Interview with George Knott

In Buzz, City Council, July/August 2019 by Jane Porter1 Comment

Share this Post

The City Council has proposed putting an affordable housing bond on the ballot next year. Do you support the bond and do you think that’s enough to address Raleigh’s affordable housing problem?

Yes and no. It’s one of our greatest shortfalls. Although a bond is what you do when you have a onetime project that requires capital, the way our city is working and runs now, we absolutely need to do that. But a better answer would be, let’s not make affordable housing a bond issue. Let’s roll it into the budget and fund it every single budget year and we should have been doing that for the last 20 years. A bond is what you do when you want to fix a greenway. There are things we pass bonds on, school bonds. School bonds should just be something that’s taken care of. The things the city ends up paying money for, I wish the city had passed bonds on them. The problem with affordable housing here is…all the other candidates talk about it and talk about homelessness and transportation. It’s like they’re going back three steps to talk about a problem but they are not going back to what’s causing it at all. Which is our city subsidizes big companies to move downtown and they create jobs. They’re not hiring people who live here, like Red Hat or Citrix. They don’t hire me. They bring in talent and those people want to live downtown and what happens is everybody else gets pushed out. People that have traditionally lived downtown get completely scattered. Downtown for the last 80 years has been the place where working people lived. And for the first time in American history, there are more poor and near poor—poor is zero to the poverty line, near poor is poverty line to twice the poverty line—first time in U.S. history there are more poor and near poor people living in the suburbs. The problem with that is density. Working people who live downtown can walk to a bus station, if they’re hard on their luck they can walk to a soup kitchen, there are social services downtown. Everything is downtown for people who need help and the people who are living downtown are the people who don’t need help. And that drives me absolutely insane. What would I do for affordable housing? For one thing, all these condos that are going up, I would absolutely say the developers have to integrate affordable housing. That’s not sexy, it’s not fun, the developers certainly don’t want to do it. But if we said you have to put 20 percent in or you can’t build it, they’d still build it, the money is still there for them. They might not make $80 million, they might make $72 million. But the money’s still there and if they pass on it because we forced their hand to put affordable housing inside their projects, if they pass, another developer will come by and take it up. I wish the City Council would just stand up for the people of Raleigh who are here. That would be my first step, to actually make affordable housing downtown, roll it into the permits. Maybe the most important thing is to figure out how to make a law that binds the developers to it. Because right now, all they have to do is wait until a City Council comes along that is more favorable to business. I understand how this city works and if I am elected Mayor and I said I want to make it so developers have to do it, without a City Council that’s onboard, I would get nowhere.

Raleigh’s Human Relations Commission recently recommended the city set up a police oversight board with investigative and subpoena powers. Raleigh’s Police Chief has stated she is not in favor of such a board. Does Raleigh need a board for police oversight?

I believe that probably every police officer in Raleigh is a good person. They’re professionals, they wake up in the morning and put their pants on one leg at a time. They want to do the best. It gets thrown around that they need more training. Well, your average Raleigh police officer has 80 hours of training a year. That’s two weeks of training for every year they work. That is a lot of training. So people throw around platitudes like they need more training but don’t actually address what sort of….the training [that they say officers need], they’ve already got it. I don’t think police officers are inherently bad or inherently monsters. The Raleigh PACT (Police Accountability Community Taskforce), they got big news because they went in and they shouted down a City Council meeting. And they should have! There are people who are frustrated, people who are hurt, there are people in that group who have had their lives shattered through having someone that they love incarcerated or murdered. They deserve answers, absolutely. The problem with it all that I see is that humanity is inherently—we’re not an animal that appreciates equality. Like the Jews in Israel, the caste system in India, in America it’s white people and people of color…you just can’t get away from it. I don’t want to say that the police are racist. But the mechanism that drives racism—when you have a group of people who are in power and they want to maintain power and are able to oppress people that they put below them—it’s a trickle down thing. It only goes one way. The problem is you can have an entire police force of, it doesn’t matter if they’re white or black police officers, it doesn’t matter if they have done all the racial training in the world, it’s not a white-black thing. It’s a police-citizen thing. It’s the exact same mechanism. The police are in power, they hold it over the poor people. And the problem is until we figure out how to get around that, no police accountability board will ever work. There is no way until we get to the root of the problem. I don’t know what the answer is. Every city in America has been trying to figure this out. As far as I know, nobody has made it work. It’s an enormous problem, it has so many moving parts and I think if anybody thinks they’ve got the answer, they’re either delusional or they’re lying. I know I certainly don’t have the answer and I also know that a mayor can’t fix it. That being said, the least we can do is give the citizens more transparency and accountability. If that is a police oversight commission with subpoena power, that might be a first step.

John Kane has proposed building a 40 story tower in the Peace Street area downtown. If elected Mayor, would you support the rezoning for that proposal as is, or try to negotiate for inclusion of affordable hosing units?

People have pegged me as an anti-development candidate. I’m not anti-development. I wish Raleigh would grow organically. When I said the city subsidizes companies to come in, I think we’re growing way too fast. Raleigh is a small town. And that makes people mad when they hear me say it but downtown Raleigh is six blocks by six blocks. Most of the streets are two-lane. We’re not built for this kind of density. I want to say I am not an enemy of John Kane. John Kane is a developer and it is his job to build. That’s what he does. Being mad at John Kane for wanting to put a 40 story tower up is like being mad at a fox for eating a chicken. It’s his nature. Do I think we need a 40 story tower? The way Raleigh is growing, we need to do something but the bigger issue is we have grown too big and far too fast. I also think that Peace Street and Capital Boulevard are way too small to handle the traffic that would be coming in and out of that tower. I’ve heard it said that they are going to run a bus line right by it. Well, the people who are going to buy million dollar condos in a brand new 40 story high-rise, they’re going to have a car, they’re not going to ride a bus. So there is a very real over-exertion of the infrastructure on the street all by itself. I’m not even talking about sewer or water. I think it’s a bad idea. I also think it’s a bad idea because I believe we are in an enormous [real estate] bubble. And if it pops, it’s going to be really messy downtown. Like all these high-rises three quarters empty? Whoa, could you imagine. There’s two ways Raleigh will end up. We’re on a path, we can’t get off, we can’t back up. Raleigh’s either going to become San Francisco or Raleigh’s going to become Detroit. And if we’re really unlucky, Raleigh’s going to become San Francisco and then we’re going to become Detroit. But for people like me, it doesn’t matter, because I’m getting squeezed out no matter what.

Does Raleigh have enough density and do we currently have the infrastructure to support more?

I don’t think we do. In 1997, Falls Lake went really dry. We have a hundred thousand more people now. There’s only so much water that’s ever going to come down the Neuse River into Falls Lake and there is nothing a mayor or city manager can do about that. That’s 100 percent an Army Corps of Engineers issue. And they don’t care about whether we have water or not, their goal is to make sure our river systems are healthy. They’re not going to pump in water from some other river so we can water our lawns. That’s my No. 1 biggest concern. We have an amazing infrastructure for a town that’s half our size. 

CACs (neighborhood meetings) have traditionally been ways for citizens to engage with decisions that will go before the City Council. Do you support CACs or do you think, with a lot of these conversations happening online these days, that CACs have outlasted their usefulness?

There’s something that’s definitely very quaint about citizens going in front of their councilperson or a councilperson going in front of their constituents. People online are horrible but if they make an effort to show up then I think that does have some weight. And of course, all elected officials are beholden to the people who elected them. Even if, like in Raleigh, it’s an amazingly small percentage of the registered voters who elect them. I did the math and if I wanted to win last time, I would have had to get something like 13,000 votes. It was pathetically low. Of course last time we had an incumbent. This time, it’s the Wild West. I don’t know if the city could be doing a better job of engaging citizens. I mean, their council meetings are open, you can go sign up and speak to them. I have definitely got CAC signs all over my neighborhood. I’ve never [gone to one] because I get mad every time I read the News and Observer. And that’s not what you need at a meeting. But I support CACs.

Are the current members of the City Council putting forward a strong enough vision for Raleigh’s growth?

They’re putting forward the wrong vision for Raleigh’s growth. I’m a proponent of organic growth, I’m not a proponent of artificially driven growth. We pay millions of dollars for economic development and we give tax credits where companies don’t pay taxes for years at a time. The ramifications of that are absolutely killing our city. 

Are the city managers and staff doing a good job implementing the Council’s vision as stated and running the day to day operations of the city?

My father was a a civil servant. He worked for the Division of School Planning for 30 years, where, if you’re going to design a public school in Murphy and then you’re going to make one in Manteo, you’re not going to use the same blueprints because they’re different soils, they’re different topographies. You hire a local architect but then the plans come to Raleigh and my dad’s job was to check the blueprints against code. Like water fountains have to be a certain height in elementary school and a certain height in high school. You can’t have K-5 in a two story building because little kids can’t do stairs in case of an emergency. If you’ve ever been to a K-5 restroom…they make little bitty toilets but you can’t put them in there, you have to have full size toilets because the kids have full size toilets at home. So you have to honor the parents’ training them on a full size toilet. Otherwise the kids would go to the bathroom at school and they wouldn’t use the toilets at home. These are all nuts and bolts things but so my father worked for the Division of School Planning for 30 years and came in at the bottom and when he retired, he was the head of his department. That meant he was the one who went across Jones Street to the state legislature and gave presentations. He was the go-between. And I have so much respect for the professionals, the staff and city manger, they’re professionals. And politicians are at best amateurs and at worst, politicians. To watch my father, who was a professional, go and give his professional opinion, and then his frustration at what he was getting back…I have the utmost respect for professionals, and that includes the staff of the city and the city planners. 

Recently, the Council passed a suite of rules regulating Airbnb and electric scooters. Do you support the rules or feel they are too strict?

With Airbnbs, you should be able to rent out a room in your house 365 days a year if you want. I wish we could get moving on the granny flat issue. I wish it were done today and if that were done, I think you should be able to rent out a granny flat on Airbnb 365 days a year. I don’t think you should be able to rent out an entire house on Airbnb. You can go to some cities, like San Diego, and the first quarter mile back from the beach is nothing but houses and condos that nobody lives in, they’re all Airbnbs. That hurts Raleigh’s housing market because there are fewer units available for people to live in and it increases the housing costs. 

With electric scooters, everybody touts them as a last mile option. They’re not. Electric scooters are toys for people who can afford smart phones, they’re not handicap accessible, they’re not child accessible, so let’s just call them what they are: they’re a fun and very annoying toy. But they are not an option for last mile transport. And I know why the people in the city like to call it that. Because it relieves them of having to figure out actual last mile transport. But the people who need last mile transport are people who actually need it; they’re handicapped, elderly, people with children. A scooter is not going to help them. I’m also ticked off that they just showed up and figured they’d ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I don’t like them. I wish they would go.

Last Word

My first rule is no money. I’m what you call an impossible candidate. It would be such a long shot for me to win that I don’t think it’s ethical for me to ask for money to spend on yard signs or commercials or print ads when there’s hungry kids in Raleigh, when there’s homeless people, when we have such a need for help. It would be unethical for me to take that money from people who would want me to win knowing that. Rule two is no false hope. I want to get rid of scooters, I want to get rid of the roundabouts, I don’t like McMansions. That’s not giving anybody false hope. If you start saying I’m going to forgive your college student loan debt, well the mayor can’t do that, the governor can’t do that. Probably the government can’t do that but that is pandering and it would get a lot of people really excited. So no false hope, I’m not going to promise to help anybody who actually needs help. Although, I’m running because I want to help people who need help but I’m not going to promise it. The third thing I said is no mud slinging because as an impossible candidate, I have nowhere, such a small amount to fall, where everybody else has a long way to fall. So I don’t like any of the candidates, I have my reasons, but I’m not going to discuss it. I think that’s kind of classy. Except where I say I don’t like any of them, but it’s all of them….This will be Raleigh’s first million dollar mayoral election. Everybody who is running so far has a website with a platform on it. I would encourage everyone to look at all the candidates and please vote. If you don’t like me, that’s fine. But I want more than 7 percent voter turnout. That’s part of the reason I’m running. Because it is important.

Share this Post

Leave a Comment