Women figured strongly in recent local, state and national elected political positions across the country. While that may have seemed like a bit of a sea of change on a macro level, Heather Moreno, winning her mayoral seat in 2018, pointed out that in Atascadero, it was not unusual to have a female mayor or even a female-dominated Council in the history of the Colony.
“Women have long served in leadership positions in Atascadero,” she said, likely due to the philosophies that shaped the community from its earliest days, set in motion by founder E.G. Lewis and his wife Mabel who both promoted women’s equality and rights back in the early 1900s when Lewis wrote, “The women of this country can have a powerful voice in the affairs of this nation.”
However, though Moreno isn’t Atascadero’s first woman mayor nor the first elected mayor (prior to 2012, mayors were selected from and by the Council members) she is the first elected female mayor, a noteworthy accomplishment and a nod toward her support in the community.
“I had already served on the Council for six years and was Chair of the Finance Committee and Mayor Pro Tem in 2015-16. Mayor Tom O’Malley was retiring,” she recalled on making the decision to run for the position in 2017. “I felt a strong responsibility to serve my City.” Moreno said, “One day, it just hit me. It wasn’t that I had to do it, but I do believe in the adage that ‘to those who are given much, much is expected.’”
As former Council member and now Mayor, Moreno has demonstrated her commitment to uphold the vision for Atascadero’s future to become what the community a few years ago decided it wanted to be: a beautiful and authentic place where visitors and residents can enjoy many adventures (outdoor recreation, activities and events) and experiences (dining, art, shopping, history) in a safe environment while retaining a small town ambiance. She says she is pleased with the progress made in the past few years toward those goals and is encouraged by the outcome of the City’s Strategic Planning Process this past February, “setting our compass for the next two years to move Atascadero forward.”
Moreover, while she says that Atascadero doesn’t strive to be a ‘little Paso,’ Moreno expresses: “We must create a diverse local economy, one where the amount of jobs—especially head of household jobs—is on par with our housing supply. People tend to shop, eat and use services in close proximity to where they work. The more jobs we attract to Atascadero, the more successful our retail and restaurant sector. More jobs means a better quality of life for our residents.”
Moreno, talking about the current revitalization of the downtown area and the uptick in activity, laughed, “I love that we have a parking problem on Entrada!” Acknowledging that traffic—both foot and otherwise—has picked up, she continued, “It’s incredible what’s happened in one year. We’re excited about the La Plaza project, Bridgewalk Hotel, Bridgework at the Creekside Building and Wildfields Brewery among so many other new businesses opening up.” Moreno described a new plan to interact with residents and businesses in the community: “I’m looking forward to starting ‘A Talk on the Block’ series where City department heads and Council Members will visit neighborhoods, talking with residents and businesses directly about their issues and concerns.” On a personal note, Moreno said she’s made it a key priority for years to shop locally and has befriended many of the business owners in the area that she lives, works and plays, and now has a hand in shaping its future.
Moreno and her husband, Mike, moved to the area in 2004 from Orange County after vacationing in Paso Robles, visiting friends and being impressed with the quality of life and unique environment of the area. “Where I lived in southern California, the houses were tract homes, each tract surrounded by cinderblock walls. I didn’t really know otherwise,” she said. “We were first time home buyers,” Moreno said. “We came up three times to look at houses.”
Born in La Mesa to Barbara and Bob Johnson, the family, including her brother Jeff, moved to Huntington Beach during Moreno’s pre-teen years. After high school, she obtained her BA in Accounting from CSU Fullerton and became a licensed CPA. Realizing early on that she wanted to expand her horizons beyond accounting, Moreno decided to take her interest in health and well-being, combined with further education through UCLA Extension classes to become a Certified Exercise Physiologist and later a Certified Wellness Coach, eventually authoring “Achieving Physical Wealth: 8 Simple Steps to Breaking the Rules and Staying Fit.” Moreno also worked as a personal trainer and in membership sales at L.A. Fitness before starting her own wellness coaching enterprise.
Today, she describes her business, Weight Breakthrough®, as providing private and online coaching where she says she’s “hired by successful women who struggle to make health and weight loss a priority in their hectic schedules.” She speaks at seminars, conferences and retreats throughout the state, focusing on empowering women to achieve their ideal levels of health and wellness. “I enjoy public speaking,” she said, noting that it, along with other positives in her life have led her to community service.
Her life-long love of dance—matched by her passion for reading—has landed her many appearances at Friends of Atascadero Library’s Dancing With Our Stars where she, along with all the other star performers, helps raise funds for local community groups. A side benefit: “Through Dancing With Our Stars, I’ve learned to partner dance and while my husband was a bit hesitant at first, thanks to lessons, he joins me more often now. I explain to him that I love dance like he loves to play golf!” Moreno shared that she met her husband-to-be in Lake Tahoe during a New Year’s Eve ski trip in 1995. “Mike lived in San Jose and after we met, he came down to visit me in Corona del Mar. He moved to Orange County in 1997 and we were married in 2000.” After their visits to the Central Coast, Moreno told Mike she would love to “live somewhere like here.” Her suggestion wasn’t lost on her husband, she said. “He tucked that information away and a few years later we came up here house-hunting.”
Happily ensconced in their new home, Moreno built her business while Mike worked for Sysco Ventura. In 2008, Moreno was appointed mid term to the Atascadero Planning Commission and served for two years. Having volunteered in the community for ECHO, Lighthouse Atascadero Committee and supporting many causes locally, Moreno says she had tremendous local support when she sought and gained an appointment to a Council vacancy in 2012 and ran for election in 2014.
In addition to developing her career, Moreno was inspired spiritually to look at how she wanted to live her life. She says: “Living in Orange County in 1996, I began attending a new (to me) church and found the pastor riveting. I love learning, and he opened up scripture in a way that no one ever had for me. I think this was a real turning point. I moved away for a few years and in the interim read “The Soul of a Business” written by Tom Chappell (of Tom’s of Maine). Tom took a hiatus from running his company to earn a Masters in Theology from Harvard Divinity School and bring that learning back into the business world. I was hooked! Yes, it took a few years…
“While I’ve provided pulpit supply (e.g. preaching when a pastor is on vacation) a handful of times, I’ve never felt called to the pastorate. Rather, my time at Fuller (and my journey since) informs everything I do, from my business and how I work with clients to all the ways I’m involved in my community, and even to my personal relationships. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had and the effects continue to reverberate through my life today.” Moreno earned her MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2013.
Looking ahead, Moreno says she is focused on establishing key priorities, establishing measurables and saying “yes” to the right projects. “We have a community that pulls together to do important work and I will continue to champion that spirit and forge the partnerships that make things happen,” she said. And with her high level of energy and spirit, she’s definitely the woman for the job.