News

Kniss to run for fresh term on Palo Alto City Council

Veteran lawmaker set to be sole incumbent on November ticket

Palo Alto Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a two-time mayor whose political resume includes stints on the city's school board, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the City Council, is gearing up for another political race.

Kniss announced Tuesday that she will seek for another term on the council in November, becoming the second candidate to enter the race for four contested seats. With Councilman Marc Berman now engaged in a race for the state Assembly, Kniss is poised to be the only incumbent who will appear on the ballot for the council.

Known as a moderate on land-use issues, the political veteran has often found herself on the opposite side of the debate from the council's slow-growth "residentialist" wing. At the same time, she has supported the council's cap on new office developments in Palo Alto's main commercial areas and, surprising some, voted earlier this year against a new Mercedes dealership that was planned for the Palo Alto Baylands.

But if there is one attribute that sets her apart from everyone else on the council it's her years of experience on regional and state boards. She is the only Palo Alto council member who has served on the boards of both Caltrain and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, two agencies on which Palo Alto has traditionally had a hard time winning representation. She also currently vice chair of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and, if things go as planned, she would become chair next year.

But as Kniss learned after 2012, when she won her fourth election to the council, things in politics often don't go as planned. With anti-growth sentiment gaining momentum and the 2013 referendum over a housing development on Maybell Avenue shaking up the the city's political scene, Kniss found herself increasingly on the defensive in the city's ongoing debate over new development.

Her changing role became particularly evident in January 2015, when then-Vice Mayor Kniss saw her path to a third term as mayor suddenly obstructed by the new political reality. Sensing that the city's long-held tradition of having vice mayors serve as mayors the following year was in jeopardy, Kniss took the initiative and nominated Karen Holman to the mayor's spot. Citing the "difficult election" and the divisions in the community, Kniss argued that Holman was the right candidate to bring the community together. The council unanimously supported the nomination.

Despite her support for Holman as mayor, Kniss has tended to align herself with members of the council who aren't as staunchly anti-growth as the residentialist wing. In June 2015, she voted to approve a mixed-use development proposed for 441 Page Mill Road, which advanced by a 5-4 vote (the four slow-growth members voted against it). And on May 23, she also joined the council majority in approving by a 5-4 vote a block-long mixed-use project at 2515 El Camino Real, best known as the longtime site of the Olive Garden restaurant.

On the council, Kniss has been guided more by political pragmatism than ideology. In January, she was part of the 5-4 majority that elected Pat Burt as mayor and Greg Scharff as vice mayor, opposing the slow-growth candidate for mayor.

Nor is she reliably pro-growth. Last month, she joined most of the residentialists (with the exception of Tom DuBois) in 50-foot-tall Mercedes dealership that was proposed for Embarcadero Road, near the Baylands. She has supported the annual cap on new office space that the council imposed last year for downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real. And while she initially voted in May 2015 against a citizen appeal of a proposed new development at 429 University Ave. (the appeal advanced by a 5-4 vote, with the four slow-growth council members and Burt supporting it), last fall she joined her colleagues in demanding a fresh round of public hearings on this development.

Even so, Kniss has faced criticism by residents eager to further clamp down on new development. The group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, which was formed after the Maybell referendum and which supports residentialist candidates, in 2014 rated council members based on "pro-resident" votes. While Holman and Greg Schmid each earned 85 percent, Kniss received just 38 percent.

In some ways, Kniss serves as a counterpoint to Lydia Kou, a Barron Park resident who declared her candidacy last Friday. Kou's campaign is endorsed by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning and by the council's most slow-growth members DuBois, Filseth, Holman and Schmid, while Kniss' enjoys the backing of Burt and council members Marc Berman, Scharff and Cory Wolbach.

In discussing her decision to enter the race, Kniss pointed to her regional experience as a key qualification. In addition to the region's transportation agencies, she is the president of the Peninsula Division at the California League of Cities and a board member at Santa Clara County Family Health Plan.

"I have experience over a period of years in different government bodies," Kniss told the Weekly. "I have good contacts and a long history of constituent service."

Kniss has already amassed a list of big-name endorsers, including U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, state Sen. Jerry Hill and current school board members Melissa Baten Caswell, Heidi Emberling, Terry Godfrey and Camille Townsend. Even so, because of the recent resurgence of slow-growth sentiment in the community, the November election battle may prove to be more challenging for her than the one in 2012, when she received more votes than anyone else in the six-person field.

On this point, Kniss has no illusions. She told the Weekly she expects development – and its impacts – to be the most important issue in the coming election and in the next council term. She expects that the council will continue to grapple with traffic, parking and aesthetics.

She emphasized the need to have strong zoning laws and good guidelines for approving new development and rejected the notion of forbidding code-compliant projects just because the council doesn't like some of their features.

"I think decisions should be made based on sound planning parameters, with objectivity rather than subjectivity," Kniss said.

She also acknowledged that there has been a "sense of loss" in the community, with many local merchants and longtime residents being driven out of Palo Alto by high rents. She stresses the need for more housing, particularly housing tailored to seniors, low-income residents and young professionals. She told the Weekly that areas on which she'd like to focus on in a new term include sustainability, livability and viability, which to her connotes a sense of excitement people experience when they come to downtown Palo Alto.

"I like the sense of fun, the people in the street, the different languages being spoken -- it's a real sense of place," Kniss said.

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Comments

62 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2016 at 7:11 am

I don't know how these labels "slow growth" versus "fast growth" developed. In my observation, Kou reoresents smart, big picture governance and Kniss stupid, reactionary governance too deferent to developers. I have been impressed at Kou's insightful understanding of issues, and shocked by Kniss's kneejerk snobbishness. [Portion removed.] I voted for Kniss when I hadn't spent any time at City Hall watching her personally. Never again.

The sense of loss Kniss expresses about downtown when she had such a major hand in the changes that produced that loss is why I will not be voting for Kniss ever again.


78 people like this
Posted by NotSoFreshFeeling
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 20, 2016 at 7:19 am

Nothing "Fresh" about this candidate running for what is it? Her 13th term on council? It's time for new faces with new ideas. Kniss has had her chances to shape Palo Alto and has been responsible for periods of unbridled growth.

Now she's concerned about impacts that are arising? Why wasn't she concerned when she voted to approve these projects? She appears to have no positions other trading votes to be in the winning side.

It's time for a change. She's served the city, had her opportunities. Let's not get more of the same.


67 people like this
Posted by Not for Kniss
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2016 at 7:42 am

Sorry to see Kniss has decided to run again. As a 50 plus year resident who may have to move because of the noise from PAO and SFO arrivals, I hold Liz Kniss responsible for voting to give the FAA Responsibility for running , what was once a small, regional airport. It is now a BOONDOGGLE!!There was no citizen outreach, no noise studies, no discussion of leaded fuel over our families, no real understanding of the TERRIBLE noise impacts for Palo Altans. Now the FAA has control over every single small plane to 737's over Palo Alto. It is not just a coincidence that 200 plus jets flyover us everyday as well as put putters destroying our quality of life. San Jose took care of its citizens, Liz caved to aAtherton plane owners and the SERF Air wealthy passengers. Running on this kind of record should not generate much support.


38 people like this
Posted by Spare Us
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 20, 2016 at 8:32 am

[Post removed.]


70 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 20, 2016 at 9:48 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Kniss has been the most aggressive Palo Alto politician as far pushing for a massive urbanization and development of a small town into a mid-size city. She is the person most responsible for the great deterioration in our quality of life. As far as downtown is concerned, she used to use the word 'vibrancy', now replaced with 'viability'. Actually, before her big push to make downtown into something more resembling a large city downtown, with all the urban blight that comes with it, downtown did have the sense of excitement she is talking about, with people of many ethnic backgrounds and nationalities, be it Stanford student or Valley workers, experiencing what downtown had to offer, and it had more to offer in culture, live music, inexpensive good restaurants and safety. She just helped ruin a good thing, and she isn't done yet, apparently.


66 people like this
Posted by Carol Bael
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2016 at 10:25 am

Carol Bael is a registered user.

Glad to see I am not the only one completely UNDERwhelmed by Liz.

Years ago, I was part of a wonderful grassroots non-profit effort (which ultimately prevailed to great success), and our team was told to reach out to Liz since she had some experiences with healthcare. Not only was she completely uninterested, but was not gracious to any of us in the least. She was so unpleasant that we never reached out to her again...for anything. She typifies what I dislike so much about "career politicians" and I cannot wait until I no longer see her on Palo Alto's council.

In my view, only one "career politician" around here has served us remarkably well over the decades and that person is Joe Simitian.


57 people like this
Posted by Translation
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 20, 2016 at 10:33 am

"Despite her support for Holman as mayor, Kniss has tended to align herself with members of the council who aren't as staunchly anti-growth as the residentialist wing."
Liz Kniss has consistently aligned herself with the pro-development faction of the CC.


26 people like this
Posted by Amanda Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2016 at 10:47 am

Kniss has certainly voted in favor of new developments in the past. However, I don't think it's black and white; it's inaccurate to say that she is pro-development or a residentialist. Liz Kniss looks at each project objectively and looks at the terms and enforceable regulations that have been set forth by the developer. I think she tries to heed the advice of the planning staff while trying to retain the community's character. She has extensive experience with Caltrain, the VTA, and BAAQMD, which is extremely important to Palo Alto's identity and the issues surrounding the jobs to housing imbalance, mobility, and sustainability. Moving forward, if re-elected, I'd like to see a bit more focus on the cumulative impacts of the development but I do think it is a big hasty to lump someone into a category based on a few votes since she has opposed many developments in her time on council as well. Best wishes Councilwoman Kniss.


37 people like this
Posted by Go Liz
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

Liz is one of our most thoughtful and talented Council members. We are very lucky to have her and her regional contacts. She is very gracious and is always willing to take the time to listen to my concerns. She is well balanced and thoughtful. Looking forward to fully supporting her this election season


33 people like this
Posted by Longtime resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 20, 2016 at 11:27 am

I've known Liz for many years and found her reasonable, caring, and passionate about Palo Alto. Her many years of knowledge as a Councilmember and County Supervisor are an ASSET, not a weakness. I'm glad she knows who's who, knows how to get things done, and remembers past policies and initiatives. I plan to vote for her.


21 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 20, 2016 at 11:38 am

Want my vote ... then make sure CineArts Palo Alto Square Theater stays open.


60 people like this
Posted by no way
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2016 at 12:17 pm

This City is in drastic decline. We are up to our necks in this mess. We need to elect people who are angry at what has happened to this City, understand what is being lost in terms of the
character and qualities and what it is becoming
and what needs to be done including reining in a
staff which is out of control and redirecting it
as we redefine government purpose away from the free market chaos,lax control that defines Palo Alto today. Does this sound like Liz Kniss?


29 people like this
Posted by GO LIZ !
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2016 at 12:18 pm

GO LIZ ! is a registered user.

I am incredibly pleased to see Liz Kniss seeking to serve our community another term. Her experience on the council, across many boards and in the community is an invaluable asset to the community.

I have personally attended city council meetings and have seen Kniss in action-- I have been impressed by her decision making and in depth insight across several subject matters.

Additionally, I agree with a previous comment on this thread that mentions the complexity of the political arena and community life and that is that things are not black and white. Kniss approaches projects objectively and weighs in all variables. I fully intend to support Kniss for re-election.


1 person likes this
Posted by JEAN
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 20, 2016 at 12:22 pm

[Post removed.]


53 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 20, 2016 at 12:22 pm

I had previously suggested that Joe Simitian ride off into the sunset. Now I am suggesting that Liz Kniss join him. Enough of both!


70 people like this
Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 20, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Liz Kniss needs to go. She is for massive growth and development. Further she doesn't really pay attention to how to run an efficient city. She just agrees with whatever the staff wants and never represents the residents who elected her. If we want to save Palo Alto we need to elect candidates who want to drastically slow the development that is destroying the city and not buy into the fantasy theories that massive towers filled with people will not overcrowd resources and diminish quality of life. Liz is in the urban growth camp and wants to Manhattanize this city. This coming election most of the candidates will be claiming that they represent residents but the reality is that many of them, like Cory in the last election, will [portion removed] really be representing developers and pro-growth entities. Become informed and don't just vote for the "pretty face."


38 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 20, 2016 at 1:10 pm

[Portion removed.] She is definitely pro-growth but just saw the writing in the wall recently and looked out for her self interest by voting against a few things.


31 people like this
Posted by No Liz No!
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2016 at 1:11 pm

No Liz No! is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


28 people like this
Posted by John Kelley
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2016 at 2:02 pm

John Kelley is a registered user.

Thank goodness for Liz!

Everyone in Palo Alto should be thankful that former Mayor Liz Kniss is seeking re-election!

No one has served Palo Alto more ably or with greater distinction than Liz. Her exceptional experience - on the City Council, on the Board of Supervisors, and on numerous regional and state boards - sets her far apart from all other candidates.

In addition, Liz's willingness to listen to and to represent wisely everyone in our community as a true moderate makes her a compelling choice in the November election.

We should all be most grateful that Liz remains willing to serve Palo Alto.


21 people like this
Posted by John Kelley
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2016 at 2:02 pm

John Kelley is a registered user.

Thank goodness for Liz!

Everyone in Palo Alto should be thankful that former Mayor Liz Kniss is seeking re-election!

No one has served Palo Alto more ably or with greater distinction than Liz. Her exceptional experience - on the City Council, on the Board of Supervisors, and on numerous regional and state boards - sets her far apart from all other candidates.

In addition, Liz's willingness to listen to and to represent wisely everyone in our community as a true moderate makes her a compelling choice in the November election.

We should all be most grateful that Liz remains willing to serve Palo Alto.


24 people like this
Posted by digitalmama
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 20, 2016 at 2:22 pm

digitalmama is a registered user.

I'm very happy to see Kniss is willing to continue service to our unique and wonderful community. She has such breadth of experience in all aspects of government, understands the landscape, and votes according to the merit of issue, not along ideological lines. It's refreshing to have someone who isn't going to go lock-step on a STOP GROWTH platform or allow every development that comes along to get built. She has a measured, thoughtful approach and in these highly partisan times (happening on the national arena AND yes, even in our local government), it's good to have someone who has tremendous depth of experience and knowledge and can work with "both" sides to broker a consensus.
Hooray for Liz, we're lucky to have her.


32 people like this
Posted by Not Again
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2016 at 3:17 pm

Not Again is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


25 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

No one has served Palo Alto more ably or with greater distinction than Liz, except for 80% of the councilmembers I have observed in decades past. To be fair, Kniss has ably served the agents of overdevelopment, and they have been very good to Kniss.


47 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 20, 2016 at 4:22 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

"No-one has served Palo Alto with more distinction and dedication than Liz Kniss". Seriously? Are we talking about the same Liz Kniss? Because the one I'm aware of, has obediently served the agents of massive urbanization, voting once in a while against certain projects in order not be labeled by her avid supporters as what she really is, a point woman for massive overdevelopment.


49 people like this
Posted by Time to Go, Liz
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Time to Go, Liz is a registered user.

Liz Kniss needs to stay out of Palo Alto politics. She has little clue about the residents, or what their wants and needs are-- nor does she seem to care. Thus, she cannot and obviously has not been able to represent them fairly or adequately.

Liz Kniss' vision of Palo Alto's future is an ugly, over populated office park, void of charm or culture or personality. Her vision is not our vision.

Time for Liz Kniss to bow out gracefully, before she is voted out overwhelmingly.


43 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2016 at 5:52 pm

Marie is a registered user.

After reviewing her votes on the town council, I will not vote for here again. She has been a major disappointment. Until recently, as an election looms, there was no development she didn't like including the massive towers Stanford wanted to build near the railroad station.

I look forward to hearing Liz Kniss's opinion about allowing Palo Alto Square to rezone the cinemas for a different use, probably office space. I have little hope she will oppose it. The council caved and allowed them to close the YMCA gym and repurpose it although I don't remember if she was on the council for that debacle.

I hope that the Council stands firm and does not allow Palo Alto Square to rezone the theatres as anything but theatres. The theatres were a community benefit allowing them to exceed some zoning or other. Let them leave it empty for the next 50 years if that is what their agreement is worth.

The theatres are profitable if the rent is low enough. It can never compete with office space which is why it is a community benefit.


17 people like this
Posted by GO LIZ!!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2016 at 9:35 pm

GO LIZ!! is a registered user.

I am truly looking forward to see former Mayor of Palo Alto, Liz Kniss to be re-elected for city council. I have personally attended many city council meetings and I must say Liz is by far the most experienced and talented council member that I have met. She is very poised, and thoughtful, she takes time to listen to everyones concerns before coming to a conclusion.

We all should be lucky to have such a valuable asset as Liz to be serving the City of Palo Alto!

Truly looking forward to fully supporting her this election season!!


39 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 21, 2016 at 6:02 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Liz Kniss has contributed more than another Palo Alto politician to the transformation of Palo Alto from a unique, highly livable town into an over populated, overdevelopment, depressing, hyper priced office park, basically, another Century City.


30 people like this
Posted by No More Years
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2016 at 1:16 pm

No More Years is a registered user.

No CC member or mayor has done more damage to Palo Alto than Liz Kniss. She has always been pro-developer, and her voting record proves it.

I believe her husband is a developer as well; yet I don't remember her ever recusing herself when she stood to gain financially from her ( and her husband's) investments in some of these developments. That smacks of dishonesty!

It is time for Liz Kniss to bow out gracefully. There should be a limit to how many terms a CC member can serve, and she has had too much influence for far too long.

Please don't run for office any more, Liz. Just enjoy your well-endowed ( financially) retirement.


24 people like this
Posted by MargaretJ
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 22, 2016 at 1:35 pm

MargaretJ is a registered user.

Kniss is definitely your candidate if you love all the horrid new glass and steel urban hell monstrosities that have come here recently...go Liz


13 people like this
Posted by Big Question
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2016 at 12:27 pm

Big Question is a registered user.

Is there any way that Liz Kniss can be disqualified from even running for city council again?

She has already maxed out her terms as mayor-- hasn't she maxed out her terms on the city council?

Also, she seems to have some conflicts of interest, particularly regarding her investments in some of the construction projects, past, present, and possibly future, in Palo Alto.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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