Though there were four official candidates for Caren Ray’s former seat on the Arroyo Grande City Council, it was abundantly clear that one candidate—Kristen Barneich—had already captured the hearts and minds of council members and the public.
After all 11 speakers at the Nov. 12 council meeting heartily endorsed Barneich, and the four council members unanimously listed her as their top choice, a giddy, grinning Barneich was sworn in as the newest council member.
“I’ve been preparing for this position for the past nine years,” said Barneich, a lifelong Arroyo Grande resident who’s served on the city’s planning commission since 2007.
Barneich is also president and co-founder of the Tree Guild of Arroyo Grande, a nonprofit that’s planted 292 trees in the city since 2005.
The three other candidates—retired Santa Barbara County probation officer Barbara Harmon, self-employed real estate appraiser Dale Hanson, and Santa Maria research attorney Burke Nelson—made their respective cases, with Harmon finishing in second place and Hanson and Nelson tied after that.
A cavalcade of speakers at public comment sang Barneich’s praises—including her affability, experience, deep Arroyo Grande roots, and even her lovingness.
“She gives great hugs,” said Thorv Hessellund, an Arroyo Grande resident and businessman.
Barneich will step down as the vice-chair of the Arroyo Grande Planning Commission in order to fill Ray’s vacant seat.
After she was sworn in, Barneich received a standing ovation from the audience, including newly appointed county supervisor Ray.