Heidi Harmon speaks to crowd after taking early lead in SLO Mayor race
Heidi Harmon will serve a second term as San Luis Obispo’s mayor with returns early Wednesday morning showing a wide lead over challenger T. Keith Gurnee.
Harmon pulled in 59.7 percent percent of the vote, while challenger T. Keith Gurnee had garnered 37.5, with 100 percent of SLO’s 26 precincts reporting at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. The results also reflected mail-in ballots received before Monday.
Harmon ran a campaign on promoting diversity, policies to encourage affordable and workforce housing, climate action through a carbon neutrality goal by 2035, and other measures. She earned the endorsement of the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party.
“This is a victory to see all the love in this room,” said Harmon, in front of a raucous crowd at Kreuzberg Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo. “I will work to bring people together in San Luis Obispo, including the campus community and different neighborhoods.”
The race was largely divided over growth, housing, building height and traffic concerns.
Harmon said it’s a critical time in the nation and vowed to fight against bigotry and to make San Luis Obispo a welcoming city regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, gender, immigration and income status.
At her election party, she championed goals to bring affordable housing, living wages and climate change action, while adding that she’d work to inspire entrepreneurship.
Fellow incumbent Carlyn Christianson and newcomer Erica Stewart, also supported by county Democrats, lead for two open City Council seats. Christianson topped a crowded field at 26.9 percent of the vote, followed by Stewart at 20.6 percent for two open seats.
Trailing contenders included James Lopes at 18.6 percent, Sarah Flickinger at 11.8, Abe Lincoln at 10, Bob Voglin at 6 and Jeffrey Specht at 5.6.
“Knowing a lot about the issues and having a history where I can recall what happened 15 years ago, having served on the Planning Commission and City Council, I think has helped,” Christianson said about her background. “That background can get lost.”
Stewart said it has been a learning curve in her first council run, and wished she’d raised more money earlier in the race to get her voice heard — but she remained optimistic.
“I’m ready to dive in on infrastructure and getting the overpass built (at Prado Road),” Stewart said. “We’ll also have a lot of budget meetings coming and decisions about how to prioritize spending. Campaigning has been an amazing experience.”
Mayoral race split on growth, roads
Harmon has defended her votes in favor of two large development projects, Avila Ranch and San Luis Ranch, that approved up to 1,300 new homes in the city, along with the Anholm Bikeway Project, which will set aside $3 million for bike path improvements, including separated bike paths between downtown and Foothill Boulevard.
Gurnee represented a vocal opposition that has lamented the city’s expansion in terms of building height allowances of up to 75 feet in the upper Monterey Street area, which he said could lead to “buildings on steroids,” and called for Cal Poly to do more to house its students on campus. Gurnee also joined in opposition to the Anholm plan that he said would ruin a residential, older San Luis Obispo neighborhood with congestion.
Gurnee said the campaign trail was a grind and that he was eager for some rest.
“The town is ready for ready for change (from the current council’s direction),” Gurnee said before the first returns. “We need to take back local control from the state and I’m ready to work to do that. That’s what a City Council is for — to make decisions based on local preference.”
Don Hedrick, a candidate who admittedly likes to be a thorn in the city’s side and who has run repeatedly for San Luis Obispo council races, this time for mayor, garnered 2.6 percent of the vote.
City supports marijuana tax
San Luis Obispo voters overwhelmingly favored passing a special tax on marijuana businesses.
Late returns showed 79.5 percent of voters said “yes” to passing a county-proposed tax of up to 10 percent for retail businesses and up to $10 per square foot for cultivation that could raise $1.5 million annually for the city’s general fund.
According to the city, the revenues would go to the General Fund to be used for any city “project, service or operation, as directed by the City Council.”
The tax is similar to the county’s tax, which passed this summer.
Those caps are in line with what other cities and counties in California are doing: Santa Cruz and San Jose allow a gross receipts tax for cannabis up to 10 percent. Palm Springs allows up to 15 percent, and Sacramento allows up to 4 percent.