Even though they’re both proud owners of golden retrievers, Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill and mayoral candidate Richard Waller have a lot of differences.
Those differences were on full display as the two faced off for the first time at a forum for Arroyo Grande mayoral and City Council candidates held Sept. 4.
At the forum, sponsored by the Arroyo Grande Chamber of Commerce, the two men answered written questions from the audience and laid out their vision and priorities for the city.
Waller, a retired teacher whose family has deep roots in the city, said he was running for mayor to bring dignity back to the city.
“I’m running to restore civility to the discourse at the top levels of our city government,” Waller said.
Waller cited the firing of former City Manager Dianne Thompson, which occurred less than a year into her tenure, as evidence that acrimony and division was adversely impacting Arroyo Grande’s ability to run efficiently, calling her hiring and firing a “major screw up.”
“We can’t screw up twice,” Waller told the audience.
In response to Waller’s claims, Hill categorically disagreed with his opponent, calling the civility issue a “red herring.”
“I believe I’ve earned the reputation of being respectful of all,” he said.
Hill also stood by his vote to fire Thompson, noting that her ouster was the result of a 5-0 vote of the City Council.
“It was a unanimous council decision … and I take full responsibility for that,” Hill said.
Hill, who was elected as a write-in candidate in 2014, said water issues would be a major priority should he get re-elected. Recently, Hill has become a vocal advocate for passing a moratorium on building and construction as the state’s drought continues to impact Arroyo Grande’s water sources. Hill noted that water saved by residents who’ve sacrificed via voluntary and mandatory water restrictions, and raised concerns that the conserved water could be sucked up by future development.
“Our residents deserve to know that the water they are conserving is for their own use,” Hill said.
Waller disagreed. He said a building moratorium would not save very much water and heavily promoted desalination as a solution to the area’s drought problems. Waller also raised concerns about the impact of a construction moratorium on revenue and jobs in the city.
“There are negatives to a moratorium. Who’s going to talk to the tradesmen, that now have to leave the area to work?” Waller said. “The negatives are proven with moratorium, they can crash an economy.”
The forum was the first time voters saw the two candidates debate. As of yet, no further debates or forums between the two have been scheduled.