Tom Decker, candidate for District 5

In the March 5 primary election, voters will choose a Santa Cruz County supervisor candidate to represent District 5. The district includes the San Lorenzo Valley, Scotts Valley and areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains. If one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the candidate will become supervisor. If not, the top two candidates will square off in the November election.

Tom Decker is one of four candidates running for District 5 supervisor. Read about the other candidates: Theresa Ann Bond, Christopher Bradford and Monica Martinez.

Tom Decker is running for District 5 Santa Cruz County supervisor in the March 5 election.

Tom Decker (Aeden McArthur — Contributed)

Meet Tom Decker

Age: 72.

Residence: Ben Lomond.

Occupation: Real estate agent, broker, home builder and regional director of Bay Area Manufactured Homes.

Experience: Decker has been the regional director of Bay Area Manufactured Homes in Antioch for 25 years. The firm sells manufactured homes, and the firm put one in downtown Boulder Creek after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire. Decker said the permits took 20 months. 

As president of the Napa/Solano Apartment Owners Association in 1989, Decker said he started a rent-to-own program that still remains. Decker also helped start Mare Island Technology Academy Charter Middle and High School in Solano County. Decker and his wife moved to Santa Cruz County from Pleasanton about 20 years ago.

Read about Tom Decker’s positions:

Several District 5 voters said they don’t feel safe because of recent wildfires, floods and power outages. What will you do in your first year as a county supervisor to improve evacuation plans, emergency preparation and cell service in the San Lorenzo Valley?

Tom Decker: “One of the things that we’ve done, and actually, members of my church set this up, they set up a phone tree, where folks were given like 10 folks to call. And then they had 10, and like that. So if there was an emergency or road closure, they would call us when the power was out, or this and that. And so one person would call 10, and they would call 10 more and so within an hour or two everybody had been contacted. And you’d have assignments, like how was that family? How’s that family? It’s not a government thing, just a volunteer thing, but it works so very efficiently. And that’s something that could be done, just organizing within our community, not even a money thing, not even asking the government, just sort of looking out for your neighbor, something that folks do naturally. To make it more formal — that really doesn’t work. That’s one that can start straight away, and it works very well.”

What long-term strategies would you pursue to adapt and prepare District 5 to more frequent disasters fueled by climate change?

Tom Decker: “I see lots of plans, you know, I really do, but the best thing is I see what Mark Bingham has done with the volunteer fire department in Boulder Creek. Defensible space, clear around your house, make sure that the bushes are cut back, that you have ways of escape, generators, food, self sufficiency. Because as large as the government is, it can never get there as fast as yourself. So I think if you’re gonna live in the Fifth District, being self-sufficient sort of comes with it, so I encourage that.”

Decker mentioned that floods in Santa Cruz County in 2023 were not new. El Nino-driven storms and slides in 1982 killed 22 people and destroyed 135 homes. “That was called a natural disaster because it was,” Decker said. “I mean, I don’t know how you stop tides.”

Some voters told us they are tired of power, heat and communication outages. How would you work toward improved power reliability from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Lorenzo Valley? 

Tom Decker: “Work with PG&E, join forces with other rural counties, state legislators, state and [the California] Public Utilities Commission and hire a lobbyist,” Decker said. “Make sure that you got the generator and the food supply for yourself because as I said, this year, the first few months of this year, I think our power was out for almost a month and a half. So that’s a lot. So, self reliance, unfortunately, is still the best.”

Several District 5 residents said county road conditions are bad. How can you get more money for road improvements in District 5? What county roads are your top priorities to fix during your four-year term? 

Tom Decker: “Well, of course, Highway 9 is the critical artery in our district; everything goes through Highway 9. Then we have two fire roads, we have Jamison Creek [Road] and we have Alba Road — those are the two escapes from the valley when there’s a fire.  How do you get more money? Well, I guess we do like everyone, we talk to our legislators and you know, ask for the money that was set aside to fix our roads, and be the loudest voice. Because we don’t have a lot of roads, but the roads that we have are critical for escaping from natural disasters.”

For CZU Lightning Complex Fire survivors, what will you do differently than the current supervisor to remove obstacles to rebuild? 

Tom Decker: “I don’t know how proactive [District 5 Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson] has been. And in his defense, I don’t know all the problems of the Fifth District. Nobody does. And I truly don’t know the problems of the Fifth District in the future. Nobody does. And no one could have foreseen the CZU Fire coupled with COVID, together. And poor Bruce McPherson was the last one who would have seen that. So what would I have done differently? Well, now that I’ve had 3 1/2 years to reflect upon it, and 2 1/2 years of banging my head against the wall with the county, I would do lots of things different.”

Decker said the problem is that the county has an established way of doing things, and “the average person coming to them is just overwhelmed with the amount of forms, the amount of things that would go here, go there, and they just give up.” Decker said, “I’ve been able to get through it because we don’t stop. I’ve been doing this for years.” 

Decker said there should be a volunteer group in the county that acts as a clearinghouse to help people get through the hurdles. “We don’t need more government on top of the government we have. We don’t need a better website to explain the messaging. We need folks to, one-on-one, say, ‘Let me see where you are, oh, you forgot your environmental report. You don’t have your preclearance,’” Decker said. “We need more folks teaching people how to rebuild.”

How can county supervisors help fund and facilitate more affordable housing? Where in your district would you support more density?

Tom Decker: “I can tell you there’s almost 1,000 empty lots in the Fifth and Third [Santa Cruz County Supervisor] Districts. They’re not dense at all. There’s 1,000 families that used to live here that don’t live here anymore. So if you’re looking for land to build, here it is, but getting permission to build on it — it is not great.”

“The best way to increase our affordable housing stock is to cut out the government cost for housing, which is tremendous. I mean, they’re now pushing the enhanced systems, which means any new condition space. I have two customers that are fighting this and they can’t win it because it’s pretty laid out. They have to put in the enhanced septic system, which is going to cost $120,000 more on top of the house. That’s because the fear is that some of the water in their septic system will get out and get into the San Lorenzo River or watershed. Which is, in theory, possible, except their house is 6 miles from the San Lorenzo River on the other side of a mountain.

“But nevertheless, they’re required to spend $120,000 to do this. So the way to make housing more affordable is not another layer of government to find funding to pay for government services. I mean, I’ve looked at some of these government loans, they’ll help you to build an [accessory dwelling unit] and it costs you more money to borrow money than the money that you get. So, sometimes, going back to Will Rogers: ‘Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.’ And I venture to say maybe if we’re paying for even a little bit less, it might even be better. So that’s my solution. It’s just a practical solution. I’ve been doing this 44 years and that’s what I found to be true.”

Read why Decker is running for county supervisor

What local issues in your district affect you that make you want to run for office?

Decker said the CZU Fire and lack of rebuilding were key reasons he chose to run for supervisor. 

Homes were destroyed on at least 697 properties during the CZU Fire, Santa Cruz County staff said in 2023. Sixty-two homes have been rebuilt and 234 permits to build single-family homes remained in progress as of Feb. 5, 2024. 

“I realized that there’s so many layers of rules on top of rules to keep everyone safe that no one can really go forth, very few. It’s very difficult. And so I kind of figured, well, rather than continuing to bang my head against the wall, maybe I’d be more successful by having a bigger platform in which to say, ‘Look, things can be done, things can be changed, and they can be done without hurting anybody — just allowing it to happen.’”

What is your dream for the Santa Cruz County community? 

“I think my dream would be to have a much more responsive county government,” Decker said. “The solution is not more government, but rather, let people do things. Up in the Fifth District, it’s very interesting. Most folks that live here have their own generators, they have water, they have food storage, they’re prepared for heavy weather. We made a joke that for the first two months of the year, PG&E was our alternate power source because it was off so much that we all live on generators,” Decker said. “And government, when they promised to help, and then they don’t, it’s sort of is bad in both ways. They take the money, and then don’t bring the service.”

Fun fact about Tom Decker 

Decker worked for the Jimmy Carter presidential campaign and met journalist Hunter S. Thompson in Atlanta. “I got to know the guy. He was as wild and crazy as his books,” Decker said of Thompson. “Jimmy had hired me because I was from Western New York and I spoke like a Yankee.”

Campaign finances

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Tom Decker’s campaign website does not include endorsements.

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