SLO to stop erecting monuments that honor people

Mayor Heidi Harmon

Following objections lodged by San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon to a proposed monument honoring President Teddy Roosevelt, the SLO City Council decided on Tuesday to adopt a new policy mandating that monuments honor ideas, rather than people.

Last year, former SLO councilman John Ashbaugh spearheaded a campaign to honor Roosevelt, the United States’ 26th president, for helping to launch the conservation movement and for once visiting San Luis Obispo. Ashbaugh’s plan called for a bronze statue of Roosevelt by Artist Paula Zima to be placed in Mitchell Park.

Harmon initially responded by questioning why there was a need for more monuments of white men. Harmon suggested there is a nationwide problem in the United States related to racist and sexist monuments.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Harmon said monuments have become controversial and violence has broken out over the maintenance of certain monuments. Harmon also claimed that any person who is worthy of a monument would not actually want to be honored with one. 

During the hearing, the council discussed changes to the city public art policy and ultimately decided to direct staff to draft new regulations, which include the mandate that monuments honor ideas, rather than people. Only Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson was opposed to the proposed public art policy changes.

However, numerous members of the public have criticized the Harmon-led effort to ban monuments honoring people. Critics have argued that people should be remembered despite their flaws and that it is possible to erect monuments without promoting racism or sexism. 

The public art policy changes will return to the city council at a later date for formal approval.