When San Diego City Councilman Charles Lewis unexpectedly died Aug. 8, his chief of staff, Tony Young, pledged to shepherd along millions of dollars in projects that were in the pipeline for the city’s 4th District.
In a special election Jan. 4, Young defeated former San Diego City Councilman George Stevens, and continues Lewis’ commitment to what Young calls the district’s “incredible renaissance.”
The 4th District extends from Mountain View, bordering Interstate 15 on the west, to Skyline Hills on the east, and from Oak Park on the north to Paradise Hills to the south.
“Considering the investment here, and the investors who are already living here, we are going to really push for the development of infrastructure,” said Young, 38, a former middle school teacher with a strong commitment to education. “I’d like to identify a larger commercial district and another big anchor tenant and create more jobs.”
There is land for light industry, he said, adding, “We have to find out how best to optimize it.”
Young also wants to increase the use of the trolley line that runs through the district.
“People should be able to come into the district by trolley to work,” he said.
One of his primary concerns is what Young calls financial literacy, “reaching young people, folks who could do very well if they became better with finances, credit-worthiness, so they can buy homes and take advantage of investment opportunities, teach them how to invest money and bring the community up to another level.”
Young is continuing the workshops started by Lewis , held in libraries and churches throughout the area , that cover such issues as the dangers of check-cashing emporiums to how to leverage equity in real estate.
The district, he said, boasts one of the highest homeowner occupancies in the city, but added, “Some don’t know what to do with that money, that equity.
“We have to change the mind-set when it comes to financial growth in our district,” Young said. “You can’t cash checks at the check-cashing place. If you have a lot of equity in your house, don’t purchase a new vehicle when you can invest in another property. It’s a total mind-set, and it’s a Herculean task to undergo.”
But, Young said, the No. 1 priority should be public safety.
“We have a regional problem,” he said. “Gang members are increasing in numbers, intimidating our residents. We have to make our neighborhoods safe. I want more new programs for kids and opportunities for them. We need to have summer internships, so they can work for a company.”
Young and Lewis, friends since grade school, had hosted a youth forum on gang violence, funded mentoring programs and established the District Youth Advisory Board. Still, he said, gangs are not exclusive to his district.
“Everybody has this problem and everybody has to recognize they have to help with dealing with this problem,” he said. “Charles and myself got out there in front of the problem with gangs, but that doesn’t mean we’re the only ones who have the problem. District 4 is not the most violent community. We are in the middle of the pack. This myth has to be abolished, destroyed. The reality is, the problem is everywhere.”
The 4th District, said Young, teems with potential.
“We are 10 minutes from Downtown,” he said. “Once the folks recognize the 4th District for what it is, they will come in droves.”
But, Young added, while he welcomes newcomers to the area, he also hopes that homegrown residents can enjoy the boom.
“Gentrification is not necessarily best for the district,” he said. “Gentrification is a possibility, no one person can stop it, and it’s happening right now. We have some wonderful communities here and we would like to have someone who grew up in this district to own a home or a condo.
“I think people would love to live here, but they need to be able to afford to live here, and some have had to leave. They couldn’t find a house here. We need to find those folks, get them to a level where they can own a house. There is an incredible renaissance here and people who live here should be able to take advantage.
“More people own homes in this district than anywhere else,” he added. “It shows we have a stable community. I want to keep it that way, not only for low-income housing, but opportunities for more than that. Affordable housing should be all over the city, not only in one area.”
Carolyn Y. Smith, who heads up the Southern Economic Development Corp., an independent agency in charge of all redevelopment activities in a 7-square-mile area of Southeast San Diego, said she is gratified that Young will be carrying on Lewis’ work.
“This work that the SEDC is doing in redevelopment dates back 10, 15 years, and it has been uninterrupted ever since,” she said.
A Regional Perspective
Young defeated former City Councilman George Stevens for the 4th District seat, heralding for some a new era for the area. While Young is committed to helping his district thrive, he said he intends to keep the big picture in clear view.
“Folks are going to find out that I am moderate, I have strong interests in business, and my background is economics,” he said. “I am for supporting industry in this community and the city of San Diego. I am going to take a look at issues that are comprehensive from a regional standpoint and build consensus.”
Young is getting a warm reception by some of San Diego’s business leaders.
John Hawkins, the chairman of the board of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and president-chief executive officer of Cloud 9 Shuttle, said of Young’s election, “I am very pleased and the chamber is pleased. He has a bright young mind. The chamber was able to work with Charles Lewis, and it will be exciting to work with Tony Young.
“He is a balanced, forward-thinking and a city-of-San-Diego-thinking City Council member who knows what’s good for the city of San Diego and what’s good for the 4th District and vice versa.
“George (Stevens) is a great senior statesman, but Tony stands on Charles’ shoulders and he will do great things for the city. He is a bright and fun young man and I have high expectations that he will succeed beyond the expectations of District 4 and the city of San Diego.”
Mitch Mitchell, the vice president of public policy and communications for the chamber, is equally enthusiastic about Young’s election.
“It’s a tremendous victory for the residents of the 4th District, to have a young, progressive leader like Tony Young to represent them,” he said. “There is plenty of work to be done, not only on behalf of the residents of the 4th District, but he knows about the city as a whole , to address some of these problems and help restore the city’s credibility. In the end, this will be a collective process, with business, labor and the city government to fix this situation.”
Indeed, Young comes to the City Council at an especially turbulent time, with the city mired in pension problems, ongoing investigations into its finances and disclosure practices, and a mayoral election that is still being challenged.
While Mayor Dick Murphy has been formally certified, supporters of San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye, the write-in candidate, have gone to court in efforts to validate the more than 5,000 write-in votes that were not counted because of an improperly marked bubble next to her name.
“I’m not a lawyer and not a judge,” Young said. “But I think that voter intent is important. Donna has an uphill battle, but I do support voter intent.”
Young also supports open government , an issue that Frye has long championed and one that has led to the creation of a City Council committee she chairs.
“Everybody should be for showing what the people’s work is, what is happening,” Young said. “But don’t put the city in any bad situation by showing our hands during negotiations. We want to give every opportunity for the public to know what we do.”
As for the pension debacle, with its almost $1.2 billion deficit and related investigations, Young said, “I am looking forward to finding out more information about it, the most pressing issue of our day. I want to make clear, well-informed decisions, and get involved in coming up with some solutions.”
For her part, Frye is a fan.
“I like him and I endorsed his campaign,” she said. “The thing about Tony I really like, he is an honorable, honest, ethical and gentle person. I am thrilled that he won. I think that he will do a wonderful job. He has a good moral compass.”