For Palo Alto City Councilwoman Liz Kniss, Election Day was a tale of two races, with starkly different outcomes.
As a veteran Democrat with a passion for getting women involved in politics, Kniss was horrified about Donald J. Trump's triumph over Hillary Clinton. During an election party at the Garden Court Hotel, she made no secret of her anxieties about the future of the U.S. Supreme Court and America at large.
Yet as a local candidate heading into her tenth and final term in elected office, Kniss also had plenty of reasons to rejoice. She won by a decisive margin, receiving 3,000 more votes than city planning commissioner Greg Tanaka, who finished second. Also, Tanaka and planning commissioner Adrian Fine, who campaigned with her, also secured seats, thus ensuring that she will have plenty of allies in her final four years on the council. The trio are now poised to join their political compatriots Cory Wolbach and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff to form a slim majority over council members favoring slower growth: Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth, Karen Holman and the newly elected Lydia Kou.
Kniss, in retaining her seat on the nine-member council, may have benefited from high voter turnout, with many people heading to the polls to cast their ballots for the Democrat on top of the ticket (it probably didn't hurt that Kniss, Tanaka and Fine were all endorsed by the California Democratic Party). Countywide, 76.5 of voters turned out for the election, up from 50.2 percent in 2014 but slightly below the 79.9 percent who voted in 2012. Just like in the 2012, a healthy plurality of those who cast their ballots last week chose Kniss.
Analysis of the votes by precinct indicates that residents' support for Kniss was emphatic and geographically dispersed, in some places leading the pack by more than 100 votes. In the Crescent Park neighborhood in north Palo Alto, she racked up 612 votes (the next closest was Tanaka, with 434); and in the downtown precinct that encompasses parts of University South and Downtown North, she received 580 votes (Tanaka trailed her with 475).
In a Midtown precinct around Cowper Street and El Carmelo Avenue, she received 580 votes (Fine was second, with 444).
Remarkably, Kniss finished first in 37 of the city's 42 precincts (and second in the other five; this does not include two mail-only precincts with only a handful of voters). She even garnered the most votes around Juana Briones Elementary School in Barron Park, a precinct that otherwise leaned heavily toward leading slow-growth candidates, Kou and former planning commissioner Arthur Keller. In the south Palo Alto neighborhood of Greenmeadow, Kniss received 604 votes, while Fine and Tanaka finished with 445 and 400, respectively.
For other candidates, Nov. 8 proved far more suspenseful, with the early results showing a tight race for the second, third and fourth seats. Tanaka, who is now completing his seventh and final year on the Planning and Transportation Commission, maintained his hold on second place throughout election night and, as of this past Tuesday, had 12,649 votes, trailing only Kniss' 15,934.
How did he finish second? With a lot of help from his neighbors. The College Terrace precinct, where Tanaka lives, gave him a strong boost, with 502 residents voting for him (Kniss finished second with 477). Fine, who like Tanaka lives in College Terrace, also received a big lift on his home turf, picking up 472 votes there. By contrast, Kou and Keller received 270 and 278 votes, respectively, in this precinct.
Both Tanaka and Fine did moderately well throughout Midtown and in some precincts in south Palo Alto. In the Midtown precinct around Colorado Avenue and Louis Road, both candidates received 486 votes, though Kniss was far ahead with 610 votes. Tanaka also did extremely well in the Midtown precinct between Waverley and Alma Street, where he picked up 342 votes -- 35 behind Kniss but 52 more than Fine, who finished third.
Tanaka's and Fine's strongest support, however, came from downtown, Old Palo Alto and other neighborhoods north of Oregon Expressway. Tanaka picked up 475 votes in the Downtown North/University South precinct, far ahead of Keller and Kou, who received 320 and 332 votes there, respectively. Similarly, Tanaka received 446 votes from Community Center residents who live northeast of Embarcadero and Middlefield roads, trailing only Kniss in this district (Keller and Kou were each more than 100 votes behind him).
In other areas, particularly around downtown, Fine outperformed Tanaka, solidifying his hold on third place. In the area around Castilleja School, by Bryant Street and Embarcadero, for example, Fine received 445 votes, trailing only Kniss' 590. He also finished second to Kniss in the Downtown North precinct surrounding Waverley, where he picked up 471 votes (Keller and Kou finished with 338 and 328 here, respectively).
North Palo Alto, with few exceptions, clearly favored the candidates who support moderate growth and who advocate for more housing. South Palo Alto showed a deeper ideological split. In Kou's neighborhood of Barron Park ground zero for the "residentialist" uprising of 2013 both Kou and Keller did remarkably well, with Kou receiving the most votes and Keller finishing third (Kniss finished second here). In the Barron Park precinct around Fire Station #5, on Arastradero Road, Kou and Keller received 354 and 293 votes, respectively, significantly more than any of their opponents. Kou led the pack at the precinct that votes at Barron Park Elementary School and finished second to Kniss at the precinct that votes at Juana Briones school.
Kou also received more votes than anyone else in the precincts around Fire Station #2, on Page Mill Road and Hanover Street.
The two slow-growth candidates also received enthusiastic support from other south Palo Alto precincts, including Palo Verde and Adobe Meadow/Meadow Park, Keller's home base. There, Keller led the entire pack, with 376 votes, while Kou received 350 and Kniss got 343 (the other candidates received fewer than 300.
Keller finished third or fourth in dozens of precincts. But with Kniss, Tanaka and Fine enjoying overwhelming leads in north Palo Alto and with Kou outperforming him in most of the precincts south of Oregon, he ended up in fifth place. After Election Day, he trailed Kou for fourth place by about 800 votes; the gap widened to 1,371 votes by Tuesday morning, with Keller garnering 10,418.
For the other six candidates, early results proved definitive, with each of them trailing Keller by a significant margin. Don McDougall, a member of the Library Advisory Commission who campaigned with Kniss, Fine and Tanaka, finished in distant sixth with 7,175 votes. He did particularly well in several downtown precincts, outperforming Kou at the Downtown North/University South precinct, and edging out Keller at the Palo Alto Friends Meeting House precinct. But in nearly every precinct, he finished behind the three growth-friendly candidates who campaigned with him and, in most cases, behind the two who led the opposing camp.
Greer Stone, who chairs the Human Relations Commission, and Stewart Carl, who helped co-found the airplane-noise group Sky Posse, received 6,988 and 4,535 votes, respectively. Both had campaigned with Kou and Keller and received endorsements from Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a citizens group that favors limited-development policies. Stone did moderately well in several precincts, including one that combines parts of Professorville and Old Palo Alto, and another in the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, though these successes weren't nearly enough to make up for the widespread support enjoyed by Kniss, Fine and Tanaka and for the pockets of enthusiasm that boosted Kou and Keller.
The three candidates who didn't align with either four-person group finished in the back of the pack. Danielle Martell received 2,521 votes; John Karl Fredrich got 2,272 and Leonard Ely III had 2,172 as of Tuesday.