San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon doesn’t want to just sit in council chambers or behind a computer to learn about the city she helps govern.
On Tuesday, Harmon led the first of what she envisions to be more than 30 walks throughout San Luis Obispo neighborhoods in coming weeks and months so residents can get to know their mayor, express concerns and show her the issues affecting their individual communities.
Harmon also has a second goal in mind — inspiring regular exercise.
“I want to foster community, build relationships, and encourage an active lifestyle for our vibrant city,” Harmon said. “Other mayors in other towns have done this. I’m planning to meet people where they are and see the neighborhoods for myself.”
Harmon sees a difference between observing neighbors’ concerns firsthand and learning about them more remotely in government meetings or documents, and she wants to uphold her commitment to public outreach.
“There can be a difference in how the candidate behaves and how the elected official behaves,” Harmon said. “I want to hear from you.”
This week, she gathered with 35 residents of the South Broad Street corridor who have been waiting for planned traffic-calming measures so they can more easily bike, walk and drive from their homes bordering South Broad Street, near Orcutt Road. A 2014 city plan lays out several measures that haven’t been implemented yet.
Their principal concerns are Broad Street corridor crossing safety measures such as: implementing a planned traffic signal or signals (at the Woodbridge and Lawrence intersections) reducing the speed limit from 40 miles per hour to 35; adding a new crosswalk, possibly with blinking lights or speed bumps; and safe bicycle lanes.
One participant said he totaled his car last week in a traffic collision, and others talked about how terrifying it is to walk in the neighborhood with cars whizzing by. Broad Street has become a “free for all,” residents wrote in an outline of concerns to Harmon, with cars and pedestrians trying to navigate traffic. Locals refer to the corridor as “Kamikaze Lane.”
Multiple new housing developments in the area will add 500 to 550 new homes by 2018, but road safety improvements have lagged behind, residents say. The Twin Creeks and Avivo housing projects, under construction near Orcutt Road and Sacramento Drive, are slated for 263 of the total new homes.
“Some of us have gone to city meetings for years to get these problems addressed,” said Diane Diamond, a local resident. “If new condos and high-density housing units are going in, you have to have the infrastructure in place, and it isn’t.”
Before beginning the walk, Harmon encouraged the neighbors to select a leader, or key point people, to form strategies for addressing their concerns.
“What I would encourage is for you to collaborate on the different ways to move forward,” Harmon said. “It’s easy to make the city the front and center of the issue, and that may be the case, but there may be different ways to accomplish things and I would encourage you to look at all of the options.”
At the end of the walk, Harmon said, “I think we need at least one major safety measure” to tackle the Broad Street traffic problem. Harmon noted that unfunded liabilities, including pension payment costs, are curtailing how much the city can spend on programs in coming years.
Those who participated in the walk were happy to get the opportunity to share their concerns firsthand in their neighborhood.
“This is the first time anyone from City Hall has come out here and met with us as a group of neighbors from contiguous blocks to talk about this,” said Sally Hillis, a resident of the Villa Rosa housing complex on Matsuhito Ave. by the San Luis Obispo Guild Hall (formerly the SLO Grange).
Harmon is next scheduled to walk in the Anholm District (located just west of Highway 101 and Santa Rosa Boulevard including Chorro and Broad streets) at 555 Hill St. at 5:30 p.m. on June 22.
On June 26, she’ll meet at 771 E. Foothill Blvd. at 5:30 p.m. to cover the Cerro San Luis Foothills (located south of Foothill Boulevard from Palomar Avenue to Del Norte Way).
Walks last about an hour.