When Heidi Harmon walks into a room, people tend to notice. Perhaps they recognize her as San Luis Obispo’s mayor since 2016 — or perhaps the large, red rose she always wears is reason enough to look.
“When I walk into a room, I want it to be really clear that the feminine is in the space,” Harmon said about her signature rose. “We need a feminine approach in positions of leadership. It’s interesting how that causes a lot of angst for certain people, but I didn’t come here to make people comfortable, I came here to make things better.”
Harmon first arrived in San Luis Obispo as a teenager straight out of high school. She started her college years at Cuesta College and later transferred to Cal Poly, where she received a degree in liberal studies.
Although Harmon said she loves learning and always has, she did not view her Cal Poly experience as typical — though she spent a lot of time at the local Woodstock’s, working her first job.
Already a mother while attending Cal Poly, much of her time was spent taking care of her children or getting them to the daycare center before class started.
After graduation, Harmon stayed in San Luis Obispo. She said she saw it as a great community to raise her two children, Zoie and Jack. However, there were city issues, alongside global issues, that concerned her.
“San Luis Obispo definitely has some deficits and always has that I’m trying to address, like lack of diversity and affordability,” Harmon said. “But I was really inspired to get involved with politics because of our changing climate, which I see as the defining issue of our time.”
Harmon’s platform: Promises made, promises kept
Harmon’s slogan for re-election is “Promises Made, Promises Kept” — something she said she believes she has accomplished. This includes her promise to repeal the rental housing inspection program (which was largely seen as an invasion of privacy for tenants and a burden for landlords) and to push forward the legalization of tiny homes (which are now legal on owner-occupied land).
She also piloted a program for open space use after dark and prioritized climate change initiatives.
“I’m particularly proud climate action is one of our major city goals for the first time in our history, and even more than that, the City of San Luis Obispo just made the most ambitious carbon neutrality goal of any city in the United States,” Harmon said.
Harmon’s Net Zero 2035 commitment aims to make San Luis Obispo’s carbon footprint zero by 2035, 10 years earlier than Gov. Jerry Brown’s state-wide goal.
Increasing the viability of car-free living for convenience, affordability and environmental reasons has also been a large part of Harmon’s time as mayor.
“We’ve done a lot on climate, which I’m proud of, but what we still need to figure out [is] how to create more affordability. That’s going to be my number one task moving forward,” Harmon said.
Although Harmon is pushing down payment assistance and other similar programs currently to increase affordability, she is still brainstorming future strategies, such as helping Cal Poly house more students on campus.
“I’m looking for ways to create more affordability and inclusivity for people of all different backgrounds to have a more vital, dynamic city in the future,” Harmon said. “If we don’t address that meaningfully, we’re at risk of irrelevancy.”
Why she’s running for reelection
Harmon has a lot of plans for the city and wants to see them play out.
“Two years is a really short time, especially when it comes to government and policy,” Harmon said. “So I want to be able to continue on the positive, really civil, constructive and solution-oriented approach that we’ve had as a council.”
Harmon’s passion for fighting climate change can be seen in her only mode of transportation — an electric red bike. She has been completely car-free for three months.
A long-held ritual of watching one episode of “The West Wing” every night before bed ties into her drive for political change; “it reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing — and President Bartlet is the best president we’ve ever had,” she said about the show.
Harmon was elected mayor by a slim margin in 2016 — just 47 votes — largely due to student voters. She said she feels a strong relationship with Cal Poly students.
Harmon said she is particularly proud of her response to students who felt unsafe walking on campus at night. She helped triple the city’s budget for lighting around campus and had public works trim trees that were blocking existing lighting.
“I think I’m honestly the first mayor in the city’s history that has been with students and not against them,” Harmon said. “The future belongs to you, the future belongs to the students. I feel like everything we’re doing isn’t so much about the now as it is about the future.”
Vote by November 6
Nov. 6 is the last day to vote for mayor and city council seats.