Bob Nelson, with his wife, Jamie, at his side, takes the oath of office Monday as the Fourth District representative on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. Judge Tim Staffel administers the oath.
Bob Nelson, with his wife, Jamie, at his side, takes the oath of office Monday as the Fourth District representative on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. Judge Tim Staffel administers the oath. (Aaron Hanke / Santa Barbara County photo)

An admitted government nerd officially has joined the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

Bob Nelson, 41, was sworn in Monday as the representative for the Fourth District when Santa Maria Superior Court Judge Tim Staffel administered the oath during a low-key event.

“I’m excited for the opportunity,” said Nelson, a Righetti High School graduate. “I’m kind of a county nerd, you know. This is like watching paint dry for some people. For me, it’s dynamic, and this is my favorite form of government because it has the greatest effect on my neighbors.”

Nelson replaced his former boss, Peter Adam, who chose not to seek a third term after serving eight years.

“Bob’s going to be fantastic,” Adam said. “Bob is a good man. He and I share a lot of similar values. He’ll be different in his ways, as he should be. He’s going to be Supervisor Nelson. He won’t be Supervisor Adam.

“But the people who liked me are going to like Bob and some of the people that didn’t like me will like Bob.”

One of two North County districts, the Fourth District includes Orcutt, Lompoc, a small section of the southern Santa Maria Valley and some of the Los Alamos Valley.

“To me, Bob’s the perfect fit for the Fourth District. It’s going to be pretty seamless,” Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said.

A large part of the job involved taking care of constituents’ concerns, and Nelson began his new role knowing how to navigate county government to get various problems fixed, Lavagnino said. 

Nearly two years ago, Nelson declared his intention to run for office and won his uncontested bid for the job 10 months ago.

Because of the regular rotation, Nelson’s first year on the board also is expected to include a yearlong stint as chairman of the board.

That might intimidate some people, but Nelson noted he has attended at least 250 board meetings. Still, he recently participated in a dry run to learn the mechanics of the role. 

In his job as Adam’s chief of staff, Nelson had a hands-on role during the eight years with spearheading efforts to craft reasonable regulations related to hoop houses.

“I’m always trying to make sure that we balance conflicts between agriculture and the urban interface there,” Nelson said. “That’s why we have zoning, right? Because we want to put certain uses in certain areas and other uses in other areas.” 

In some ways, Nelson will bring change — a beard, not a fancy mustache — but in other ways many aspects will remain the same. 

“I think Peter proved you can dissent on things and it doesn’t need to be personal,” Nelson said, saying it can be helpful to point out another way to think about an issue. “I hope to continue to be the voice of a portion of the population in our county that sometimes feels underrepresented.”

The former teacher, who called himself a “policy and process wonk,” said he wants to educate people about the unique role of county government, the process to reach decisions and correct misinformation floating around the community.

Nelson has hired Aaron Hanke as his chief of staff. Hanke previously worked for Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham and had served on the campaign manager for the No on Measure G campaign. Measure G sought to halt new oil and gas wells in San Luis Obispo County. 

The new county supervisor’s staff also includes Lee Collier, who will work part time for the county and part time for Cunningham, providing a link between the levels of government, Nelson said.

Nelson’s first meeting is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Tuesday. In addition to Nelson joining the board, incumbents Joan Hartmann, from the Third District, and Das Williams, for the First District, will begin their new four-year terms after beating challengers in the March primary election.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.