San Luis Obispo appointed Vice Mayor Erica A. Stewart as Mayor of San Luis Obispo last night, replacing former mayor Heidi Harmon after she resigned in August.
Council members Carlyn Christianson, Andy Pease and Jan Marx unanimously voted to approve Stewart as mayor over candidates Jefferey Conley Specht and Josh Cohen.
Stewart was appointed from a selected pool of applicants in order to avoid a special election that could have cost the city up to $200,000. She will carry out Harmon’s mayoral term which ends in December 2022. Christianson will now serve as Vice Mayor.
“I think that all of us, you know, obviously in this role are leaders, but each and every person in this community, is changing San Luis Obispo to make it a better place,” Stewart said after she was sworn in as Mayor.
Stewart, a Cal Poly alumn, is the Assistant Director for Personnel and Marketing for Campus Health and Wellbeing, which is a job she will now do part-time coupled with her role as Mayor.
“I’m particularly impressed by her broad professional and volunteer experience … which I think are equally important to be able to be effective in initiatives and organizations,” Pease said in her deliberations about Stewart.
Stewart is the first Black mayor to serve San Luis Obispo. The city council will remain all-female, which happened last year for the first time in San Luis Obispo City’s 144-year history.
In an Instagram post shared after her appointment, Stewart quoted Vice President Kamala Harris: “I may be the first… But I won’t be the last.”
San Luis Obispo County Health Division Manager Michelle Shoresman was unanimously appointed to fill the vacant city council seat. Shoresman, who has led the San Luis Obispo County COVID-19 public information response team, was selected out of nine candidates that spoke at the meeting.
Instead of repeating her application in her five minute speech, Shoresman talked about her upbringing. She mentioned how public service was the Shoresman “brand,” noting close relatives that worked as district attorneys, environmental lawyers, firefighters and teachers. Her grandmother founded two AIDS hospice programs in Santa Barbara for those afflicted with the condition.
“From my grandmother, I learned the importance of community and giving back to the place I love,” Shoresman said. “Change doesn’t come easy and patience is essential, but most importantly, we all have to get up every day, roll up our sleeves and do the work.”
Heidi Harmon served her last day as Mayor of San Luis Obispo more than a week ago after announcing her resignation last month to work as a climate advocate in Santa Cruz.
Since being elected as mayor in 2016, Harmon established San Luis Obispo as a sanctuary city, adopted one of the most ambitious carbon neutrality initiatives in all of the United States, approved safer bike paths, opted to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day and more.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in the last five years,” Harmon said. “Pretty much everything I promised to do when I was campaigning we’ve been able to do at least to some extent.”
Harmon is now working at the nonprofit Romero Institute as Senior Public Affairs Director within their Let’s Green California Initiative. This group is pushing state legislation on climate action and is calling upon California Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of climate emergency.
“I’m happy for Heidi and her new position and excited she’ll be able to continue her impactful work in a new, far-reaching venue through the Romero Institute,” Pease said.
After looking for a local role in a climate organization for several years and having a hard time getting hired, Harmon was introduced to the Romero Institute through friends also working there. She let the Romero Institute know she was willing to step away as Mayor of San Luis Obispo and into a role where she would have more impact.
“We have a culture of sustainability and climate action so deeply embedded in the work that we’re doing as a city that I feel confident that I can leave [the work] in the good hands of my colleagues,” Harmon said. “I think my skills are better suited at the state level … It’s really the state in terms of having an impact on the rest of the country and world.”