New San Diego City Council President Tony Young has piled on the ambition for his one-year term as head of the council.
Young plans to tackle every major issue on the city’s plate — budget, pension, Chargers, Convention Center, new City Hall — and is adding the city’s schools to the list.
His written address on city priorities is short on specifics beyond saying the council will debate them. But that fits with where he sees his role. He plans, he told me for this Q&A, to help the council and Mayor Jerry Sanders resolve these issues together. Still, he will push some of his own ideas. Most notably, he wants to revise the proposed City Hall project to house other government agencies, such as the Unified Port of San Diego and the state. Also he wants to privatize the city’s airports and golf courses.
Young, 44, is the city’s third council president, a position created when San Diego voters made the mayor the city’s chief executive by approving the strong-mayor form of government in 2004.
Young is now the council’s longest-tenured member, having been first elected in 2005 to serve out the term of Charles Lewis, who died while facing charges in the Strippergate scandal. Young was Lewis’ best friend and chief of staff. He represents District 4, San Diego’s southeastern neighborhoods.
How should people judge you at the end of this year?
So many things here, I believe, are cultural at City Hall. If the culture of the 10th floor and the city changes then good things will happen.
You never see the regular people (in City Council offices). Every two weeks, I’m just going to sit here and there will be a crowd outside and we’ll just sit here and meet. No appointments necessary.
There are other things that the public will never see when it comes to how I interact with the councilmembers. Leadership opportunities that they get. Not being shutdown. Not having the chairmanship used as a way to hammer people into the floor so that they can’t make their statement.
I don’t have the answers for the most part. I would say that 85 percent of the time I don’t have the answer. But I do know the answers are somewhere. Probably embedded in the some of the brains of folks on this council or somewhere else. How do I help bring those things to the top and then get people to support things that make sense?
So to answer your question, I think the public will know. They’ll either say nothing’s changed, the same old stuff. Or they say — usually it’s like this — “I’m not really quite sure, but something’s a little different here.”
Something you have said often for more than a year now is that if the City Council doesn’t fix the budget problems, then people will rightfully look at all of the council as failures. Do you still believe that?
You also have spoken a lot about the fact that the solution to the city’s budget problems will come from a “menu of options” with ideas that the council and the public can mix and match to evaluate alternatives. We’ve heard about this idea in past years, but it’s never happened. Why is this time different?
I think this will be the year. I remember one of my first council meetings, I said, “We should look at privatizing our golf courses and airports.” People went crazy. Of course, I’m the new guy. They said, “That doesn’t make any sense. There’s no way you can do that.” You fast forward these years later and now I hear five or six of my colleagues mentioning that as an option.
Why did you think it was necessary to form a redevelopment committee?
I think it was important because I truly believe the development community, the community that promotes economic prosperity in this city, the organizations that have taken great advantage of the opportunities for redevelopment have not been equitable in their attention. I think that is wrong. We want to find a way to encourage a redevelopment system in this city that will allow for development throughout the city, not just in the one area which seems to be downtown.
The other thing is that I’ve found as a council member for a number of years that we don’t have time to discuss redevelopment issues at council. Where are these issues truly vetted out? They’re usually vetted out in an hour and a half at council. That’s different from any other issue that we have. Redevelopment seems to be so important to this city, why would we not have a committee like that?
When you first came into office it was obviously unexpected, the way in which you replaced your predecessor. I remember reading a column that Scott Lewis wrote. This was a few years into your term and he was talking about your first press conference and said that you had looked dazed or scared even at the responsibility you now had. I am wondering how that experience and then the tough election that followed shaped you.
First of all I would say that he was really accurate about that. My eyes were wide open and I was very scared. That’s because probably about two or three hours before that, my best friend died on the operating table and I watched that happen. That’s what he saw. My mind was so far from the idea of running for office that you wouldn’t even believe it.
Going through that experience had to affect me in some way. I wasn’t the kid in school that ran for president in sixth grade. Politics is not a game to me. It’s not fun to me. I can think of about 12 different jobs that are more fun than this. I don’t have to be another elected official after this. Literally, I would be fine if at the end of this term I went and did something totally different from politics.
I just think the situation that put me in this place is probably much different than a lot of other people. My therapy when I ran for office the first time was to get over my friend’s death. I just walked and walked and walked and walked for hours and hours. That’s all I did for six months straight.
So running for that office was your therapy?
It was. It was for my friend, you know. This is my best friend. I knew Charles since third grade. That’s why I’m here.
Anything else you want to add or emphasize at all?
Yeah, you didn’t ask me about my Comic-Con parade. It’s not wonkish enough or what?
(Laugh) OK, so you want everybody in their costumes just running down Broadway?
Why not? I think it’s huge. These guys are talking about hotels and restaurants. You do that Comic-Con parade just like the [Holiday Bowl] parade, we’d bring so much attention to this city. CNN’s going to report it because the freaks are out. You know that’s going to happen.
Think about the opportunities for Hollywood. It also gives an opportunity for our citizens to participate. And do it the day before. Not during the same period of time. We want them to come early. We want that 35-year-old guy that still has a Storm Trooper outfit on, we want him here …
For an extra day in San Diego.
And you know what? We can do it. I will almost promise you we’ll do it.
Interview conducted and edited by Liam Dillon. Please contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.