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Snyder Law Firm Survives School Board Challenge : Santa Clarita Valley: Concerns about doing business with the lobbyist arise over a possible conflict of interest and an ethics investigation.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Santa Clarita Valley school district came close Friday to firing former Los Angeles City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder’s law firm because of a possible conflict of interest and an ethics investigation of Snyder being conducted in Los Angeles.

The school board of the Soledad-Agua Dulce Union School District, which covers the rural communities of Acton and Agua Dulce, deadlocked 2 to 2 on rescinding its January decision to hire Snyder’s controversial law firm for help in developing a tax plan to finance schools.

Board member Nancy Kelso opposed hiring the firm because until recently, it represented a subsidiary of Watt Industries, a major developer in the district. The subsidiary will be affected by the district’s tax plan.

Kelso also noted that Snyder and his law firm are being investigated by the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the Los Angeles Ethics Commission for possible laundering of campaign contributions to Los Angeles politicians. No charges or complaints have been filed in that case. Snyder, one of Los Angeles’ most prominent lobbyists, has denied any wrongdoing.

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Attorney Gil Archuletta, a partner in the Snyder & Archuletta law firm, assured school board members that the firm’s earlier work for the Watt subsidiary did not create a conflict. “You represent one client one day and jump to another the next day and you represent both well,” Archuletta said in an interview Friday.

But Kelso said the district was being “highly foolish” to rely on a firm being investigated for possible laundering of campaign contributions.

On the law firm’s connection with Watt, she said, “I see at least the appearance of a conflict of interest here.”

Snyder’s firm estimated that its work for the school district would cost $40,000 to $45,000 during eight or nine months, billed at a rate of $275 to $330 an hour for senior attorneys’ time. The firm is to help the district form a Mello-Roos district that would tax property owners for school facilities. A Mello-Roos district is a special tax assessment on property commonly used to finance public improvements such as streets and sewers.

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Kelso and board member Brian Sherwood voted against retaining the firm, Laurie Browning and Joyce Field voted in favor, and board President Rebecca Small abstained.

The FPPC late last year subpoenaed bank records related to Snyder’s dealings with numerous campaign contributors and clients, including Watt Industries.

Watt is the parent developer of Sierra Colony Ranch and Rio Dulce Ranch, two large proposed home developments in Agua Dulce.

Snyder’s law firm has represented Watt on several ventures, including the Rio Dulce Ranch project. Archuletta said the connection with the Rio Dulce project ended late last year and the firm currently has no other connections with Watt and its subsidiaries.

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Snyder’s law firm had helped negotiate with the county on providing the school district with a 40-acre high school site in connection with the Rio Dulce project.

Kelso said she was still troubled because one of the major questions for the school district will be whether to include the Rio Dulce and Sierra Colony Ranch projects in its Mello-Roos district. Part of Snyder’s job will be to help shape the boundaries of that special assessment district.


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