Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson to represent unincorporated areas
The new supervisor for Santa Barbara County’s 4th District was sworn in last week, and he’s ready to serve his community and the county as a whole.
Orcutt resident Bob Nelson comes from a diverse career background of teaching, coaching, small business entrepreneurship and eight years serving former supervisor Peter Adam as his chief of staff.
As a Santa Barbara County resident most of his life, Mr. Nelson graduated from Righetti High School, where he was already active in student government, got his Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, earned his teaching credentials from Chapman University, taught at Righetti and started a family.
He and his wife of 21 years, Jamie, worked in the private sector for a while selling insurance, consulting and providing personal training.
“I was still wanting to give back to my community,” Mr. Nelson told the News-Press. “I was looking at places where I could serve and get involved politically.”
Interestingly, he got his political start on a local cemetery board, and said he knows “it’s not very sexy,” but he was trusted with resources and made many improvements, leading to his reelection multiple times.
After holding multiple leadership positions on local boards, he became Mr. Adam’s right-hand man for eight years, serving Mr. Adam as he was the board’s chair and vice chair. Mr. Nelson has attended 250 supervisor meetings.
“I’ve never sat in the big seat, but I know what it’s about,” he said. “It’s not going to be new to me.”
Mr. Nelson said he’s excited for the ability to serve the county, but also Orcutt specifically.
“Orcutt is the largest unincorporated area in the state without its own government, so I get the chance to be, in many ways, the mayor of my hometown. That’s incredible,” he said.
He’s also looking forward to allowing his teaching background to play a part in his leadership.
“Something I find myself often doing is not only telling people the answer, but also where the answer comes from or why I’m making that vote,” Mr. Nelson said. “As a teacher, you meet the kid where they’re at; you don’t expect them to be where you’re at. My approach as a teacher is going to help me articulate the ideas of my district.”
Although Mr. Nelson is taking the place of his boss for the past eight years, he said he and Mr. Adam “see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, but not all issues.” He believes Mr. Adam took “a 30,000-foot approach” as supervisor, and as his chief of staff, Mr. Nelson was in the weeds.
He hopes to bring both perspectives to his leadership style as county supervisor.
However, he plans to prioritize the needs of the working class he represents, likely similar to Mr. Adam’s conservative ideas.
“We live in a working class community that’s very conservative. We do things with our hands,” Mr. Nelson said. “It’s farming, it’s energy, it’s manufacturing, it’s construction… That kind of represents the political leanings of the sectors. The working class is concerned about making ends meet, putting dinner on the table, getting the kids to soccer practice and paying the mortgage and cell phone bill.”
While his role as chair of the board will be much more facilitating than bringing items forward, there are things he hopes to accomplish or help bring to the table in his new position.
Obviously, the main focus of the county at the moment is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Nelson said one of his goals is to bring forward ideas that make exceptions for small businesses that have been forced to shut down to make them more viable, such as streamlining permits and “cutting through some of the bureaucracy.”
“The board needs to be more hands on,” he said.
This belief also applies to the county’s homelessness issue for Mr. Nelson.
“We really need to work on our capacity and enforcement, because there are countywide issues when the homeless live in the shadows,” he said. “They’re often abused by their peers… It’s not healthy, and as a compassionate society, we shouldn’t be OK with that.
“You can use different mechanisms to affect change. Right now, it’s kind of housed in our community services and we just fund nonprofits,” Mr. Nelson said. “We need to get county fire, the Sheriff’s Office and land use involved. You also need to have supervisors that are kind of bullies that say, ‘This is a priority at the county level.’”
While the county level isn’t able to dictate COVID-19 restrictions, Mr. Nelson said he questions some of the health orders, such as banning outdoor dining, which “forced people into their homes so more are contracting it at home.”
He also has many concerns about school closures, not only as a former teacher and coach but also as a father of three teenagers.
His main goal, though, is for the county to “get out of the way.”
“We need to be more business-friendly as a county,” Mr. Nelson said. “We need to make it easier for people to do business and get through our planning and zoning process. We need to have the ability to make it easier to regulate, and get the public to engage and interact with us.
“We’re very bureaucratic and we’re very slow. We still have departments that don’t take credit cards,” he said. “We need to find ways to get people through our processes in a much more timely manner for less money and with even more certainty so that they can believe they’re going to get approval once they go through the process.”
He believes the county government should limit spending while also expanding things to help businesses during COVID-19.
“I know it’s corny, but I’m excited and honored to be able to serve my community,” Mr. Nelson said. “It’s a great privilege and I hope I make them proud.”