Who’s running for mayor and council seats in SLO County?

August 14, 2020


San Luis Obispo County cities are in line to have competitive mayoral and council races this fall, potentially with the exception of one city that is considering not holding an election.

San Luis Obispo has a crowded field of candidates. Four residents are running for mayor and eight are running for a pair of city council seats. The field includes incumbent Mayor Heidi Harmon, who is running for reelection, and former mayor Jan Marx, who is running for a council seat.

Arroyo Grande, the exception among SLO County cities, will decide next week whether to even hold an election, after no one other than incumbents qualified for the ballot.

Mayor Caren Ray-Russom and incumbent councilwomen Kristen Barneich and Lan George each qualified to run for re-election in Arroyo Grande. Ray-Russom apparently succeeded in talking potential challenger Lea Rigo out of running. Rigo accused Ray-Russom, who asked her not to run, of forcing her to drop out of the race.

Now, Arroyo Grande resident Maren McFarlin is seeking to run as a write-in candidate against Ray-Russom. The Arroyo Grande City Council has a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday to determine whether or not to hold an election and allow McFarlin to run.

Ray-Russom has argued holding an election would amount to a waste of $28,000 of city funds.

In Atascadero, incumbent Mayor Heather Moreno is running against challengers Josh Donovan and Jerry Tanimoto. Donovan is an executive with Give Fitness Health Club, and Tanimoto is a retired Atascadero High School teacher.

Five candidates, including incumbent Councilman Charles Bourbeau, are running for two Atascadero council seats. Tori Keen, Mark Dariz, Nicholas Mattson and Bret Heinemann are the four other candidates in the Atascadero council race.

Grover Beach Mayor Jeff Lee, who is under fire for his support of questionable cannabis businesses, is running for reelection. Lee faces one challenger, Liz Doukas, a court reporter who has criticized Grover Beach public officials for allegedly giving preferential treatment to select business interests.

This fall, Grover Beach has two separate council races. In one race, four candidates, including one incumbent, are running for two four-year council seats. In the other race, three candidates are running for one two-year council seat that was vacated by Councilwoman Barbara Nicolls, who resigned.

The candidates running for two four-year seats are incumbent Councilwoman Karen Bright, Joseph Holmes, Anna Miller and Daniel Rushing. The candidates running to serve the remaining two years on Nicolls’ term are Fred Buenrostro Jr., David Duringer and Robert Robert.

In Morro Bay, incumbent Mayor John Headding is running against challenger John Weiss in a rematch of a close 2018 race. Headding narrowly defeated Weiss, the owner of Coast Electronics, in Morro Bay’s 2018 mayoral election.

Four candidates, including incumbent Councilman Robert “Red” Davis, are running for two council seats in Morro Bay. The other three council candidates are Laurel Barton, Richard Sadowski and Betty Winholtz.

The city of Paso Robles is shifting this year to a by-district voting system. The seats belonging to councilmen Steve Gregory and Fred Strong are up for election. Gregory is running unopposed in District 3, and in District 4 Strong is running against challenger Jacob Allred.

District 3 consists of the southwestern part of Paso Robles, including the core of the downtown, while District 4 is comprised of the southeastern corner of the city. Paso Robles shifted to by-district voting in order to appease a lawyer who threatened the city with a lawsuit over the alleged suppression of Latino voting rights.

Also unlike other cities in the county, Paso Robles has a mayor’s seat that comes with a four-year term. Mayor Steve Martin’s term ends in 2022, so Paso Robles does not have a mayoral election this year.

In Pismo Beach, incumbent Mayor Ed Waage is running against challenger Dan Shadwell, a KSBY anchor-turned-realtor. Five candidates, including two incumbents, are running for a pair of council seats. Incumbent council members Erik Howell and Marcia Guthrie are running in a field that also includes Debora Ann Lossing, James Robert Prichard and Scott Newton.

San Luis Obispo’s four-person mayor’s race consists of Harmon, the incumbent, as well as challengers Cherisse Sweeney, Sandra Marshall-Eminger, and Donald Hedrick.

Sweeney, the owner of Basalt Interiors in downtown SLO, is critical of how Black Lives Matter protesters have been treating San Luis Obispo businesses. Marshall-Eminger is the publisher of the progressive local news outlet, the Information Press. Hedrick, a welder, frequently runs for mayor.

The seats belonging to SLO Councilwoman Andy Pease and Councilman Aaron Gomez are up for election. Pease is running for reelection, while Gomez is not.

Initially, only Pease and candidate Abrianna Torres entered the SLO Council race. But during an extended filing period, another six candidates qualified for the ballot, including former mayor Jan Marx and recently ousted Cultural Heritage Committee Chair James Papp.

In addition to Pease, Torres, Marx and Papp, the four other candidates running for city council are: Erik Long, Robin Wolf, Kelly Evans and Jeffery Specht.

The 2020 general election will take place on Nov. 3.

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Come On Gurnee! You are badly needed!

Too late. Not viable anyway, given SLO’s electorate, sad to say.

Would like to see the candidates present plans to reduce their respective city’s top wages and benefits. A phased plan for administrative and managerial salary reductions, position elimination, and hierarchy reduction/consolidation. Do more with less, small is beautiful.

Also, we need to support our remaining local businesses. I suggest establishing “heritage businesses”, and Googling the ’21 coolest new businesses in Boston’, ‘Top 10 Best Hot New Businesses in New Orleans’, etc. for ideas for new businesses.

Heidi Harmon is too ideological, activist oriented.

SLO needs a problem solver with an emphasis on fiscal discipline, and leaders who have the ability to say “No” to poorly conceived developments and excessive expenditures.

Spot on Mazin, spot on .

Powering down kale and assorted greens, spiced with several supplements, and Hearst Ranch beef, one’s idea machine grows … naturally. Bringing to mind, an industry that SLO excels at … wholistic health practitioners. A pairing of wholistic health practitioners, paradise lodging, and wine will gobble up that vacant commercial space.

Finally, take some of the open space that has been acquired, rezone a small portion to high density housing, suggest looking at the project at North Bradley 101 in Santa Maria, 38 DU per acre. Sell the site, and viola, city debit is paid down.

All you need to do for the incumbents (Heidi Harmon and Andy Pease) is look at the current 2019-2021, 516 page, 4.5 pound budget to see their priorities:

“Sustainable transportation” allocation is going from $10.2 million to $45.4 MILLION next year, to get people to ride busses and pay for studies;

$2.4 million for a roundabout at California and Taft Streets;

$432,250 for a “Community Climate Vulnerability Assessment and Safety Element Update”

$1 million for city attorney, assistant city attorney and assistant; yes, 3 people at $1 million a year and most cases require outside counsel; no cuts here!

Higher property taxes, sales taxes, TOT taxes and fees;

NO reductions in staff but additions of a Cannabis Detective for $235,000 and

$160,000 for a diversity coach or some such nonsense.

There was a lot more but my eyes glaze over.

No one as furloughed or laid off during the pandemic. No one.


Vote for the incumbents if these are your priorities; if not, vote for Cherisse Sweeney and Abrianna Torres to prioritize fiscal responsibility and support for local businesses. We need some adults in charge now and they are the only business people who can do the job.

Good summary, but correction (?)…I think Jeff Specht is a mayoral candidate in SLO rather than council.

SLO is potentially going to be an interesting race. If the challenging mayoral front runner ( Sweeney) makes the case clearly of Harmon’s divisive record–> “no more statues of white men”, No Amazon, destroying neighborhoods for bike paths, ugly housing blight construction, following external agenda’s that reflect extremes, narcissistic selfies , emotional tantrums, public shaming of those who question her, plus her EMBRACE of those who curse those for simply eating downtown, burning US flags, F”k the police, twerk and block freeways. Voters will decide “do we want more of this dysfunctional person”? Before SLO can move forward, we need to stop the attempts at racial division in our town. We need new leaders.

2nd that motion. Martin, not Harmon.

On another note – does it not say something very loud and very clear when Paso Robles can have basically unchallenged elections. What is it about the PR CC that makes this the case?

I believe it is the fact that PR has a very strong (almost dictatorial) city manager and a fairly weak council. Without somehow getting rid of at least three council members – there will never be a change. Look at Ms. Garcia, currently on council. Weak, at the best. Harmon, Gregory, Strong, and Martin dictate what gets done.

If, by some miracle, Jacob Allred beats Fred Strong – I wish him all the luck in the world. Unless he is just another with the same stripes.

Let’s show Heidi the door please. I will buy a dozen roses to adorn her with on her way OUT. I am getting excited about Cherrise Sweeney. I think she’s the way to go. Let’s mend these fences and bring back in small business support. Activism has its place, and so does real leadership. Thank you Heidi, but we’re moving on.

Harmon is consumed by highly partisan, identity politics, when she should be focused on her non-partisan job of Mayor of SLO.

She needs to go. Her silence right now, while SLO suffers, is an example of her worthlessness.

I agree bringing back small business is the way to go but if there isn’t the corporate bland look the tax base won’t be there to feed the bloated government machine so part of any fix for the city has to also be the large scale reduction of the bloated government machine and it’s outrageous salaries and benefits.

Never forget the disgusting (and likely illegal) behavior of Jan Marx while she was mayor the last time around. It was bad enough to make enough people vote for Heidi Harmon, who squeaked past Marx by a total of 43 votes.

The City of San Luis Obispo suffers today because of both Marx’s and Harmon’s tenures. It’s time to start fresh. SLO deserves better! Anyone but those two!