He was California's youngest elected official in the '70s. Now he's running for SLO mayor

T. Keith Gurnee is a candidate for San Luis Obispo mayor.
T. Keith Gurnee is a candidate for San Luis Obispo mayor.

Former City Council member and planner T. Keith Gurnee announced Wednesday he will run against incumbent Heidi Harmon for San Luis Obispo mayor in November.

In his announcement, Gurnee said he was running to restore San Luis Obispo's standing as 'Happiest City in America."

"In recent years, we have lost that title and that loss has cost us: economically, spiritually and politically," he wrote. "Just talk with the residents of our neighborhoods. They’re definitely not happy today. We must find a way to return to the things that made us happy and work together to regain that happiness. The first step to once again achieving that standing is electing a new mayor."

According to a news release, Gurnee joined the San Luis Obispo City Council in 1971 as a 23-year-old Cal Poly student. At the time, he was the youngest elected official in California.

While on the council, the city took the first steps toward opening Mission Plaza and began its public transportation system, according to a news release.

After leaving the council in 1975, Gurnee was a planner and urban designer with RRM Design Group until his retirement in 2014.

In his announcement, Gurnee listed eight priorities for his campaign:

  • Ensure fiscal responsibility.

  • Respect and protect character and quality of life in community, especially neighborhoods.
  • Hold Cal Poly accountable for community impacts.
  • Expand open-space greenbelt with stewardship protections.
  • Refurbish and expand Mission Plaza and cultural center.
  • Use wise management of infrastructure and water resources to control city expansion and housing costs.
  • Strengthen economy while supporting culture and the arts.
  • Provide safe bike lanes along railroad tracks and arterial streets, rather than residential streets.

"It’s indeed time for a change," he wrote. "It’s also time to take our city back and return to mature and thoughtful management that once was our hallmark. That will take a strong and visionary leader with compassion for our community and a proven track record of success. I would be honored should the voters allow me to be that leader."

Mayor Harmon announced May 10 she would seek re-election, saying she hoped her influence will help make the city a more affordable, diverse, environmentally conscious and civil place. She was elected in 2016.

Two council seats currently occupied by Dan Rivoire and Carlyn Christianson will be also be up for election this November.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon talks about her first year in office, as well as her plans for the future of the city and the Central Coast of California.

Editor's note: This article has removed a reference to Gurnee's involvement in the country's first public smoking ban.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928; @kaytyleslie
Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune