When the new Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is seated on January 8, the 4th District spot — which represents Lompoc, Orcutt, and parts of Santa Maria — will be occupied by someone other than Joni Gray for the first time in 14 years. It will also be the first time since 2008 the majority of the board is men.
That’s because Peter Adam — whose family business, Adam Brothers Farming, sells broccoli, lettuce, celery, and cauliflower — managed to beat incumbent Gray by nearly 3.5 percentage points in November’s election. Adam, a Tea Party conservative, is seen by many as a wild card. During his campaign he took a hard-line approach to many issues facing the county and hasn’t minced words about changing the discussion at the board.
The supervisors have a lot of “pet projects” that need to be eliminated, he said, and the focus needs to be on public safety and infrastructure. “We need to focus on what people pay taxes for instead of the gingerbread,” he said. He has suggested getting rid of the Energy Division of the Planning and Development department, explaining it doesn’t add value because the state already regulates energy. “Their function is to prevent oil wells from being drilled,” said Adam. Out-of-control spending and out-of-control pensions are his two main issues, he went on.
At Gray’s last meeting Tuesday, the supervisors thanked her for her work and spoke of how, despite differences, the board has moved past the acrimony that has divided North and South County members for years. “Our board tried to get around those skirmishes,” said 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal. “It’s so easy to play those silly games and not do the people’s work.”
The people’s work is what Adam — a married father of three and a fifth-generation Santa Marian — plans to do. While many wonder what he will be like on the dais, Adam said they need not worry. “If someone’s waiting for me to go in and be obnoxious, they shouldn’t,” he said. “There are arguments that should be made,” explained Adam, who has served on the boards of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and Santa Barbara County Cattlemen’s Association. “I’m not doing it to make people angry; I’m doing it to have a discussion.”
That was his main issue with Gray, he explained. “She feels like going along and getting along is more productive,” said Adam, noting people up north (his 4th District is the county’s most conservative seat) are tired of business as usual. He realizes that with three progressives sitting in the South County majority he is going to be on the losing end of many votes, but “people want to hear it, even if it’s not going to make much difference. … They want to hear a little righteous indignation.”
The Adam family has an interesting past with the county. After the company sued Santa Barbara County in 2000, a superior court awarded Adam Brothers the largest land-use judgment ever against the county — $5.6 million, along with $1.1 million in attorneys’ fees and court costs. The legal tussle had to do with county staff classifying 95 acres of Adam Brothers property as wetlands. The company owned the land and was going to farm it, but the designation would have ended those plans without certain permits. That judgment was overturned by an appellate court, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Adam Brothers then took the issue to federal court, where it was ultimately dismissed.
The farm has had its fair share of other litigation over the years. In 2011, it settled a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Office. In that case, a former employee alleged her supervisor had sexually harassed her. After she reported the improper treatment, the lawsuit alleged, she was transferred, disciplined, and fired within two weeks of complaining. Adam Brothers settled the suit for $27,500.
In 2005, the company agreed to pay $1.15 million in penalties and conservation projects after the Environmental Protection Agency alleged Adam Brothers had illegally filled 70 acres of federally regulated waters in the late 1990s, including portions of Orcutt Creek.