The seat for San Luis Obispo’s mayor is up for election, with four candidates fighting for the spot.
San Luis Obispo residents can vote for a mayoral candidate in the upcoming Nov. 3 election. Students can vote in this election if they are registered to vote with an off-campus San Luis Obispo address.
The election of mayor is non-partisan, meaning that candidates are not running under a preferred party.
Mayors serve two-year terms and are limited to serving up to four terms.
The mayor’s role is to preside over City Council meetings, vote when present at meeting, and they do not have the ability to veto any items. Any policy City Council enacts will be communicated to the city manager by the mayor. The mayor must also be the head of the city for any ceremonial purposes, according to the San Luis Obispo’s charter.
The candidates running for the office of the mayor are incumbent Mayor Heidi Harmon, Donald Hedrick, Cherisse Sweeney and Sandra Marshall-Eminger.
Mayor Heidi Harmon
Incumbent Heidi Harmon is seeking a third term as San Luis Obispo’s mayor.
Prior to being elected for mayor in 2016, Harmon had no electoral experience. Rather, she was engaged in the community as a community organizer, predominantly for climate action, for more than a decade.
During her last four years as mayor, Harmon lead City Council in switching to the carbon-free energy provider Community Choice Energy — formerly known as Monterey Bay Community Power, approved affordable housing units and developed an economic recovery and resiliency plan to counter the effects of COVID-19 on the economy, according to her campaign website.
“It’s a time to have experienced leadership at this time of crisis when we face so many challenges,” Harmon said.
She said she is continuing to address some of these issues in her current campaign, as she said these are issues that still need work to be done.
This election, her campaign is focusing on three issues: COVID-19 recovery, climate action and diversity and equity.
Harmon said that the city’s goals of housing, sustainable transportation, climate action, and fiscal responsibility and downtown vitality are still important — but now are needing to be evaluated under the need for COVID-19 recovery.
Harmon said these past few months have been especially challenging as she has worked to help the city recover from COVID-19 restrictions.
What has also added to the challenge is addressing the local movements for racial justice, which began in May. She said she is proud to stand up for racial justice and it is a main priority for the city in the wake of their new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force.
Although these are issues Harmon is addressing for the city, she still has students in mind.
Local students have lead racial justice and climate action movements in San Luis Obispo, and Harmon said she will continue to fight alongside them.
“I’m going to continue to fight to be part of the solutions to what I see as the defining issue of our time,” Harmon said.
As Harmon is running for a third term, her experience as mayor has taught her many things. One of the main skills she learned is how to connect and communicate with people to find solutions. However, she said she has seen divisions in the community widen and has felt disappointed by the politicization of issues like racial justice.
“Those are not partisan political issues, those are issues about human rights and our very survival,” Harmon said.
Harmon also said that housing affordability is a main concern for students that she has addressed and will continue to work on through establishing more affordable housing in the city.
Unlike her predecessors, Harmon said that she has worked to bridge the gap between the city and Cal Poly and has a great relationship with the student community, as she has learned from and worked with them.
Although she is proud of her communication skills as mayor, what she said she would like to work on if re-elected is a gap in her communication. Harmon said there is a common misconception that she does not do enough, so she wants to communicate more of what she is doing that is not publicized.
“Yes I ride my bike and yes I’m at some of the protests and yes I’m doing some of the things that translate better on social media and yes I’m also doing the very serious work of policy creation and communication with the community,” Harmon said. “And so I think I need to do a different job in communicating that out to the public.”
When asked what she does in her free time, she said how she has very little of it as she is a “workaholic” and her job as mayor consumes much of her time. But, self-care through actions like healthy eating, exercise and even doing her hair and makeup are ways she enjoys life outside of the office.
Although self-care in these ways are important for her, she sees her work as a sort of self-care as well.
“The best self-care of all is not necessarily to escape but to be part of creating a world where people don’t have to escape it,” Harmon said.
Although students living on-campus are unable to vote in the city’s election, Harmon urges any student that is living in this community to vote here as “the policies that [the city enacts] will impact you.”
Marshall-Eminger moved to San Luis Obispo in 1974. Here she has raised her family and been engaged with the community. She has been an activist addressing climate action and nuclear power in San Luis Obispo.
“I’ve always, whatever I do, been working for the community,” Marshall-Eminger said.
Every year, Marshall-Eminger has coordinated the Earth Day Fair as environmental issues are a top priority for her.
Marshall-Eminger said she is a progressive democrat and was a member of the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party Central Committee from 2003 to 2012. Through this involvement, Marshall-Eminger said she gained experience working with elected officials and government.
Although Marshall-Eminger has no elected experience, she said there is no way to prepare and voters need to be open to letting anyone run.
She said the reason she has decided to run for mayor is because she disagrees with Harmon’s mayoral policies and wants to represent the people in the community who feel misrepresented.
Marshall-Eminger said the top three issues her campaign is addressing are downtown preservation, environment and housing affordability.
One of her main concerns about the environment is preserving open space. She said it will be the “next new frontier” and is at risk of exploitation.
“[Open space] is where a lot of natural life lives and it’s very important to our area,” Marshall-Eminger said. “That’s what helped make [San Luis Obispo] so lovely.”
As for the preservation of downtown, Marshall-Eminger said she is concerned about San Luis Obispo becoming a different city than the one she loves. She is a member of Save Our Downtown, a group of San Luis Obispo residents that are aiming to preserve what makes San Luis Obispo unique.
Marshall-Eminger said she is not supportive of the 75-foot tall housing development downtown as it will diminish the city’s charm. Although this development will provide affordable housing, she said that it is not adequate enough.
As for housing, Marshall-Eminger said this is an issue that she has students in mind for. She wants to ensure students are living in safe and affordable homes.
Although she supports more affordable housing, she also wants to ensure that new developments are backed by enough jobs to support new residents, according to her campaign website.
For Marshall-Eminger, her campaign is fueled by her desire to represent the community.
“Our decision in voting is just to be careful that we have enough representatives that everyone is heard,” Marshall-Eminger said.
Sweeney is the owner of Basalt Interiors, a local business downtown that offers interior design services. As a local business owner, Sweeney has felt the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. She said she may have to close her store if restrictions on local businesses are not loosened.
Her shift to local politics is not in response to this, but rather because she said she wants to be a leader for the community.
“I think we’re at a pivotal point in our city,” Sweeney said. “I do believe that we’re at a place where we could use some leadership in our city, not just on City Council, but as a mayor and leading through compassion and unity and bringing people together and some pragmatic approaches to addressing the challenges that we have ahead of us.”
Sweeney’s campaign is focusing on three issues: public health and safety, economic vitality and inclusivity.
For Sweeney, these issues are interwoven in a harmonious circle.
“If we’re not healthy, we’re not safe, we can’t have that vitality,” Sweeney said.
Under the issue of public health and safety, Sweeney said that homelessness is an issue that is greatly affecting the city.
“[Homelessness is] creating a very unsafe environment,” Sweeney said. “And it’s not just isolated to downtown; it’s really kind of bleeding into our communities and neighborhoods as well.”
Sweeney’s solution is private-public partnerships and resource development, according to her campaign website.
As for her focus on inclusivity, Sweeney said the community is facing a lot of divisiveness right now and people need to work together and communicate better.
She sees Cal Poly as a relationship the city needs to foster as the campus is a beacon of light, according to Sweeney.
“We need to embrace what Cal Poly brings to our communities, especially now,” Sweeney said. “It’s so vital to our growth and our survival right now.”
As a mother with two children ages 11 and 14, she sees how inspiring Cal Poly students are to kids in the community and wants to strengthen that bond.
“I want [Cal Poly students] to be a part of the ingenuity and the creativeness and what makes San Luis Obispo special,” Sweeney said.
Although Sweeney has no electoral experience, she has worked with city and local governments in southern California while working for an architectural firm. She said she has worked on multiple public works projects and learned how city level government works.
When she moved back to the central coast in the early 2000s, she helped her dad with his concrete ready mix business which required working with San Luis Obispo County on concrete projects.
One project Sweeney is most proud of is her work on a mining operation in Santa Barbara County. She worked with geologists, biologists and environmental consultants to mine renewable resources for concrete. This also strengthened her understanding of government.
When she is not campaigning and working for her business, Sweeney said she loves spending time with her family. Although COVID-19 lockdowns have been hard for her and her business, one perk is the way it has re-connected her family.
Recently on social media, Sweeney has received criticism that she moved to San Luis Obispo solely to run for mayor. The city requires candidates to live in the city for at least 30 days before the election. Social media accounts have accused Sweeney of moving to San Luis Obispo in August.
“I know what I signed up for and I know the nature of running for an elected seat and in campaigning and I have faith in our community,” Sweeney said. “I know that for anyone to believe for a moment that I would run the risk of doing this and lose on a technicality, I think people will see through that.”
In response to those claims, Sweeney said her main concern is keeping her family and home safe.
Although she has received criticism on social media, she said she wants people to actually get to know her beyond the accusations.
“I want people to make their judgment and make their decisions based on getting to know me, talking to me, coming to visit with me,” Sweeney said.
Hedrick is a local artisan, recycler and harbinger who is well-known for his sculpture “The Homeless Whale” in San Luis Obispo. He is an avid attendee at City Council meetings and is known for speaking during public comment.
This is Hedrick’s sixth time running for San Luis Obispo mayor.
“I will run for mayor for the rest of my life,” Hedrick said.
Three issues that Hedrick is addressing in his campaign are localizing electricity, preserving the city and making Laguna Lake deeper.
His campaign platform is also focused on anti-corruption, which he believes is prevalent in our city’s government.
“We seem to be under assault by outside interests,” Hedrick said.
If elected as mayor, he said he wants to see a greater diversity of voices in City Council to prevent unanimous decision making.
He also said that the city is leaning too socialist and is influenced by external interests. There is no evidence that supports whether this claim is true.
Under his goal of preserving San Luis Obispo, he said he wants to prevent it from becoming a “Gotham City.” Hendrick also said that the city is developing too much at too fast of a rate.
“I think we need to be addressing the destruction of our favorite town before our eyes,” Hedrick said.
As for localizing electricity, Hedrick said that electricity needs to be generated from homes through solar batteries, allowing the city to supply their own energy.
Although Hedrick has not been successful thus far, his goal to become mayor is greatly influenced by his devotion to this city.