Local activist, artist, and educator Heidi Harmon will take on San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx in the November election.
The longtime San Luis Obispo resident filed election papers on Aug. 4, joining Don Hedrick, a welder and regular speaker at City Council meetings who’s run several unorthodox campaigns for mayor in the last decade. Marx was first elected mayor in 2010, and will term out in 2018 should she be reelected this year.
Harmon told New Times her focus will be on key issues facing the city, including housing availability, cost, and development; the ongoing shaping of downtown; relations with Cal Poly; and tourism.
“San Luis Obispo is really at a precipice, and we as a community really need to decide what we want the city to be,” Harmon said.
She referenced ongoing discontent among some community members who worry the city is becoming too expensive for many residents and that its overall character is changing.
“I hear the word ‘Santa Barbara’ coming up a lot. People feel like there was a moment in Santa Barbara’s growth history where it was a community people really wanted to live in and wanted to visit. And that was lost,” Harmon said. “There can be something really special about San Luis Obispo if we continue to make it that way.”
New Times first heard rumors in early July that Harmon was considering a mayoral bid. At the time, Harmon said that while she was considering a run, she wasn’t eager to delve into local politics and wasn’t likely to pursue it. That changed, she said, after several residents urged her to throw her hat in the ring.
“I started feeling that I was letting people down to not [run for mayor], so I decided to go for it,” she said.
Harmon is a well-known local climate change activist who’s been involved in the ongoing fight to stop the Phillips 66 rail spur expansion project, which would increase the amount of crude oil shipped to and processed at the company’s Santa Maria Refinery in Nipomo.
Harmon recently returned from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Penn., where she was a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders. Harmon said her decision to run for mayor was also inspired by a hope to keep Sanders’ supporters engaged in politics at a local level.
She’s known to dress up in costumes that embody characters emblematic of women and labor struggles—she was dressed as the World War II era feminist icon Rosie the Riveter at Sanders’ May 28 rally in Santa Maria.
In 2014, she unsuccessfully challenged 35th District State Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian in 2014, bringing in 37 percent of the vote.
Both Harmon and Marx—an environmental attorney by trade—are primarily known for their work on environmental issues. While some of the key issues facing San Luis Obispo, like the city’s growth and water supply, have environmental dimensions, the political lines around those issues are not always cut across traditional lines.
Harmon said that she’d like to see the city’s Climate Action Plan—a sort of road map to citywide greenhouse gas reductions—implemented more quickly. Marx supported the plan’s 2012 adoption.
“Jan and I are similar in a lot of ways, but having an uncontested race isn’t a way to create those important conversations,” Harmon said.
Staff Writer Jono Kinkade can be reached at email@example.com.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay