After a decade-long hiatus, Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss launched her quest to return to Palo Alto politics Monday when she announced that she will be running for the City Council this year.
Though she won't be running as an incumbent, Kniss won't have to worry about name recognition or steep learning curves. A veteran of both the school board and the City Council, she served as Palo Alto mayor twice, in 1994 and in 2000, and already has three successful council elections under her belt.
"I'm excited to announce this and very pleased at the possibility of serving in Palo Alto again," Kniss said in an email announcing her candidacy. "I have missed the local contacts and connections that exist in our city politics."
Kniss told the Weekly that she decided to run for council about three days ago. She said she was weighing a run for state Senate, where another former Palo Alto Mayor Joe Simitian will reach his term limit this year. But she ultimately decided that she doesn't want to move to Sacramento.
"Palo Alto is far more, frankly, interesting," Kniss said, adding that she feels she can make a greater difference on the local level than in the Capitol.
Though her latest term on the council ended in 2000, Kniss has been a familiar presence at City Hall, routinely attending council meetings to recognize community volunteers, welcome new mayors and thank outgoing elected leaders for their service. Her visits have gone beyond the ceremonial. A Caltrain board member, she hosted a meeting in Palo Alto last year to update city officials and community members about Caltrain's financial state and its electrification plans.
Her resume also includes memberships on the board of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Joint Venture Silicon Valley, the Association of Bay Area Governments, and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. She has twice served as president of the Board of Supervisors, most recently in 2010, and serves on boards of the both the state and national organization of county supervisors.
Kniss was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2000. She was re-elected in 2004 and 2008.
She has chaired health and land-use committees on the Board of Supervisors and, in August, was reappointed to chair the Health Steering Committee at the National Association of Counties. She also chairs the Health and Human Services Policy Committee at the California State Association of Counties.
With her announcement, Kniss became the first person to enter the council race. Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Councilmen Pat Burt, Sid Espinosa and Greg Schmid are all concluding their first terms on the council this year and none have indicated thus far whether they plan to run for reelection.
The council race will be one of many issues voters will be asked to decide on in November. In addition to voting for United States president, Palo Alto residents will also consider whether Palo Alto should allow marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in the city. They may also be asked to approve a bond to pay for a new public-safety building and for major renovations to two local fire stations.
If elected, Kniss would be the second sitting council member to have two framed photos of her hanging in the Council Chambers (Larry Klein, a three-time mayor, also holds that distinction).
Kniss was also a leading driver behind 2010's Measure E, a ballot measure that moved the city's local elections from odd years to even years. The change, which voters approved by a two-to-one margin, was pitched as a move to both save the city about $200,000 every two years and to increase the number of voters (because local elections, after the change, coincide with state and national elections).
"Voters are much more engaged, especially in a presidential year, and the buzz of running is always a bigger buzz," she told the council in June 2010.
Kniss said that if elected she would emphasize three areas: infrastructure, including a "Health and Wellness" element in the Comprehensive Plan (the city's land-use bible), and sustainability.
"An over-worked word, but a message we need to continually push for in this very aware and responsible community," Kniss said of "sustainability."