By KAREN VELIE
Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray Russom ordered the parents of a Cal Poly student killed in a motorcycle crash at the intersection of El Campo Road and Highway 101 to remove a petition she earlier signed saying she does not agree with the content, causing the parents to question if her previous support was politically motivated.
Shortly before 5 p.m. on Oct. 6, Jordan Grant was riding his motorcycle southbound on Highway 101 near El Campo Road in Arroyo Grande. A man living in the Falcon Ridge Estates on the west side of Highway 101, attempting to make a left turn onto the highway, pulled out in front of Jordan Grant’s motorcycle killing him.
On Oct. 17, Jordan Grant’s father James Grant reached out to several public officials, including Ray Russom, regarding the need to shut down the intersection of Highway 101 and El Campo Road until it could be modified to promote safety.
“Another fatality while we shuffle papers, and hold meetings and discussions will be inexcusable and we all will be held to account,” James Grant said. “It took only seven weeks between the August 15 accident that broke Suzie Smith’s back and my son Jordan being killed. I ask you to fix this problem now before anyone else is hurt. Act as if it’s your son or daughter in the cross hairs of the El Campo death trap.”
Later on Oct. 17, then mayoral candidate Ray Russom reached out in an email to Caltrans District 5 Director Tim Gubbins asking him to contact James Grant about issues with the intersection.
“The outpouring of support for the family, along with outrage that this intersection has gone unchanged for decades, has been overwhelming,” Ray Russom wrote in the email to Gubbins. “As of this morning, almost 9,000 people have signed the online petition demanding change. Here is the link.”
Shortly after Ray Russom sent James Grant a copy of the letter she sent to Caltrans, James Grant posted Ray Russom’s campaign photo and an excerpt from her correspondence with Caltrans, under the headline, “Caren Ray takes action to support elimination of the El Campo & 101 deathtrap.”
Grant also used the website to endorse Ray Russom and other candidates who supported modifying or changing the El Campo interchange.
“Vote Today in memory of Jordan,” the site says near a photo of Ray Russom.
Ray Russom won her seat by a narrow margin of 535 votes over two-time incumbent Jim Hill.
After winning the election, Ray Russon informed James Grant that she needed to rest after the election but would get back with him to discuss the intersection.
On Feb. 17, which would have been Jordan Grant’s 19th birthday, Ray Russom sent an email to his parents asking them to take down the petition.
“It has come to my attention that someone has misrepresented my position on the El Campo intersection on the change.org website,” Ray Russom wrote. “I did not say at any time that I was advocating for elimination of that intersection. I remember sending you an email awhile back clarifying that I was not in favor of a permanent closure.”
Ray Russom is now threatening to go to the website administrator to have the post removed.
“I’m asking for the fourth time, please remove the post. I do not have to justify this. If it is not removed, I will contact Change.org,” Ray Russom wrote James Grant on March 17. “Please remove it immediately.”
Ray Russom has not responded to requests for comment. James Grant does not plan to change the petition, which now has more than 26,000 signatures.
“While running for office, Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray supported the pursuits to increase safety at the intersection of El Campo Road and Highway 101,” James Grant said. “The problem is, the petition update is accurate. I checked once again. It primarily shows a letter Caren Ray wrote herself to Caltrans asking that something be done about El Campo and 101.”
James Grant is continuing to promote safety at the interchange. He wants Caltrans to stop allowing left hand turns across four lanes of freeway while they seek a permanent solution.
“Our position has always been to just stop the left hand turns across the freeway,” James Grant said. “We don’t care how that is done. Build an overpass, build an underpass, do so for only the left hand lane turn – in one direction and save some money – we don’t care. Just stop the insanity of having people pull out in front of southbound traffic traveling at freeway speeds.”
SLOCOG is conducting an assessment of the implications of restricting access on the Highway 101 and El Campo Road intersection.
On March 21 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., SLOCOG is hosting a public outreach meeting at the Arroyo Grande Hospital Annex Conference Room (345 South Halcyon Road, Arroyo Grande), to discuss the assessment process and the implications of shutting down the intersection.