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Behind Tony Young's Surprise Appearance at the Taxi Industry Hearing

Why did the former City Council president pop up at Thursday’s hearing, seemingly lobbying on behalf of cab companies? Turns out he’s a lobbyist.

Taxicab owners and drivers flooded Council Chambers and three overflow rooms last week to leave public comment – nearly four hours of it – on a proposal to open the city’s taxi market.

One person who offered comments during the marathon session was former City Councilman Tony Young.

Young hasn’t seen much of the spotlight since his departure from the local Red Cross, where he was director for 14 months after resigning from public office for the gig. And Young certainly hasn’t been a player in the prolonged and heated talks about reforming San Diego’s taxicab industry.

So why did he pop up at Thursday’s hearing, seemingly lobbying on behalf of cab companies? Turns out he’s a lobbyist.

Young said he started his firm, Civic Link Strategies, four months ago. In July he listed Sudberry Properties and law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney as clients.

Sudberry develops master-planned communities, or components of them, and is behind the massive Civita development at the Quarry Falls site in Mission Valley. Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney has law offices across the United States. Its managing partner here in San Diego specializes in water rights and negotiated land use and water purchase agreements for Carlsbad’s desalination plant.

Last week, Young added the San Diego Transportation Association to his roster. The group represents mostly taxi permit holders, including larger taxi companies and those who own and drive their own cabs. Young’s former ally on the City Council, Marti Emerald, has been leading a reform effort that would drain the value from their permits.

Permit holders have invested hundreds of thousands – some, millions – of dollars in permits that let them operate cabs in the city. Most then lease that privilege to a driver, who cuts them a hefty check each month. Emerald wants to nix that arrangement and let drivers have permits, too, so they can get out from underneath burdensome leases.

At Thursday’s hearing, Young told Emerald’s public safety committee, including his District 4 successor, Myrtle Cole, to reconsider the proposal. He said permit holders “got played” buying into a taxi market city leaders let manifest.

“These are good people,” Young said. “These are folks who work really hard and try to do good for their kids. They played within the rules that we set up as policymakers 30 years ago.”

On standing opposite his former colleagues on the issue,Young told me: “I don’t think I’m ever in lockstep with anyone. I really love and respect (Emerald and Cole) but it’s not black and white. I want a policy that’s good for everyone.”

Young has also been building alliances in recent months. He’s launched Rise San Diego with former political opponent Dwayne Crenshaw. The nonprofit aims to build leadership in urban neighborhoods through a University of San Diego fellowship and services for community-based nonprofits.

“It’s a great time for me,” Young said. “I’m advocating and helping people. This is my next stage.”

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