For about 150 years, someone in Peter Adam's family has been doing the same thing in the same place: growing produce in the Orcutt area.
Adam, who is Santa Barbara County's 4th District Supervisor, announced Sunday that he will seek a second term in 2016. He said this week he believes his family roots equip him with an intergenerational perspective sorely needed at the county level.
In 2012, as a farmer with no political experience, Adam beat the odds and unseated incumbent Joni Gray for the 4th District seat. He said there is still more work to be done and that the county needs consecutive seasons of good management in order to change.
The Santa Maria Times sat down with Adam to discuss his work with the county so far and what the future holds if he succeeds in winning a second term.
Q: Did you initially plan to just serve one term?
A: My goal was being elected and being able to serve, and I have. I really wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I didn’t know what to expect when I got in; I just thought our service wasn’t being done very well. I didn’t know what my chances were of getting elected.
Q: Going into a second term, what issues are there to tackle?
A: No. 1 is the mental health issue. The county has a chronic lack of, from a management perspective, business expertise. I think I bring a different skill set to the table. Mental health takes a lot of discipline because there are a lot of people who are truly hurting out there that are truly in need of help. We should be doing things for them; that’s our mandate, to run a good mental health operation, but that’s not what’s been going on for the last 20-plus years. We have a culture in a department that needs a lot of shaping up.
Q: How do you think the Refugio oil spill impacted the oil industry in Santa Barbara County?
A: It didn’t help. I think some of the criticisms are overblown for political purposes. People are shamelessly capitalizing on an unfortunate event for political gain. I am just as upset as I can be about that.
Q: As a farmer, what's your take on the drought and the future of agriculture?
A: The Santa Maria Valley is endowed with an excellent groundwater resource. Rain isn’t part of the program for agriculture here in terms of the irrigated crops. For the cattle industry it’s an absolute disaster. No doubt about it. It’s not something that we’re unfamiliar with. We’ve been through a number of droughts, and it always rains.
Q: You have said that you're often on the losing side of board votes. Given that, do you still feel like you've brought change to the board?
A: Oh yeah. We have discussions, like yesterday; I lost that one with Mosby [The Mosby Sports and Outdoor Recreation Facility]. It’s the South Coast ganging up on the colonies again. Those South Coast people all want deference when it’s their project, which I give them. But when it comes to the project in my district, they’re going to vote against it. And what I bring to the table that’s different than my predecessor is pointing that hypocrisy out.
Q: While your Measure M ultimately failed, do you think it was successful in that it got the county to take the issue of deferred maintenance more seriously?
A: Absolutely. I think I probably overreached a little bit with that. Had I waited another year and laid the groundwork a little bit better ... but I want to fix everything. I’m used to being here at the ranch and when I walk out the door and tell someone to fix something, they fix it. I had big plans. I thought everybody would see the truth in it. This is hard for politicians to do the unsexy thing and the right thing. They’re addicted to the candy store mentality, where they’re going to go out and do the feel-good things before they go out and take care of the unsexy stuff.
Q: Are your reasons for running then, and now, the same?
A: Yes, absolutely. It’s a good management over time issue. I’m fifth generation. I’ve got the sixth generation, my kids, working here. The company that I have today is a result of good management over time, since William Laird Adam. I want every kid in this county to have the county treat their children like my family has treated the next generation. We don’t sandbag them with debt. We don’t leave things all broken for them. We leave things in better shape than we found them. This is an intergenerational perspective that not everybody has. I bring that perspective to the job.
Q: So far you're the only candidate to formally announce for the 4th District. Do you expect opposition?
A: Well, I don’t know why anybody else would run against me. We’ve been heavy on customer service, not just in the 4th District, but all over the county. If someone in the county has a problem, this office, we will go anywhere and work on anything.
Q: What do you think the future holds for you as far as a political career goes?
A: I’m going to get re-elected one more time, and then we’ll see how it goes after that. I hope there’s a lot of horses in my future.