In SLO, 3 candidates for mayor, 6 for City Council

San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx is running for re-election in November.
San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx is running for re-election in November. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

At least three candidates will be vying to be the mayor of San Luis Obispo in the Nov. 8 election with incumbent Jan Marx now facing former Assembly candidate Heidi Harmon and political observer Don Hedrick.

Six candidates so far have pulled papers for the two four-year City Council seats that will be vacated by Dan Carpenter, who’s running for 3rd district San Luis Obispo County supervisor, and John Ashbaugh, who is termed out.

The six council candidates are Michael Clark, Aaron Gomez, Christopher Lopez, Andy Pease, Brett Strickland and Mila Vujovich-La Barre.

The filing deadline to run for mayor is Friday, while candidates for the two council seats have until Wednesday, Aug. 17. The deadline is extended when no incumbent is running.

All except for Marx, who has completed her paperwork, must gather at least 20 signatures of registered city voters to verify their nominations and complete their candidacy filings.

Marx, who is serving her third two-year term as mayor, will champion “neighborhood stabilization, workforce and affordable housing, open space preservation, and pedestrian and bicycle Master Plan implementation,” according to her website.

“A proven municipal and regional leader, I’ve responded decisively and creatively to challenges facing San Luis Obispo, promoting fiscal and environmental responsibility, economic vitality, pension reform, and neighborhood wellness,” Marx said.

Harmon said in a phone interview with The Tribune on Tuesday that she will run for mayor because she believes in “creating a way of local government that’s open and inclusive” and that many community members urged her to run, feeling their voices haven’t been properly heard.

“We need to make sure that, even when people aren’t always getting what they want, they feel like they’re getting heard,” Harmon said. “It’s really clear to everyone in this community that we need to have a community conversation and decide what kind of city we want to be. ... People are losing their homes and their community. I’ve never seen so many sad people in the happiest place on earth.”

Harmon cited crucial housing decisions, environmental protections and diversity in the city as key issues.

Harmon, who ran unsuccessfully for Assembly in 2014, was a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Hedrick, a perennial mayoral candidate and frequent commenter at City Council meetings, has critiqued the council on a variety of issues and often says the city isn’t respecting open government or representing the citizens.

Among council candidates, Gomez co-owns The Gold Concept Jewelry and Design Studio with his brother Devin, located on Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo. Gomez will focus on community engagement, smart residential growth, small business development and environmental stewardship, according to a press release.

Community activist Vujovich-La Barre, a Laguna Middle School teacher, has fought major development projects, including the proposed 500-home San Luis Ranch, citing potential water usage impacts, and the 71 Palomar housing proposal of 33 units, which she believes adds harmful density and congestion to a quiet neighborhood. She advocates preserving views and open space and encourages Cal Poly to build more campus housing to accommodate its growth.

Clark, a retired Army colonel with 29 years of service, seeks maintaining open space, being financially responsible with taxpayer money, preserving and protecting the city’s residential neighborhoods, increasing on-campus housing at Cal Poly and keeping downtown family-friendly.

Strickland, a supervisor and project lead at GP Strategies Corporation at Vandenberg Air Force Base, has said he’s running to bring a fresh view and “diversity of opinion” to the council.

Strickland said he has serious concerns about the city’s rental housing inspection program, including privacy issues and potential legal challenges, and said he would seek to dismantle the program if he is elected.

Pease, an architect, business owner and environmental leader, advocates for a healthy economy that “enables business owners to succeed and their employees to thrive”; environmental stewardship; and “a livable community, ensuring a great quality of life for everyone,” according to her website.

Lopez, a Cal Poly student who’s studying philosophy while trying to earn an agriculture business and political science minor, said that affordable housing and working with Cal Poly to ensure adequate housing on its campus are important issues to him.

Lopez said that giving each member of the community a voice and ensuring that local stores can thrive with community support while keeping out chains are also important. He has interned in Cal Poly’s Office of the President in the Office of Government Relations, he told The Tribune.