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Knabe Again Votes for a Client of Lobbyist Son

June 28, 2006|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

For at least the third time in the last 15 months, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe has voted to back one of his son's lobbying clients in business before the county Board of Supervisors.

In the vote Tuesday, Knabe, whose son has been a lobbyist since 2004, joined a board majority that backed a controversial air park's right to expand in the rural north county town of Agua Dulce.

The air park has paid lobbying firms that employed Matt Knabe $32,800 over the last two years, according to disclosure forms filed with the county.

There are no county rules barring relatives of supervisors from lobbying the county or requiring supervisors to recuse themselves from voting on their relatives' clients.

But officials at several watchdog groups, including the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Center for Governmental Studies, have said Knabe's practice of making decisions that affect his son's clients represents an ethical conflict of interest, if not a legal one.

In March 2005, Knabe voted to award a $7.4-million contract to document-scanning company Global 360 BGS, which paid lobbying firms employing Knabe's son $72,000.

And three weeks ago, he joined in a 3-2 decision to approve a permit for Sunshine Canyon landfill operator Browning-Ferris Industries, records show. Since October 2004, BFI has paid lobbying firms employing Knabe's son more than $83,000.

Neither Knabe returned calls Tuesday seeking comment about the air park vote.

But attorney Mark Armbruster, who represents the air park's owners, said the familial connection had nothing to do with hiring Matt Knabe.

"He and his firm represent clients at the city and the county, and know and understand the process," Armbruster said. "He was certainly not hired for purposes of influencing his dad."

The air park's owners began employing lobbying firm MWW Group in October 2004 at the same time that Matt Knabe joined that firm, according to county records. Matt Knabe previously worked in his father's county office.

That fall, the air park was embroiled in a contentious county review of its operating permit.

The permit, which allows substantial expansion of the small air field, came before the full Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. (Matt Knabe is now at the lobbying firm of Harvey Englander and Associates, which now represents the air park.)

Also at the board meeting Tuesday were scores of the air park's neighbors, who have been fiercely divided over the facility's future.

Opponents of any expansion, who complain about noise from low-flying aircraft, found a champion in the area's supervisor, Mike Antonovich, who tried Tuesday to modify the permit to limit further growth.

But air park representatives said Tuesday that they would voluntarily prohibit jet traffic and night takeoffs and landings. And Armbruster said the owners had no immediate plans to expand the facility.

Their arguments carried the day, as four of the five supervisors, including Knabe, voted to support the air park.

After the vote, Matt Knabe, who sat in the front row of the board chambers below his father's seat on dais, was among the first to offer congratulatory handshakes to the air park representatives.

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