Santa Barbara County Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson came into his first year on the board wanting to tackle some of the county’s most pressing issues, but between navigating the novel coronavirus pandemic and his role as chair, Nelson ended up feeling most accomplished in the relationships he built with his colleagues and his management of the board.
“I had some specific things that I wanted to do but I wasn’t able to accomplish just between COVID and being chairman; I didn’t have the bandwidth to do certain things,” Nelson told Noozhawk. “I think overall this first year has been somewhat successful in terms of the relationships I’ve built with my colleagues.”
Nelson was elected as Fourth District Supervisor after running unopposed in the March 2020 primary elections, replacing his former boss Peter Adam who chose not to seek a third term after serving eight years. Nelson worked as Adam’s chief of staff.
Because of the regular rotation for board chair, Nelson served his first year on the board as chairman, managing a board of differing political ideals and presiding over hours-long meetings filled with passionate public speakers.
“It’s a lot different from sitting in the chief seats than being up there on the dais, when you’re the chair you have to manage the meeting and I think what surprised me was what an opportunity it was,” Nelson said.
“I really think it created a really good opportunity for me to be sort of the fringe guy on the board, to kind of be in the guy in the middle, to actually work through some of the issues that we had or even conflicts between some of the supervisors.”
Between the pandemic response, cannabis tax, and other contentious items that the board discussed, Nelson said he got to control the energy of the board in his role as chair.
“I used to be a teacher and a coach, so it’s a lot like managing a team if you will. You’ve got a lot of different talents on the team and a lot of different ideas,” Nelson said. “But at the end of the day, we should all be, in theory, working on trying to make the county a better place for everybody.
“It was nice for me to be able to manage that, I hope I was able to do a good enough job to build on that with my colleagues while moving away into one of the side seats in the future.”
Nelson compared the Board of Supervisors to a board of trustees in the sense that it is just trying to empower its people to do their jobs, and that he didn’t need to be the face of the board during his time as chair.
“I felt like the face of the board was really just like ‘hey, I’m the first of equals’ and we are really a team — we’re the Board of Supervisors and these are the things we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
One of Nelson’s accomplishments he was most proud of was the one special meeting he called at the beginning of the year on homelessness and encampments, he said.
“Prioritizing encampments wasn’t really the flavor of the day yet, and I was pushing that really hard because I know it doesn’t solve the problem and have somebody housed forever but it really is probably the most humane thing for us to do is to make sure people aren’t sleeping on the streets,” he said.
While “the board wasn’t really there” at the time of the special meeting, Nelson said he did get the board to direct staff to come back with an encampment policy that ended leading to funding to address encampments.
“Maybe it was heading that way anyway, but I do really think that I helped move that needle … I helped move forward that conversation,” he said.
Nelson said he was also extremely pleased with the board’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget, and going into the budget hearings he was unsure if he would vote against the budget like Adam used to do.
“I felt like the board really showed a lot of restraint when it came to spending our American Rescue Plan Act dollars and our cannabis dollars,” Nelson said. “I think instead of being overly optimistic about it and taking that conservative approach has served us well, I was glad to have voted for it.”
As Nelson prepares to transition out of his role as chairman for the rest of his four-year term, he is really looking forward to getting to know the new communities that will be in his district following the county’s new supervisorial district map.
The Fourth District lost the City of Lompoc during the redistricting process, but gained the unincorporated areas around Lompoc such as Vandenberg Village, Mission Hills, Los Alamos, Casmalia, and Sisquoc, among others.
“I picked up a bunch of unincorporated areas and I think I’m well-suited to help those communities because a lot of what they need is what I feel like my community where I’m from needs — but it’s going to be a lot of work,” Nelson said.
“That’s literally … like eight small communities I now represent and they all have different issues. I’m really looking forward to diving in and making a listening tour and figuring out what are going to be my priorities.”
With the exception of a few years when he was away from college, Nelson has lived in Orcutt for his whole life.
Being the largest unincorporated area in the state without a community services district, Nelson said that he feels his knowledge of the Orcutt community and their needs will help him serve the other unincorporated areas of the county that are now in his district.
Nelson said he plans to prioritize homelessness services, capital improvements for fire stations, and bringing commercial space to the Lompoc Valley.