Outgoing supervisor criticizes spending in 'state of the county' speech

In his annual “state of the county” speech, longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe took a swipe Thursday at recent spending decisions by a new board majority as it pursues a series of ambitious and costly social programs.

Knabe and the nonpartisan board’s only other conservative, Michael D. Antonovich, will retire next year. The five-member board has seen a sea change in leadership as term limits have begun to oust several who had served for decades.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said the proposed Men's Central Jail was reduced to 1,000 beds. It was reduced by 1,000 beds.

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In recent months, Knabe has had a series of testy exchanges with his colleagues over the size of a new Men’s Central Jail and a proposal to spend $100 million a year on creating more affordable housing. He also butted heads with the more liberal board members this week over a plan to create a wage theft enforcement program within the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. It would police violations of the county’s minimum wage, which will gradually rise to $15 an hour by 2020.

Knabe had argued for a formula that would allocate housing money based on a percentage of revenue instead of a fixed sum of $100 million, and pushed back against downsizing the jail plan by 1,000 beds, in case a planned diversion program for mentally ill arrestees is not successful. In that event, the new jail could end up with the same overcrowding problems as the old one, requiring the board to build another facility or pay for beds elsewhere.

During a speech at the Long Beach convention center, Knabe described his colleagues' approach to budgeting on those initiatives as “‘Field of Dreams’ spending — picking a dollar figure and hoping the money will come.”

“I don’t want to be one of those entities that make promises that sound good at a press conference, but are promises that we can’t keep,” Knabe said. “Throwing money at these issues without a sustainable plan isn’t fair to those we are trying to help, or to those who have put us in office to fix these problems.”

Knabe said afterward that he was not concerned about the county's immediate fiscal health but had concerns about the budget in the long term.

“The state of the county is good,” he said. “I'm not talking about today. I'm talking about into the future.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a proponent of the initiatives Knabe criticized, pointed out in a statement that Knabe had ultimately voted with the board majority on some of the initiatives he criticized: “Obviously, Supervisor Knabe is entitled to his opinion, but here, as in every legislative body, the majority rules. If my memory serves me correctly, Supervisor Knabe was a part of those majority votes in many instances, and appropriately so. A lot of prudent progress is being made here, and there’s more to come.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl declined to comment, and Supervisor Hilda Solis did not respond to a request for comment.

U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro); former Manhattan Beach Mayor Steve Napolitano, a senior deputy to Knabe; and former Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, a former Knabe staffer, are running for Knabe’s seat. Knabe has endorsed Napolitano, but Hahn is widely considered the favorite to win, which would create a supermajority of Democrats on the board.

Twitter: @sewella

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