Michael George says the Seattle City Council has lost the people’s trust, and the District 7 candidate wants to earn it back.
George has lived downtown for 11 years, and is a senior project manager at commercial real estate firm Kidder Mathews who is focused on transit-oriented development.
He said he and his wife noticed a lack of public schools, playgrounds and green spaces in the neighborhood when they were expecting their first child seven years ago, so they started the Parents for a Better Downtown Seattle nonprofit. Working on Seattle Public Schools task forces, he saw the needs downtown were not unlike those in many neighborhoods around the city, he said.
George tells Queen Anne News he believes education is what is needed to ensure Seattle’s long-term success, and the city council needs to do better at supporting the work of the school district and board.
That means boosting early education and providing wraparound services that help families struggling in Seattle, George said, which started with passage of the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Plan.
With three incumbents so far announcing they won’t seek re-election, including District 7 Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, and the already high number of candidates filing campaigns, George said he’s excited about a shakeup in the city council.
From the nearly dead-on-arrival head tax to a safe drug consumption space, George said the Seattle City Council has a poor record of pushing policies and projects through without carrying out an honest and thorough public outreach process. He wants more auditing of city departments, as well as a series of accountability measures before any new programs get implemented.
Last year the city council assembled a task force to explore an employee-hours (head) tax, and then unanimously passed a $275 per full-time equivalent tax on companies claiming more than $20 million in gross receipts. A repeal campaign, funded largely by those big companies, including Amazon and Starbucks, resulted in a repeal of the tax less than a month later.
George said he would have voted against the head tax, because he didn’t see a plan in place for the anticipated revenue or any accountability measures. The tax had been broken down to put 40 percent of the revenue toward homeless services and 60 percent into creating affordable housing.
“I think the bigger issue is Seattle rolled out a couple experimental projects without really thinking about neighborhood impacts and consequences,” George said.
The City of Seattle continues exploring how to create a safe consumption space for heroin and other drug users to safely consume drugs under medical supervision, with health and treatment services also on site. It would likely be a fixed mobile facility.
“I see both sides,” George said. “I’d like to see more data, first of all.”
He said he sees the benefits for drug users, but is concerned about neighborhood impacts.
The same goes for upzoning neighborhoods to increase housing development.
“I don’t think we should get rid of all single-family zoning throughout the city,” George said.
The city definitely needs more affordable housing, the District 7 candidate said. While government can create affordable housing more easily, philanthropies have more access to “no-strings-attached money to help people in the moment,” George said.
Solving issues like housing affordability and homelessness needs to be handled at a regional level, George said.
The Queen Anne Community Council is challenging an environmental review of a proposal by Councilmember Mike O’Brien that would allow for the creation of a mother-in-law and backyard cottage on a single-family lot or two mother-in-laws.
George said he supports the creation of more accessory dwelling units in Seattle, but neighborhoods need to be included in the discussion.
“Backyard cottages are a good way to create housing-within-reach for more people in Seattle,” George tells the Queen Anne News in a follow-up email. “With neighborhood input, regulations should be adjusted to make them more practical for people to build. In an increasingly expensive Seattle, we need more options for families, and backyard cottages are a good option.”
People want to stay in their neighborhoods, and also ensure their families can live there in the future, George said.
He said he’d like to see senior housing created in the struggling Magnolia Village, which would open up single-family homes in the neighborhood.
With affordable housing redevelopment plans proceeding on the Fort Lawton property near Discovery Park, George said he’s hearing from Magnolia residents that there is concern about a lack of neighborhood amenities to serve disadvantaged populations, which needs to be part of the conversation.
“I’m not willing to hedge on this one: We need more affordable housing,” George said. “I’m not saying where it should go.”
George has worked on all transit-oriented development projects in Seattle for the past decade, he said, and Sound Transit now requires 80 percent of its developable land to include affordable housing.
A Ballard Link light rail extension would run through downtown to South Lake Union, Seattle Center, Smith Cove and Ballard. However, the route through downtown and Seattle Center will be underground.
“If it’s suitable for housing, I think we should look at making it affordable in those situations,” George said of any transit-oriented development potential for the Ballard extension.
The District 7 candidate will not keep his job with Kidder Mathews if he wins the election, and tells Queen Anne News he is already removing himself from a number of projects to avoid any potential future conflicts.
George said he is not in favor of continuing to preserve the Showbox in its current location, which has been led by District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant. The property owner wants to sell the land the performance venue sits on to a private developer, who would raze the building for a 44-story luxury apartment tower. Roger Forbes is now suing the city for the $40 million he’s losing because the city downzoned the site by adding it into the Pike Place Market Historic District, effectively stopping him from selling the property to the Onni Group.
“I think we need to be practical, and I don’t see the city being able to win that one,” George said.
George clarified later that he would like to see the building possibly disassembled and reassembled on another lot that is less ideal for redevelopment, as he doesn't see the venue as being structurally sound enough to build around.
George supports a 1:1 replacement of the Magnolia Bridge, which is estimated to cost $340-$420 million, but said it’s premature to say how the project should be funded.
“It’s going to take more than local money is my answer,” he said.
The problem is that the city had not been saving up for the bridge’s eventual replacement, he said, just like it hasn’t kept reserves for renovating or replacing Seattle’s aging community centers.
“I think we need to spend a lot more time planning for the future,” George said. “Sometimes it feels like we’re making desperate choices because we’re having to plan now.”
When Bagshaw announced she would not seek re-election, she promised to make funding the Magnolia Bridge replacement a priority during her final year on the council.
Bagshaw also told Crosscut at that time that she’d spoken with a number of possible contenders for her seat, including George, who declined to comment at that time.
George said he sees areas where he aligns with Bagshaw and others where he differs, adding he’s not ready to announce his early endorsers.
“My goal is to think forward,” he said, “not try to re-create the existing council.”