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San Diego City Council President Tony Young said he knows the challenges he’ll face in 2012.
For the first time in seven years, San Diego will have a mayoral election without an incumbent. The majority of City Council seats will be up for grabs, too. It’s not, Young said, the best environment to make major decisions.
But as Young enters his second year as head of the council, he said he’ll work hard to keep the city moving when many of his colleagues will be jostling to keep their jobs.
Young’s agenda mirrors the ambition he laid out in his first year as council president. Many of the city’s big ticket items — budget, Chargers stadium, Convention Center expansion and new City Hall — appear in a written speech he released Wednesday. The scorecard for Young’s first year? The council made progress on the budget and the Convention Center, but didn’t even talk about the stadium or new City Hall.
Young also continues to champion the city taking a more active role in city schools and just wrapped up a seven-month tour on education issues with Nathan Fletcher, an assemblyman and mayoral candidate.
Young and I discussed education, his idea for a multi-government City Hall complex and his lack of endorsements for the mayor’s race and a contentious pension reform initiative.
You’ve talked a lot about the city involving itself more in the school system over the past year and you’ve now announced a joint meeting with the school board. What specifically do you think the city can or should do with respect to schools?
I don’t believe that the city should be taking over schools. What I believe that we should be doing is supporting schools.
This is the beginning of a discussion. I don’t believe we should be throwing rocks over the walls at the schools — the council and the mayor saying, hey, you guys need to be doing a better job. What I think we should be doing is say, how can we help?
Let me stop you there for a second. Around this time last year you guys had an opportunity to do something specific with respect to schools. They asked you for $60 million, an advance on their redevelopment money from downtown. You in particular said until you guys reform, you shouldn’t be coming with your hand out to us. How is that not throwing a rock at schools?
That was not a rock. It was reality. I don’t believe that just throwing more money into a system that is not really serving the kids that we’re trying to get prepared for these jobs in the future is going to help. I don’t think it will move the needle that much.
Doesn’t everything come down to money?
No it doesn’t. We have to create a culture of education in the city. That means all of us need to understand that we have a stake in this. That means that Qualcomm, that means that SDG&E, our grandmothers, our churches, it means our mayor, our council need to understand that we have to be a part of this. We can’t just sit back and say, OK school board you do it.
I looked over your message from last year and you had the new City Hall/multi-government complex on the docket last year. That didn’t happen. Why?
We didn’t think it was ready. We wanted to get it done. We had conversations with almost every elected official up in Sacramento, our delegation, to talk about a concept of a joint facility. There was interest there. And also there’s some issues related to these leases [for city office space] that are coming up downtown. I’m very fortunate to be the president again this year to finally get to that.
Do you support the comprehensive pension reform initiative?
I have not provided any support of it. Financially. I haven’t spoken on behalf of it. I haven’t endorsed it.
So at this point you’re neither for it nor against it?
I have not come out to endorse it and I’m looking forward to more conversation about it. I do have some concerns though.
What are those concerns?
I’m not willing to talk about them yet. I’ll let you know.
You mentioned contacting a union leader about an alternative pension ballot measure and he wasn’t interested. But one of your colleagues, David Alvarez, recently told me that he’s been talking to you about one.
He talked to me one time about the potential. I haven’t seen one word of any proposal for that.
You mentioned before that you were open to the idea of an alternative measure. Is that still the case?
I’m always open to the idea. Just as I’m open to hear the discussion about this comprehensive reform measure. However, I won’t be open for a proposal that’s simply there for political reasons. If it’s put on the ballot simply to take away votes from another measure and then ultimately we have nothing, I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the best ideas.
Let’s come a little full circle here. You went on an education listening tour with Fletcher. Does that mean you’re endorsing him for mayor?
No. I haven’t endorsed anybody for mayor.
Do you plan on it?
I don’t have any plans to endorse anybody.
Do you think all the major candidates running would make a good mayor?
I think they all could do a good job. They could do a good job probably in different ways.
What’s going to surprise the public about this year in city government?
I think one of the thing that might surprise the public is we will, I believe, have an opportunity to restore some of the services that were taken away in the past. This is a billion-dollar budget. Wouldn’t it be great if we found a few hundred thousand dollars to put an hour or two for a library for each district? Maybe we’ll be able to provide a little bit more service. That would be symbolic in many ways, but I think it also would be important.
Interview conducted and edited by Liam Dillon, who can be reached at email@example.com or 619.550.5663. Liam covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
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