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AIRPARK PERMIT RECUSALS SOUGHT 2 PANELISTS UNDER ATTACK BY LAWYER.

Byline: Eugene Tong Staff Writer

AGUA DULCE - As the county Regional Planning Commission prepares this week for what could be its final vote on the expansion permit of rural Agua Dulce Air Park, opponents are pressing two commissioners to recuse themselves from the issue, citing bias.

Commissioners Wayne Rew and Hal Helsley are under attack by attorney John Murdock, who alleged they are biased in favor of allowing the expansion in a five-page letter obtained by the Daily News.

Murdock, who represents local resident and airport opponent Justine Turner, claimed Rew was ``openly hostile and biased against air park opponents'' during commission hearings. And as an appointee of 4th District Supervisor Don Knabe, he may be biased because Knabe's son Matt Knabe is a lobbyist for the airport.

``Based upon the clear connection between the lobbyist, the supervisor and the commissioner, there is an all-too-obvious appearance of bias, which calls for Mr. Rew to recuse himself from voting on the pending matter,'' Murdock wrote.

Murdock also said Helsley's stated support of private airports at a January hearing should preclude him from the voting on the issue.

The five-member panel is slated to vote Wednesday on an modified expansion permit for the airport, though an appeal to the county Board of Supervisors is expected. Murdock also said Knabe should recuse himself from the issue should the board take it on.

The airstrip's owners have been defending an expansion permit before the commission after residents of this rural community between the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys complained of noise, extended filming and aerobatics by pilots. The complaints led to several violation notices.

Commissioners including Rew and Helsley in January voted 3-2 in favor of closing the hearing with the intention to approve a modified permit, which allows a total 59 hangars, a 116,000 square-foot tie-down area and a 20-room ``airtel'' with a restaurant.

Commissioners Pat Modugno and Leslie Bellamy dissented. The airstrip sits on 110 acres and currently has about 28 hangars, an aircraft tie-down area and an office/lounge/cafe.

Lobbying of public officials by relatives is allowed under state and county law. David Sommers, a spokesman for Knabe, said Rew is an independent member of the commission, and does not take marching orders from the supervisor's office.

``He is our appointment to the commission, but our office does not tell him how to vote on the issues,'' he said. ``The only instruction we've ever given Wayne is the supervisor is interested in bringing a balance between protecting the environment and growth in L.A. County.''

As for Helsley, Murdock said the commissioner disclosed he was a pilot and stated at a January hearing he is a ``strong supporter of privately owned airports,'' which undermined his ability to be impartial.

``It's kind of a pilot's culture,'' Murdock said. ``They feel that any attempt to regulate them is just out of whack. I don't think he should be deciding the issue as he is, as a strong supporter of publicly owned airports.''

Helsley, an appointee of 3rd District county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, said Friday he is not a pilot, but does support private aviation. Also, his personal beliefs should not prevent him from voting, whether the issue is affordable housing or transportation.

``I certainly support the activity of private aviation, and I see it as a diminishing resource in the world of travel and recreation,'' he said. ``I think that I can make an impartial decision, in what the community needs are and those things that serve the public need.''

Eugene Tong, (661) 257-5253

eugene.tong(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Panel Discussion
Date:Feb 20, 2006
Words:598
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