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Outgoing SLO councilmember sounds off against city tourism promotion 

In an unusually tense discussion at a San Luis Obispo City Council meeting on Oct. 20, outgoing Councilmember Aaron Gomez ripped into the city's latest tourism marketing plan—dubbed the #SLOReady campaign—arguing that the promotion clashes with both public health imperatives and the city's ambitious environmental goals.

click to enlarge SPEAKING OUT SLO City Councilmember Aaron Gomez (far right) criticized a city tourism marketing plan on Oct. 20, saying it conflicts with COVID-19 orders and SLO's environmental goals. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • SPEAKING OUT SLO City Councilmember Aaron Gomez (far right) criticized a city tourism marketing plan on Oct. 20, saying it conflicts with COVID-19 orders and SLO's environmental goals.

"I feel like I can't sit here and pretend like this messaging is OK," Gomez said, "when we've spent four years fighting for climate change. They are literally in direct conflict with one another.

"And they're in direct conflict with the reality that we've set forth in the sense that we're saying shut down everything [for COVID-19] ... [and] now come back in a 'safe' manner," he continued. "We're not really sure what that means because people don't always conduct themselves in a safe way when they're going on vacation."

Gomez's comments seemed to startle the council and staff. The soft-spoken jewelry store owner is departing from the council in December after serving one term. He's worked closely in city efforts around waste, plastics, and recycling.

"I'm using this platform to speak and bring the question of: What are our actual goals for climate action? How do they relate to the other things we do as a city?" Gomez said.

His comments came in response to a staff presentation outlining a tourism marketing campaign for 2020-21—which was part of the council's annual renewal of its hotel tax levied to promote tourism.

The campaign includes a video ad that welcomes visitors back to town for "safe relaxation and outdoor paradise."

"I can't help but notice that we seem to have some conflicting marketing messages going on with this," Gomez said. "That felt disingenuous, the messaging that I just saw pushed out there."

In addition to concerns about COVID-19 and what he described as a "desire to chase dollars," Gomez said that the city should start talking about how tourism and its vehicle emissions impact a 2035 city net-zero emissions goal.

"Is that not a reality that we face?" Gomez said. "I think it's a little disingenuous that we have this conversation and not face the fact that most people are going to come here in a car for their visitations."

Some council members bristled at Gomez's critique. City staff responded that SLO would continue to promote sustainability and set expectations for visitors about safety during COVID-19.

Councilmember Erica Stewart commented that the council also had a responsibility to help its struggling businesses.

"We have to have a balance," Stewart said. "Our small businesses that can survive through this COVID pandemic, I think we want to help them survive." Δ

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