Now that the dust has settled on our local elections — with the notable exception of the Los Osos Community Services District! — it’s time to put those results in perspective.
San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon was elected in a landslide victory over my campaign of pledged civility. It was a watershed election that portends a major shift in our city’s direction. While many voters seem to have embraced those changes, many remain concerned about where those changes may take us.
The voters have spoken. While there may be many who might be reluctant to celebrate that result, we have no choice but to accept it. Yet it’s also a reality that we remain a divided town. Now it’s time to see whether her promise “to bring us together” will be a promise kept.
That promise was made in her victory speech on election night and in her subsequent remarks in The Tribune where she was quoted as saying “I will work to bring people together in San Luis Obispo including … different neighborhoods” and “my promise ... is to prioritize bringing the people of San Luis Obispo back together.”
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This really needs to happen and Mayor Harmon needs to do just that. There is no more significant way to prove the veracity of her promise than for her to reconsider her tie-breaking vote in approving the Anholm Bikeway in September. The Anholm neighborhood has been up in arms for better than two years over that project, which will eliminate 73 on-street parking spaces at a time when high density, under-parked projects on Foothill Boulevard are significantly impacting the livability of this historic neighborhood. Our neighborhood just can’t afford to lose that much parking.
By the time that decision was made, the neighbors had been working tirelessly and closely with Barry Rands, a member of the SLO Bike Club and a Heidi supporter, to come up with a “shared street” alternative with robust traffic calming features that the Anholm Neighbors United strongly supported. We and Mr. Rands were so close to coming up with a set of workable recommendations with a traffic calming solution, only to have our hopes dashed by the City Council’s 3-2 vote. Had we been given a little more time, we could’ve gotten to a win-win solution.
After that vote, my wife and I took a long-planned trip to tour many of the cities in southern Europe. Mindful of the many traffic-calming features we were considering for the Broad and Chorro Street corridors, we found these very features were heavily used in such cities as Nice, Marseille, Barcelona and Lisbon. While our city staff had been dismissive of our use of those features in San Luis Obispo, those very traffic calming improvements seemed to work remarkably well in Europe to dramatically reduce both traffic speeds and traffic volumes where they were used.
If our mayor is truly sincere in “bringing the people of San Luis Obispo back together” including its neighborhoods, there is no better gesture to prove that sincerity than to give the Anholm neighborhood another chance.
If that promise made turns into a promise kept, I’ll be the first one to praise Mayor Harmon’s sincerity.
Now it’s up to Heidi Harmon to prove that her promise made is a promise kept, not a promise broken.
T. Keith Gurnee is a planner and urban designer who served on the San Luis Obispo City Council in the 1970s, and ran for mayor in the November election.