IT’S NOT POLITICAL, IT’S PERSONAL: If Sue Grafton — famous for her long-running series of alphabetized mysteries set here in Santa Barbara — were to focus her writerly ministrations on 4th District County Supervisor Peter Adam, she could call it M Is for Molotov Cocktail. Or perhaps, A Is for Adam Bomb. Either would work. Both are accurate. Say what you want about Adam — and most people do — the man knows how to shake things up.
Adam is most immediately known for the singular outburst of facial hair that commandeers the upper hemisphere of his face. It’s way too sprawling to be defined as mere mustache, but way too northerly to be called a beard. You could describe them as “mutton chops,” but only if the sheep in question had been genetically modified. They, like Adam himself, serve as a weird Rorschach test, perpetually posing the same vexing question: “What is it?”
Adam was Tea Party long before the Tea Party ever invented itself and got hijacked by Big-Monied schemers, phlegmatic poseurs, and conniving opportunists. Peter Adam is a true-believing, anti-government crusader and radical minimalist who got elected so that he — like the biblical strongman Sampson — could bring the entire apparatus of county government crumbling down upon itself. What distinguishes Adam is how fast he’s moved and how clever he’s been. Unlike other right-wing firebrands, Adam has not been content to merely talk a good game; he plays one, too.
Exhibit A is Measure M — his brainchild — the ingeniously deceptive and sweet-sounding ballot measure county voters will decide upon this June. Put crudely, Measure M is the stick of dynamite Peter Adam strategically inserted up the rectum of county government, and he’s now asking voters to light the fuse. I don’t care how fast you think you can run; it’s not remotely fast enough. When that thing blows, it will be raining body parts all over the county, and there’s no umbrella structurally sound enough to keep you dry.
Let me explain. Measure M would require county government to spend whatever it takes to keep the network of county-owned roads in at least as good a condition as they now are. Forever. Likewise with county parks and buildings. How could anyone argue with that? After all, isn’t local government supposed to be all about fixing potholes? The real answer to that question, I hate to say, is yes, but no. The real job of county government is a whole lot of things, pothole fixing being just one of many. The rub here is that it’s estimated Peter’s Pothole Jihad will cost about $20 million a year, which is roughly one-tenth of the money over which the supervisors have any discretionary say. That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that public safety — that’s law enforcement, the jail, and fire protection — already has dibs on 60 percent of all discretionary dollars, it’s actually a lot. And that doesn’t even include the additional $20 million a year it will cost to run Bill Brown’s new North County jail. And to date, we still don’t know the annual operations price tag for Brown’s new anti-recidivist wing of the new jail — dubbed “Hugs for Thugs” by law-n-order types. With so few discretionary dollars not already spoken for, does it make a lick of sense to sacrifice county environmental-protection programs, social services, and mental-health care — to name just a few — to maintain the county’s backcountry roads that relatively few county residents actually drive? Last I looked, they have a whole lot of poor people up in North County who desperately need county social services. Maybe that’s why 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, a wisecracking conservative, has come out so emphatically against Measure M even though he and Adam tend to agree on most board votes.
Had Adam identified a new funding stream to help pay for all this infrastructure maintenance, perhaps Measure M would have been less disruptive. But he didn’t. And that may be just the point. Naturally, there’s no shortage of conspiracy theories going around, and naturally, I’m inclined to believe them all. For starters, Adam’s chief nemesis on the board of supervisors, Salud Carbajal, claimed at this week’s hearing that Adam told him point-blank that Adam was trying to “bankrupt” county government. As strategies go, it may be effective, but it’s hardly original. For years, Republicans in Sacramento talked openly of “running government off a cliff” and did just that. This might explain why party registration in California is at an all-time low. The other theory is that Measure M would create such a desperate demand for new revenues that the county supervisors would be forced to start approving new oil development to tap the new taxes. That might explain why David Lee Pratt of Santa Maria Energy — yes, he is a Lee — donated $20,000 to Adam’s campaign. To the extent such thought is actually entertained, it transcends the delusional and ascends into the realm of clinical hallucination. Did anyone notice how blazingly, amazingly fast a new group of political novices sprang up and — working outside the mainstream of Santa Barbara’s environmental establishment — collected 20,000 signatures to put an anti-fracking initiative on the November ballot? One month! Without delving into the merits of the measure, this qualifies as Olympic record. If new oil development is the Holy Grail animating Adam and Pratt, I’d suggest they launch an expedition for the Pot-o-Gold at the end of the rainbow instead.
I can look at a GLOCK handgun and admire the ingenuity with which it’s been engineered. But that doesn’t mean I want to put it to my head and pull the trigger. If we approve Measure M, we may as well. And Sue Grafton will have to write another installment of her Kinsey Millhone series. It will be called S Is for Suicide.