San Jose Planning Commissioner George Casey, who views himself as an independent moderate, is jumping into the District 10 City Council race.
Casey, 52, is the third candidate to enter the South San Jose race in an effort to unseat incumbent Arjun Batra, who plans to run next year. The others vying for the job are former broadcast journalist turned communications director for Mountain View Lenka Wright and a former legislative and policy aide for Batra, Nooran Bayzaie.
The District 10 seat became vacant after voters elected Matt Mahan as mayor in November 2022. The city council voted to fill it by appointment. Casey was a finalist, but councilmembers appointed Batra in January. District 10 covers the Santa Teresa and Almaden areas in South San Jose.
Casey’s family moved to San Jose when he was 7 years old, where three generations of his family still live. Growing up a Black man in Almaden and Blossom Hill valleys, Casey said he was the first of his family to feel safe and accepted in their own community.
“I want my kids, nieces and nephews, if I’m lucky enough to win, to see that as people of color we have a place here, we have a voice here, we can do something. We have a responsibility, just like everybody else, to get involved,” Casey told San José Spotlight. “I hate to say it, but this isn’t the same San Jose I grew up in.”
Blight, homelessness and crime now plague San Jose, Casey said. He believes housing is the remedy to many of San Jose’s issues, and wants to provide incentives such as down payment assistance or rent-to-own policies to police officers and city staffers so they can live where they work.
Casey said, if elected, his priorities will be public safety and homelessness. He said his professional and academic experience as a lawyer with a background in real estate make him best suited to represent South San Jose. Casey has two master’s degrees: one in urban planning from San Jose State University and another in real estate development from University of California, Berkeley.
“We need to find some sort of rental program where the cost of living isn’t so overbearing where they won’t even consider coming and taking a job here,” Casey said. “Every one of our districts should be contributing to some sort of housing for these folks … we have the economic and political resources, we’re (just) not all rowing in the same direction.”
Casey served on former San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones’ staff in 2017. Jones said Casey would be a strong and capable councilmember.
“His thought process, the way he thinks about all sides of an issue, (he) tries to approach things from a very moderate standpoint,” Jones told San José Spotlight. “He’s willing to compromise. He’s not ideological. It’s how to make things better for the residents of the city.”
Casey said Mahan is in a tough position to tackle homelessness, which relies on state and federal funding. Mahan attempted to steer money away from affordable housing into interim housing as a homelessness solution, but it was met with resistance from his council colleagues.
“I think the logic behind his program (is) trying to find money anywhere he can … I don’t envy him in the predicament he finds himself in,” Casey said. “(But) I think there’s so much money out here investment-wise, that would be attracted to San Jose, if we did a better job of creating a more investor-friendly scenario here.”
An investor-friendly San Jose means stabilizing staffing to get the city running like a well-oiled machine, Casey said. From his three years of experience as a planning commissioner, Casey said turnover and understaffing in the city’s planning department is leading to project delays.
“If we’re understaffed, we’re going to underdeliver,” Casey said. “Same holds true for an investor that wants to come in and start a business or develop a property—if we’re understaffed and under-resourced for basic city services, they’re going to go on to the next place.”
The son of a Black Republican from the Jim Crow South and a Persian-Armenian immigrant and Democrat, Casey wants to toss aside party politics and the local labor versus business landscape to get things done on the dais.
“I sat at the dinner table and listened to mom and dad go at it all day long,” Casey said. “I’m used to living in between and bringing folks together … Homelessness and crime, I don’t know that party affiliation is an important factor. Common sense, results-driven perspective is what’s needed.”
Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on Twitter.