Editorials

In blaming the media, SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon is sounding a lot like Donald Trump

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The Amazon U.S. fulfillment network consists of more than 50 fulfillment centers, over 20 sortation centers and more than 90,000 full-time employees. Have a look around.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon has walked back her controversial call to “quit” Amazon.

Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it takes a certain amount of political courage for an elected official to clarify a position and to offer an apology, however half-hearted it may be.

But Harmon pulled a total Trumpian move when she blamed the media for misinterpreting her call to action by using the word “boycott.”

“I want to clarify ... that I did not use the word ‘boycott’; that was the Tribune’s word choice,” she wrote in a Viewpoint published by The Tribune this week.

She’s absolutely correct.

She used the terms “quitting” and “leaving” and “break up,” and she invited mayors across the nation to join her in ditching (our word- not hers) Amazon.

She even shared a photograph of herself taking a pair of scissors to an Amazon card. But she never once used the “B” word. That’s on us.

But considering the context, the term “boycott” is entirely appropriate, yet Harmon piously took us to task for taking liberties with language.

“It is more important than ever that media is precise and honest in their quest to portray the facts as they share the stories of our communities. Language matters,” she chided.

At least she didn’t call us out for peddling fake news.

To further bolster her position, the mayor pointed out that a boycott is “meant to be punitive.”

That, she says, is not what she intended. Rather, she was hoping to influence consumers to shop at locally owned stores, rather than online, to keep the community vibrant.

We don’t buy it. For one thing, Harmon accused Amazon of “destroying our downtowns” and “having a negative impact on our communities.”

Those are strong accusations, and a mayor who is mindful of the power of language should recognize how negatively they would be perceived.

Also, calling on mayors across the nation to no longer do business with Amazon — whether you use the term “quit” or “boycott” or “break up with” — is going to hurt the business, whether you consider that “punishment” or not.

We do commend the mayor for wanting to help local merchants; that’s an admirable goal.

But if the city were really serious about supporting local businesses, particularly in the downtown, it could have taken steps long ago.

Some examples:

  • Restrict or even ban chain stores from the downtown, as other communities have done.
  • Require a minimum distance between similar businesses, to avoid having the downtown overrun with yogurt shops or pizza parlors or yoga studios.
  • Prohibit new personal service businesses, such as hair salons, from opening downtown. That would encourage a wider variety of businesses while helping existing salons remain financially viable.

Instead, the city chose to take the laissez-faire, survival-of-the-fittest approach.

That’s fine; it’s what most cities do.

But city leaders who go that route should be prepared to deal with the consequences of their hands-off approach, rather than expecting shoppers to favor local merchants over national chains and online outlets, regardless of convenience and pricing.

They also should recognize that technology has dramatically changed all facets of our lives, including shopping.

We may yearn for the heyday of Riley’s Department Store and Bello’s Sporting Goods and Burris Saddlery, but we can’t go back there.

Calling on consumers to drop Amazon — whether you call it quitting or leaving or breaking up or boycotting — is never going to change that.

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