San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon won the 2016 mayoral election by a narrow margin of 47 votes, some of which came from the Cal Poly community. Now, she is up for reelection and hopes students and faculty will show up for her once again.
Harmon said she is proud of the accomplishments she has made in her two-year term. She is especially proud of the level of civility in City Hall achieved by her and and the City Council.
“We’ve really been able to accomplish a lot,” Harmon said. “The City of San Luis Obispo just committed to the most ambitious carbon neutrality goals of any city in the United States. I came to politics out of the concern around climate change and so, to see this kind of policy come to life here in the city is really affirming for me and all the work that I’ve done personally and all of the work that a lot of the members in the community have been working for.”
Her campaign slogan this time around is “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Harmon said she has been able to follow through with all of the promises she made in her last campaign.
During Harmon’s term, she was able to increase affordability by providing down payment assistance and maximizing deed-restricted affordable units, according to her website. She has also increased environmental stewardship in the city by approving environmentally friendly projects with the City Council, including committing San Luis Obispo to becoming a Net Zero City. She also followed through on her promise to have more responsible financial planning by adopting a fiscal responsibility plan with City Council and leading the effort to keep jobs local.
But in Harmon’s eyes, there is still more to be done.
Affordability throughout the city is at the forefront of her mind, she said.
“We need to do everything we can to create the policies and the practices to have more affordability here,” she said. “We’re one of the least affordable places to live in the United States and I feel like the window is closing on being able to do something to turn it around.”
If she is reelected, she said she hopes to help facilitate more change around the price of housing. She said she sees this moving forward with the Cal Poly housing plan, which aims to have the majority of students living on campus, therefore opening up housing around the city.
“We’re working hard to try and figure out how we can create more opportunity, inclusivity and diversity here to improve affordability,” Harmon said.
Harmon has been very involved with Cal Poly students during her time as mayor showing up at student protests and speaking at club meetings. She said she believes students play an important role in local politics. She also said she thinks it is unfortunate that students are often blamed for problems throughout the city.
She encouraged students to participate in politics and registering to vote in San Luis Obispo.
“Often times in this community, unfortunately, the students are demonized, and I recognize that there’s definitely some behaviors that are concerning to residents and that’s real and we do need to address them, but I think that the students are a huge part of this community and are a positive aspect of this community,” Harmon said.
Although she has been criticized for not listening to those who disagree with her about city ordinances and the over-development of the city, Harmon said she is all for listening to different and diverse opinions and that doing so helps her come up with the best solution possible. She said her main issue with criticism is the sometimes hostile and sexist nature of her critic’s discussion.
In July, she was criticized for walking out of a SLO Progressives meeting after her opponent, mayoral candidate T. Keith Gurnee, decided to re-register and run as a progressive.
Harmon addressed those rumors.
“I did leave that meeting,” Harmon said. “The other candidate, who has been a Republican for his whole life, was presenting as not only a Democrat, but as a progressive. I think the lack of transparency and honesty and clarity around that was really concerning to me. Also, there were several hecklers … and I just felt like, towards the end, that I was really uncomfortable participating in what was a really false situation that the other opponent was creating.”
Harmon also said she has many issues with Gurnee’s campaign strategies, especially the fact that he uses fear to get into voters’ heads. She said she thinks he has very little faith in San Luis Obispo.
Though she knows the city is not perfect, she said she does not think it is as bad as Gurnee thinks it is.
“I don’t think we need to make San Luis Obispo great again; I think that San Luis Obispo is great,” Harmon said. “It’s not perfect. We always need to work on it and keep it the beautiful, special place that it is, and we need to recognize that we’re creating the future that we not only want, but really need.”
Harmon said she shows up for students and hopes to see them show up for her.
“I really show up for people and I’ve really shown up for students,” Harmon said. “Whether it’s coming to a classroom and speaking, whether it’s supporting them through a huge, traumatic event, getting them the care or the support that they need, those types of things. And so I’m hopeful that we will show up for each other and continue to show up for each other moving forward.”