No matter your age, applying for a new job is a stressful situation. As a potential candidate, you’re embarking on a journey filled with unknowns while forging a path toward success. Even if friends, family and neighbors convince you to upend your life and pursue a new line of work, it’s a treacherous and scary proposition.
Tom Decker is currently experiencing that uncertainty as he seeks to become the new Fifth District supervisor for Santa Cruz County.
Decker, the regional operations manager of BAM (Bay Area Manufactured) Homes in Santa Cruz County, has been in the real estate business for over 40 years, and has been building homes in the area for years.
After the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire in 2020, Decker and his wife, Mari, increased their business’ visibility in the San Lorenzo Valley in order to support those residents that were displaced by the fire. They opened a BAM Homes location in downtown Boulder Creek in October 2021, and have spent the last several years advocating for fire victims.
Decker, who is running as an Independent, has a deep history in politics. In the mid-70s, he worked on then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s campaign, managing the New Hampshire caucus and Florida primary as a member of the campaign staff; those wins helped launch Carter into the Oval Office in 1976.
After Carter lost the White House to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter turned his attention toward Habitat for Humanity, and Decker watched the peanut farmer-turned-president become a hands-on housing advocate for the needy and underserved.
Decker was moved by Carter’s compassion, and after dipping his toe in a few other industries, he landed with BAM Homes over 20 years ago and hasn’t looked back.
That penchant for constantly looking forward has helped Decker better set his sights on the pressing issues he wants to address should he land in the supervisor’s seat. He primarily has his eye on improving county-wide operations when it comes to the planning department, and wants to siphon away the bureaucracy and red tape that is attached to every building permit application. Decker’s manufactured homes can be fully built in three to four weeks, and are HUD-approved, which helps to streamline the inspection process.
“After the fire, the first home we built for a CZU victim was expected to take three weeks. Four weeks, maybe, but certainly no longer than a month or two,” Decker recalled.
Even though Decker’s manufactured home was fully compliant with all state and local codes, it took 20 months for the home to be completed due to county interference, and Decker’s company lost $100,000 in the process.
“100% of the reason for the cost increase was county regulations, requirements and red tape. People at the planning department will tell you they want you to be safe, but really, they want everything to be perfect, and they’ll refuse to entertain your application by making perfect the enemy of good,” Decker quipped.
Of the homes lost to the CZU Fire, Decker estimates the number is actually closer to 1,100, instead of the 911 that are frequently cited.
“Nobody really knows, because several of the properties had more than one dwelling on their land,” Decker said.
As of this month, just 37 homes have been rebuilt.
“My mission will be to limit the growth of our county government that now serves the people in the Fifth District so poorly. The answer to bad government is not adding another layer of government on top of what’s already not working,” Decker said.
He points to a conversation with a local inspector who had signed off on the final walkthrough in that first home Decker built for a fire victim.
“The inspector said this was the first one he had finaled, and this was in December of 2022. I asked the inspector why he thought that this was the first home to receive occupancy status, and the inspector replied that people just ‘quit after a while.’ Imagine that,” said Decker, as he shook his head. “The inspector thinks people are just giving up as though they’ve lost interest, but he doesn’t realize that the county is the impediment.”
While Decker has never run away from a challenge, he’s facing a whole new slew of issues now that he’s become a public figure as a Fifth District candidate.
There are officially four people running for the seat currently held by Bruce McPherson, but only three of them have any candidate collateral on street corners: Christopher Bradford, Monica Martinez and Decker. (Note: Theresa Ann Bond is running but hasn’t yet installed any pro-candidate signs in the area.)
Unfortunately, Decker’s signage has fallen victim to repeated instances of graffiti, vandalism and theft, resulting in massive financial losses for the campaign. In addition, both he and his wife have received messages that could be construed as threatening, and that has put the heat of a thousand suns on Decker’s ambition.
“Our campaign will continue to move forward, and I appreciate the opportunity to act as an advocate for residents of the Fifth District,” said Decker, who has opted to leave some of his tagged signs up as a defiant message to those who would like to see him drop out of the race. “I see the changes that need to be made on the county-level as a cultural issue, and I intend to harness the broad powers of the supervisor’s seat to improve the culture of our communities.”