SLO needs a mayor, not a diva

July 30, 2018

Mayor Heidi Harmon

Opinion by Will Powers, Ph.D

Many keen local observers have noted the widespread rumblings of discontent among San Luis Obispo citizens frustrated with what they see as the misguided direction the city has taken over recent years.

The frustration seems to center around the fact that everywhere one looks, a major building project is either underway or being proposed. Specific foci have been the Serra Hotel on Marsh at Broad; the giant mixed-use project at Foothill and Chorro; and the mega-Chinatown project on Palm.

A recent opposition target has been the proposed four-story complex at 790 Foothill, a mixed-use project that would feature 78 rental units, commercial space and 155 parking spaces across a 1.33-acre site. At last week’s Planning Commission meeting on the proposal, only one of about 25 residents who rose to address the commission spoke in favor of the plan.

The seemingly widespread opposition to the city’s recent direction has become the focus of the already-heated race between incumbent SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon and challenger Keith Gurnee, a former councilman and longtime planner and urban designer.

With the vote still over three months away, the temperature of that race seemed to boil over last Thursday night, July 26, at a candidates’ forum hosted by the SLO Progressives Club, a group founded by Mayor Harmon herself.

The mayor may have expected the event to be a rubber-stamp endorsement of her candidacy, but it turned out to be anything but that. Although club members were the only attendees allowed to vote on the endorsement, questions from the large audience and comments by people who rose to speak on the race were decidedly mixed and some statements were downright hostile toward the mayor.

But, it was the conduct of the mayor herself that drew the strongest response and

T. Keith Gurnee

T. Keith Gurnee

stamped Ms. Harmon as a person who has issues with self-control and who seems increasingly unable to handle the criticism she has been receiving.

The forum format called for each candidate to make a three-minute opening statement, followed by questions from the audience; then, with the candidates outside the room, citizens commented on the endorsement recommendation by the club (the endorsement committee enthusiastically recommended Harmon) and the members voted.

Ms. Harmon, tapped to speak first, not only did not confine her opening remarks to the required 3 minutes, but she rambled on for a full 5 ½ minutes, with most of that time spent bragging about all her accomplishments during her first term (she continued to talk, even as the woman in front who was charged with telling the candidates how much time they had used kept holding up her fist, indicating that Harmon was over time).

The club chose to handle Ms. Harmon’s rambling by giving Mr. Gurnee an equal amount of time, but he had come prepared to speak for less than 3 minutes and that’s exactly what he did.

From the beginning of her remarks, Ms. Harmon talked down to Mr. Gurnee, sneered about his record of “helping developers”, and repeatedly suggested that she “cares about facts, even if you [gesturing toward Gurnee] don’t.”

The tension in the room began to rise as the mayor’s remarks became more and more demeaning, and the heat boiled over when one of the group’s committee members, seated at the front table, read from two statements Gurnee had written criticizing the Progressive Club and reproving what he has labeled as “fringe elements on both sides of the political spectrum.”

When questions were critical of what was called “over development” in the city were aimed at Ms. Harmon, she had two standard responses: Many of the projects underway now were approved by previous City Councils; and, if anyone is critical of projects like 790 Foothill, well, that’s because “these things are complicated and difficult to understand.” (One speaker later said that he did not appreciate being told that his leaders had special knowledge and he was just unable to understand all these complicated facts.

Finally, after one audience member asked Ms. Harmon a question, she said she was not going to answer the question because “this whole discussion is a sham, since there’s only one progressive up here and that’s me!” With that, she threw the mic down on the table and stormed out of the room.

During the discussion that followed, Mr. Gurnee said he was shocked and dismayed at the mayor’s churlish behavior and several audience members concurred.

At no time did Mr. Gurnee raise his voice (during several of her comments, Ms. Harmon shouted at the crowd) and, while he roundly criticized the mayor’s part in recent SLO expansion, he was never personal in his comments.

Here’s the point, as I see it: If Mayor Harmon cannot maintain her composure in front of an adoring, seemingly hand-picked crowd, how is she going to perform when audiences are more balanced, and made up of a cross-section of a city that seems bitterly divided?

Further, how is she supposed to stand up to a city staff that seems hell-bent on turning SLO into a developer-dominated metropolis?

Do we have a right to expect our mayor to behave in a manner more indicative of an adult than that of a third grader? Ms. Harmon’s mic throw and storm-out was nothing less than a tantrum and it seemed to result from the fact that she was not receiving the pervasive adoration that she expected from the crowd.

Will Powers, Ph.D 2

When I observe Mayor Harmon’s core followers, I see behavior more indicative of cult-like worship than merely a strongly-rooted wave of political support. Watch these people in action some time and see if you’re not struck by the reverence they bestow upon their “leader.”

When I tried to ask a question toward the end of the Harmon-Gurnee “debate,” I was told by the moderator, “You can’t speak.”

As a card-carrying Democratic Socialist myself, I was stunned at that refusal, so I rose and faced the crowd. I told them that the arrogance of know-it-all liberals and the refusal to allow for honest debate is “going to give us four more years of Donald Trump.” I said that liberals are becoming known for their stifling of dissent and for their refusal to allow opposition voices to be heard.

I was able to have my say only because I demanded it, not because the SLO Progressive Club is interested in any meaningful discussion of the issues.

Issues surrounding the direction our city will take over the next decade are, indeed, complicated (though not beyond the reach of intelligent observers) and there’s room for honest debate. However, when our mayor takes the approach that no negative consequences are her fault and that any criticism is unjustified, then how are we progressives any better than the cult-like Trump followers, who, like Harmon’s, seem to think that their “dear leader” can do no wrong and all dissent must be silenced?

In my opinion, Donald Trump often acts like a child, lashing out at his critics and urging his supporters to stifle those who would dare to criticize him. How was Mayor Harmon’s behavior Thursday night significantly different?

There is difficult work to be done in San Luis over the coming years and we need a mayor with experience and knowledge of the issues, one willing to stand up to the onslaught of “let’s build it-ism” by city staff.

What we don’t need is a diva who seems more interested in self-promoting her brand and developing head-nodding followers than in diving into the trenches and finding fair and balanced solutions.

Will Powers, Ph.D, has lived on the central coast for 35 years, the past 10 years in San Luis Obispo. He is a retired clinical psychologist.







Loading...

13
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
ravennest

This is really wacky stuff.  After hearing how many ‘followers’ she has and even after her pathetic antics at the meeting and dismissing them . . . ‘issues are too complicated for you to understand,’ the palpable anger at the way development and traffic are ruining SLO’s way of life . . .  and yet they continue to support her?   
THIS IS A WAKE UP CALL to all city residents!  VOTE THEM OUT in November.  
And really, do we have to be so utterly polarizing about trying to protect SLO’s quality of life? Development is inevitable.  But the runaway development that SLO is entrenched in right now is the wrong path and I hope most THINKING voters would agree.  

Slosum

Ah Will…. starting to get a taste of your own whacky regressives. Come to the other side where it’s sane. I think you’ll like it. All it takes is Will Power!

ActaNonVerba

Harmon needs to go. She’s both an embarrassment and a liability.

Jorge Estrada

Although I support a different affiliation, I have to agree with this most of this assessment. At the end of the day we all have to share the outcome.

Orwell2015

Completely indicative of the mania that has gripped this country since the last presidential election. There are some seriously mental people in key positions in California and the mayor of SLO is one of them. Do better SLO.

aye-caramba

It has become SO clear that Harmon is not fit to lead. Like Hill, there is something very wrong here. SLO politics does NOT need another elected official with psycho-pathology so unbridled that it must be endured in the public arena. Before even discussing issues, this “Evita-Che” wannabe crumbles with any challenge. I will support Gurnee now FULL STEAM. Although I regret my vote for her two years ago, I will make now work to see her retired and away from the things she can destroy until the adults return to the room.

George Bailey

Folks,

I AGREE with Mr. Will Powers, Ph.D!

The phoniness of the so-called SLO Progressives is becoming more obvious than ever, and they continue to embarrass themselves at every opportunity.  Their leaders, Adam Hill, Hanoi Heide Harmon, and Caren ray, all continue to have very public scandals where their behavior is continually shown to be immature and inappropriate.

I encourage all people to abandon support for the phony SLO Progressives, and they are on the radical fringe of our politics.  Clearly, Heidi Harmon had a psychological breakdown during the debate, and many people question whether it was drug related?  Moreover, given the scandals with Adam Hill and his deranged behavior, as well as the scandalous public behavior of AG  Progressive  Caren Ray, one has to wonder if any of these progressives has the maturity necessary to hold leadership positions in our local government?

In November, Dump Heidi Harmon and elect a moderate Keith Gurnee, who is committed to downtown district preservation and restoration.  Harmon & Co. have taken secret money from out-of-town developers, and they cannot be trusted with our beautiful San Luis Obispo.

On Election day, Vote Keith Gurney for SLO Mayor!

Snoid

I couldn’t agree more with the opinions regarding her hostile and immature behavior, however I will make you a gentlemen’s bet that both Hill and Harmon remain in their positions next round. Utterly mind boggling indeed, but this will sadly be the case. 

rukidding

SLO city and the BOS may need to start think about adjusting their budgets. The price for care at Atascadrero’s Xtate Hospital for the mentally ill is around $220,000 a year per “patient”‘ May be a good investment for the 2 crazies that are on the council and BOS.

Stunned

This might have been a decent piece had you not accused everyone of name calling while doing quite a bit of name calling yourself. Then you go on to bash our President (3 different times) who has nothing to do with SLO politics. What possible point was to be made with that?

I’m guessing you want to come off as educated and able to avoid the usual riff raff of politics. You “rose to face the crowd” and no one listened? Shocker.

hotdog

Only someone with their head buried in the sand could contest the comments about Trump. It is probably because of his atrocious behavior that many folks like him, that is their right.
But for our Mayor, in her cozy group of chosen supporters, to flip out like a two year old screaming for another lollipop is really wild. I wish I had gone to the event to see her meltdown. She must go, vote her out on the street folks. She was supposed to be different and better than the last one, not a chance. We have to try again for some sanity in city gummint.