DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter
When Don Knabe was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last November, he was no stranger to the board or even to his own position on it.
Knabe, 53, was well versed in what the responsibilities, issues and difficulties of the Fourth District were after serving on predecessor Supervisor Deane Dana's staff since 1982 most of that time as Dana's chief of staff.
Prior to working for Dana, Knabe served for eight years on the Cerritos City Council, including two terms as mayor.
As supervisor for the Fourth District, Knabe is responsible for the southern portion of L.A. County, including San Pedro, Long Beach and Whittier.
Q: People always talk about the need for new blood in government. Since you worked for Deane Dana for so long, do you see yourself just as a continuation of him?
A: Oh, absolutely not. That was one of the things that I had to overcome in the campaign and I think we did a good job of it, because we won 62 percent to 38 percent. As I said throughout the campaign, Deane Dana is Deane Dana, and Don Knabe is Don Knabe.
My job as chief of staff was to prepare the supervisor for a number of different options, then he ultimately had to decide which way he was going to vote, or do what he had to do. And he was part of the public debate. If I agreed with that decision, fine, and if I didn't, my job was not to go out and publicly disagree.
Now I have that responsibility. For one, I'm part of the public debate. I get to cast my own votes I'm responsible for those. Prior to now I never cast a vote or got to be a part of the public debate.
And I think our styles are totally different. He was very supportive of my campaign and I owe him a lot, but I'm much more of a people person than he was.
Q: Other than in terms of style, how are you different than Dana, politically and philosophically?
A: I think it's more of a specific issue kind of situation. Philosophically, obviously we're not too much different. It's not a matter of being a liberal versus a conservative. It's more on specific issues.
On the economic development side, I put together a tremendous coalition of people, both business and labor. I had support that Supervisor Dana never had in the past. But where labor has opposed me in the past, they worked for me this time because of my involvement with efforts to save jobs at McDonnell Douglas and other labor issues. We may not agree on every issue, but at least I'm willing to talk about the economic issues. Jobs are important to me, and they know that, and that is a labor issue.
Q: Have you had any significant political challenges making the transition from aide to supervisor?
A: I think I've been very fortunate. The transition has been relatively easy in the sense of knowing the issues, having been supervisor Dana's chief of staff. I've been very fortunate that my colleagues on the board have accepted me, so I don't have any political dances to go through there.
The difficulty is just the normal transition difficulties forming the staff, and getting organized in your own way of doings things versus what the previous administration did. But overall it's been very, very smooth, I think.
Q: What do you think the biggest challenges facing the board are?
A: Other than just the budget issue and those dollars that you continually have to put together to balance your budget, I think that welfare reform is one of the biggest unknowns. And the other one is Proposition 218 (which retroactively requires voter approval for local taxes) and the impact of that.
But welfare reform's probably the biggest unknown that we have right now. We're trying to deal with that issue and what the federal government may ultimately do, and what that ultimate cost may be to the county.
Q: What do you see as the impact of welfare reform on your district?
A: Well, I think in terms of my district, the bigger impact might possibly be the legal immigrant those who are here legally who will be forced off Social Security Insurance and forced to go on General Relief, or whatever it may be. We have a tremendous number in our district of legal immigrants, and I think that's probably an area where it would impact my district more than some of the others.
Q: Does the board have an idea of what it plans to do about welfare reform?
A: Well, we've formed the task force, we're trying to expedite citizenship processes using community-based or county organizations.
As you may have read, we cut them off April 1 instead of August, but we've extended it to August so we give these folks time to get their citizenship papers, because there's a tremendous backlog now because of this welfare reform with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
What can we ultimately afford? If they go on General Relief, they can't go on it forever. Is it going to be 90 days or 180 days as a limit? And these are all the issues that all the affected county departments and the task force from the financial aspects, to the health aspect, to whatever may be are looking at, and they're going to be reporting back to the board during our budget hearings coming up in a few months. Because we're in that position where we're trying to be proactive instead of waiting until it happens and then have to react to it.
Q: Since you're trying to be proactive before the federal welfare changes are clear, is it better to over-compensate?
A: Well I think it's better to be prepared and at least know a high number that you may have to look at in your budget versus just saying it's going to go away and burying your head in the sand. I don't know that it would be prudent, necessarily, to make any significant cuts in advance of knowing what your real numbers are going to be, but I think you need to have a plan of attack should you get to that number.
Q: You mentioned Prop. 218. What are the biggest impacts for the county going to be?
A: I think the biggest immediate impacts that we're looking at will be in the areas of the fire department and the libraries. For the fire department, they're going to court to try to see if (fire service fees) are going to get validated. And the board's going to have to make a decision do we or don't we put it on the ballot to validate it for two-thirds vote? And that will be coming up in the next month or two.
Q: Outside of welfare and Prop. 218, what are the biggest issues in your district?
A: One of the other major issues in my district are public safety and economic development the jobs issue.
As you know, in my district, we have the South Bay and that whole area which was hit really hard over the last number of years in defense and aerospace downsizing. We're starting to see a rebound, and we're starting to see a regionalization of support from cities and chambers, and we'll continue to work with them one, to retain jobs in our area and, two, to be very aggressive in attracting new jobs to the area. Both of the ports are in my district and the Alameda Corridor is in my district. I look at the Alameda Corridor as a dry-side Panama Canal a huge positive economic impact.
The McDonnell Douglas-Boeing merger, we're being told, is a very positive impact to Los Angeles County, but particularly to my district because it encompasses Long Beach and the South Bay.
I want to be very proactive and I'm working with my cities in any way I can to create a situation where there's incentives to keep jobs, create new jobs, and whatever it may be.
And my district goes all the way out to the east San Gabriel Valley, where you have a lot industrial and light manufacturing kind of things going on. So we have a lot of that kind of activity. I mean, there's all kind of things going on that I can be helpful in.
Title: Los Angeles County Supervisor
Born: Rock Island, Ill., 1943
Education: B.A., business administration, Graceland College, Lamoni, Iowa
Most admired person: His father and George Deukmejian
Hobbies: Golf, reading
Turning point in career: Going to work for Deane Dana
Personal: Wife, Julie, and two sons
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