Linney, 24, was elected April 21 to lead the board in his third year of service. The election was somewhat a surprise, given that planning groups and similar governmental bodies are typically populated by retirees and established professionals, not twentysomethings.
Linney was born in Romania and housed in an orphanage his first seven years. In the early 1990s, following the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the West was shocked to learn of squalid conditions in the centers.
Linney's earliest memories are of one decent meal a day while looking to older children for any semblance of care or protection.
At age 7, Linney was adopted by a San Diego family. The flight halfway around the globe was exciting. if not bewildering. for a boy who didn’t know a word of English.
Learning a difficult language was his first and most pressing task in a new culture.
“My dad would point to something and say the word. I would repeat it,” Linney recalls. “I learned English in just six months.”
Spoken English, that is. Written English was another matter, because tutors conversant with Romanian are not exactly common in San Diego schools. It was an abrupt transition for Linney – or Ionut (Jon), his Romanian name. He went from being immersed in filth and hunger to plunging into language acquisition in one of the richest nation in the world.
But Linney thrived in his new environment. Baseball became a passion, and by his midteens he was doing so well at Little League officiating that he received an invitation to call balls and strikes at Williamsport, Pa.
He was quite disappointed at being unable to make the trip to the Little League World Series. At Point Loma High School, his classmates noted his outgoing nature and political tendencies and began calling him Governor. They also elected him student body president.
The youthful urge to assert independence led to moving out of the house to attend Cuyamaca College and to take on jobs to pay the way. Linney committed to being a business major, but he acknowledged, “Public service is my passion and will be my avocation if not vocation.”
Despite an ample load of studies and jobs to pay for college, public service has come easily to Linney. He became a YMCA director, running and being elected to the planning board in 2014. He's served as vice chair of the Point Loma Kiwanis Club and also joined the Optimists, where he and his colleagues put flags out along Rosecrans Street on Sundays. He also had a short but satisfying stint with Junior Achievement.
The Roseville neighborhood, one of the city’s oldest, lacks a park of its own. Linney was not too busy to take on that challenge. He's spent two years co-leading a team driving the creation of a pocket park at the upper end of Avenida de Portugal along Canon Street. City Council voted unanimously in March to appropriate accumulated developer fees to build the park. The design process should start late this year, with completion likely in a couple of years.
By day, Linney is now a senior relationship banker with Union Bank. By night, or at least some nights, he is continuing his studies at National University. Seventeen years after arriving in this country, Linney continues to learning English in some subtle new ways – such as taking university English classes that also emphasize public speaking and developing PowerPoint and Internet research skills.
Linney talked about his game plan for being planning board chair.
“I aim to bring the board together to work as a team instead of wasting time with petty bickering,” he said. “I want to reach out to the public, to invite them to our meetings and see that citizens” are treated fairly.
Asked about his community planning priorities, Linney said one of them is “Overseeing completion of the park, for sure. The Peninsula has been blotted by unfinished construction projects – eyesores – that have gone on for years. Plum Street, Valemont Street and Coronado Avenue are just three examples.”
Linney noted neighborhood activist Jerry Lohla, who was just elected to the planning board, can take on his next project – a stronger city ordinance requiring completing buildings and preventing future eyesores.
“Another priority is that Roseville is a neighborhood losing its single-family home character one tear-down at a time without there ever being a single hearing,” added Linney, pointing out, “It is time to quit moaning and actually do something. I want to spur a community forum to address that trend.”
Linney said Rosevillians are already seeing some positive developments.
“Therese Garces of the Portuguese community is trying to rally interest in studying and replicating what made Little Italy click,” he said. “Tech Outfitters, a business coming soon to Dickens and Rosecrans streets, will be even more than a combination sidewalk coffee bar and techo gadget sales and repair store. It will be an example of how appealing businesses can jump-start walkable districts.”
The recipe for success, as Linney sees it, is for the board to be a catalyst and to reach out to the community.
“Another example of a promising opportunity is the stretch of Voltaire between the bridge and Catalina and the four blocks of Wabaska Drive leading into Voltaire Street,” he said, noting, “Nicole Burgess, community activist and former board member, is heading an effort to transform Wabaska into a walkable, bikeable and landscaped residential street leading into a rebounding commercial district.”
Another item on Linney's to-do list will be a luncheon for major players on the Peninsula, Ocean Beach and Midway boards as well as the Point Loma Association, Ocean Beach Community Development Corporation and possibly others.
“Together, with the public’s support, we can make the Peninsula even better,” Linney concluded.
The planning group meets at 6:30 p.m. every third Thursday in the Point Loma branch library on Voltaire Street.