Dec. 1 2010 09:35 AM

It's City Councilmember Young's chance to shine

Tony Young
Photo by David Rolland
With Donna Frye’s departure this week (click here for our retrospective of her tenure), Tony Young becomes the longest-serving member of the San Diego City Council, having been elected by District 4 voters in 2005 to finish the term of the late Charles Lewis. In that regard, it makes sense that he’s expected to be elected by his peers as the next council president when they vote on Dec. 6.

It’s also fitting in light of the San Diego electorate’s moderate ideological bent. Voters have given Democrats the majority of the seats on the council since 2000 but they prefer Republicans as mayors, despite the fact that Democratic voters outnumber their Republican counterparts. Young is a quintessential moderate Democrat.

We endorsed neither Young nor any of his challengers before the June primary, citing our distaste for his conservative stance on social issues. He generally regards homeless people as dangerous characters and doesn’t think gay people should be allowed to be married. Notwithstanding those defects, we can’t help but like the guy personally.

Young has chaired the council’s Budget Committee for the last couple of years, which will serve him well next year because everything else will take a back seat as the city attempts to close a gargantuan budget deficit. We’re heartened that he saw through the smokescreen created by Councilmembers Kevin Faulconer and Carl DeMaio and supported Prop. D, the measure that would have pumped another $100 million a year into the city’s coffers through increased sales taxes. Unfortunately, voters, who apparently think providing city services doesn’t cost any money, overwhelmingly voted against Prop. D a month ago.

We call on Young to do what Mayor Jerry Sanders should have done years ago: lead the charge to make citywide trash-pickup fees more equitable and to collect more money from property owners to fully recover the cost of complying with clean-water laws. Accomplishing those two things would go a long way toward balancing the budget, but each will take about two years, so the time to start making the case is yesterday. A new report from the city’s Citizens Revenue Review & Economic Competitiveness Commission—a panel that Young championed—endorses both measures, so if Young needs political cover (he shouldn’t), he has it now.

We like Young the most when he’s mad. We fondly recall him boldly advocating for the City Council a few years back when the Mayor’s office went on a serious power drive. And we particularly appreciated his performance last month when he told Wal-Mart’s goons to take a long walk off a short pier. He’s truly a champion for his district, but he’ll need to shift to a more citywide approach; carrying water for the southeastern Economic Development Corporation might be too parochial now.

The new City Council will be an interesting one for Young to ride herd over. There will be no ideological bloc in the majority. Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald and David Alvarez make up the progressive wing; Democrat Sherri Lightner is an unpredictable enigma—she’s certainly made no friends in the environmental community. Young and Lorie Zapf, who replaces Frye, are the only social conservatives, as we see it. Time will tell what happens to the fiscally conservative Republicans, what with the possibility of Faulconer and DeMaio both trying to slow down the Nathan Fletcher mayoral juggernaut. Will DeMaio and Faulconer begin savaging each other? Let’s hope so.

Amid all that, eyeballs will be focused on Young to see where he lands. The conservative business and developer lobby began buttering Young before the June primary when the influential Lincoln Club endorsed him. Young makes no apologies for being pro-growth. But he’s also been a reliable vote for labor. We’re thinking that more often than not, Young will remember why he registered Democrat and not Republican.

In our interviews with Frye, she again lamented the lack of leadership at the top of the city’s legislative branch since voters made the mayor the head of the executive branch. Here’s hoping that the council’s third president is a charm.

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