Photos by Keeley Smith.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe is approaching his final year as supervisor, and, as he told a packed house at the annual State of the County address at the Long Beach Convention Center Thursday, hosted by the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, he’s been spending a lot of time thinking about what he’ll do next.
“Leaving office is going to leave me a lot of free time,” Knabe said. “I’ve thought about becoming a gadfly and signing up for public comment every week at the Board of Supervisors. But I’ve decided to shoot slightly higher than that [...] Today, I am proud to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America!”
All joking aside, the themes that emerged from the Ninth Annual State of the County surrounded Knabe’s policy contributions in the name of his constituents in the Fourth District, which include Long Beach, as well as what he feels needs to be prioritized, moving into the future.
Finding sustainable plans for affordable housing as well as housing the county’s prison population played a significant role in Knabe’s speech, in addition to his emphatic push to end child sex trafficking and find safe homes for abandoned children in Los Angeles County, through his Safe Surrender program.
The most emotional point in Knabe’s speech centered on the two legacies he said he would like to be most remembered for: child sex trafficking and Safe Surrender.
Knabe teared up during a long pause before delving into the topics.
His contributions to dealing with child sex trafficking involved a push for wraparound services for the victims of child sex trafficking, to reduce their return to the pimps who had sold their services, in addition to the beginning of a john-shaming campaign with the help of Long Beach Prosecutor Doug Haubert.
“We should not call those who buy young girls for sex anonymous “johns,” Knabe said. “ Let’s call them what they really are: child rapists.”
Knabe was also quick to note that the Safe Surrender program, which provides a home for babies surrendered at public places, such as hospitals and fire department stations, has saved a record number of infants this year. In fact, 16 babies have been surrendered, bringing the total number of babies surrendered in the program’s 14-year history to 140. At least two of the babies surrendered this year were surrendered in Long Beach.
While Knabe was quick to note his support to find a way to increase affordable housing for the county’s residents, he questioned a proposal made last month by other supervisors to allocate $100 million a year for affordable housing.
Rather than a flat dollar amount, Knabe said he had suggested a percentage of the budget go toward fighting homelessness each year, in case future budgets had severe shortfalls.
“As this issue is getting a lot of publicity right now, big numbers are being thrown around to combat the problem — $100 million for homelessness, $100 million for affordable housing —which makes for great headlines,” said Knabe. “But what happens after the headlines — will we really be able to get that level of resources to the people who need it?”
He dispelled the notion that he was against the flat dollar amount due to his party affiliation (he is a Republican), but rather based his opinion on the county’s dependence on budget allocations from the Federal and State government. Approximately 80 percent total is allocated, according to Knabe.
Knabe also questioned the county’s reliance on diversion programs as a means to tackle a growing prison population that is being housed in “outdated,” unsafe facilities. He emphasized flexibility and “preparing for the long-term” when it comes to the prison population.
“Again, I want to be very clear. I absolutely support diversion efforts aimed at rehabilitation and reducing recidivism,” said Knabe. “But recent laws like AB 109 and Prop 47 have put a lot of pressure on our jail system. Some of the advocates seem to want to let everyone out. But frankly there are some bad dudes out there who simply belong in jail.”
Rather than “catering to the soundbite,” Knabe said more needed to be done to plan for a sustainable, safe future for LA’s prison population.
Before closing, Knabe noted a highlight for Long Beachers next year: the Long Beach Convention Center’s hosting of the National Association of Counties next July.
“It will bring together nearly 3,000 county leaders, booking over 9,000 local hotel room nights, and contributing between $5-7 million to the local economy,” Knabe said.
He concluded with a rallying cry, similar to that of last year’s address: infusing politics with positivity and compromise, rather than boxing oneself in.
“Every day, each of us can make a choice to jump on the bandwagon of division,” said Knabe. “Or, we can choose to be a builder: A builder of families, of neighborhoods, of communities. And most importantly, we can commit to being a builder of bridges… not walls.”