was quoted saying he had told Hill to get the FPPC ruling. A claim Hill denies.
Hill ran on a platform of accountability and cleaning up the conflicts of interest with Wallace. While the old guard – including Halcyon resident Shirley Gibson, still defends Wallace.
Shirley Gibson, a Barneich appointee to the Arroyo Grande Historical Committee who openly supported Ferrara, has filed a non-sworn complaint with the FPPC against Hill for his participation in the early Brisco decisions.
Gibson spoke at several recent Sanitation District board meetings asking the board not to pursue civil legal action against Wallace. Now she is questioning Hill’s past votes on temporary measures and studies that looked at the Brisco Road and Grand Avenue intersections with Highway 101.
The release of the FPPC letter to the press and the subsequent filing of a complaint against mayor Hill are merely political moves in an attempt to tarnish Hill’s reputation.