Downtown Palo Alto voters boosted growth-friendly council candidates to victory

With surge of support from the north, Kniss, Tanaka and Fine overcome slow-growth sentiments in the south

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.

(See a map of the key precincts supporting the top candidates.)

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.


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27 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of University South
on Nov 16, 2016 at 11:05 am

It looks like the denser parts of Palo Alto voted for candidates that promised to allow more density - especially housing density - in their neighborhoods. From the voters I know in University South and Downtown North, that sounds right to me.

23 people like this
Posted by pacsailor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2016 at 11:37 am

People were complaining about traffic, parking and congestion, then they go and vote for council members who are for more development that cause traffic, parking and congestion. Well, they deserve what they voted for.

55 people like this
Posted by The data speaks
a resident of Monroe Park
on Nov 16, 2016 at 11:45 am

I'm thrilled.

Thrilled to see the Council turn toward thoughtful growth, infrastructure and transportation positive members. These past two years have been painful.

Thrilled to see the data supports what I believed to be true. With 76.5% of voters involved, the clear message is that the last two years of Council behavior is NOT what the majority of Palo Alto wants.

The vocal minority - the same folks who show up at Council meetings and spew their distaste for forward motion here on the forum are not representative of the City - and they cannot claim otherwise now.

I am so looking forward to progress here in Palo Alto now!! I hope we can quickly course-correct what the last Council squashed and get things back on track!

42 people like this
Posted by The data speaks
a resident of Monroe Park
on Nov 16, 2016 at 11:50 am

@pacsailor -

"People were complaining about traffic, parking and congestion, then they go and vote for council members who are for more development that cause traffic, parking and congestion. Well, they deserve what they voted for."

I think this is exactly the point of this article - The people that were complaining were clearly the minority. The majority of our city is not concerned about these topics in the same way you are. I respect your feelings about traffic, parking and congestion but I'd rather see us move forward and find thoughtful and productive solutions rather than turning back the clock. Your concerns are not representative and the facts support that clearly.

16 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 16, 2016 at 12:27 pm

"The people that were complaining were clearly the minority."

Another interpretation is that the people that were complaining are just the ones who've already been affected -- the canaries in the coal mine. As the number of such people increases, opinions will change. That's certainly been the case for me.

In addition, some voters may have been convinced that the unlimited-growth folks have moderated their positions. We'll see whether that turns out to be true.

19 people like this
Posted by South of Oregon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2016 at 12:49 pm

I'm fine as long as Kniss, Fine, and Tanaka put the growth they want in their own neighborhoods, and pay for the infrastructure needed, and don't keep letting all of the rest of covic needs fall by the wayside. It's easy for those in the north not to care about taxpayers paying to gut what was once a neighborhood retail center at Cal Ave. [Portion removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by Platform
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2016 at 1:27 pm

@The data speaks

Kniss, Fine & Tanaka's campaign platform was pretty moderate and they all promised to focus on improve traffic, parking and housing. Tanaka specifically said he supported the office cap and retaining the 50' height limit. Only if you assume the candidates were being dishonest about their campaign platforms would their election be a vote for fast growth.

18 people like this
Posted by "Growth-Friendly" Did Not Win
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2016 at 2:05 pm

It's not that voters are saying they want growth at all. Rather, none of the major candidates who won said they were truly pro-growth during the election.

Consider their statements on the office cap. The Weekly article at Web Link says Fine and Tanaka called it a "blunt instrument," but that hardly means they'd agree to build more offices when it is refined. McDougall said he'd only support offices that met sustainability requirements, which could mean only ones that don't impact traffic and parking or add to the job housing imbalance. That could well reduce office construction below current levels, not increase it. Tanaka had voted against major projects such as Maybell and 101 Lytton, hardly what you would expect from a growth-friendly candidate.

Voters hearing such messages no doubt felt all the leading candidates were extremely cautious about new growth. So there's no reason to think most voters actually supported major growth whatsoever.

Now that the votes are counted, some seem to want to change the story. The Weekly now says some candidates were actually "growth-friendly.” A comment above suggests that only a "vocal minority" want limited growth -- and certainly not the winning council candidates. What the article and comment imply was that we voters knew that some candidates were deceiving us and that our votes meant we supported their secret agendas for major growth.

By that way of thinking, not only will we be the victims of growth, but we even voted for it. It makes no sense.

Here's a completely different way to look at the election outcome: voters actually said they wanted only limited, cautious growth and all those who won will need to live up to that commitment.

18 people like this
Posted by Chaz Perrone
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 16, 2016 at 2:13 pm

The same people that don't see the connection between assault weapons and crime don't see the connection between uncontrolled growth and traffic congestion & school over-crowding.

Sad that only one pro-resident candidate won, and three pro-developer candidates won.

20 people like this
Posted by Midtowners
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Midtowners is a registered user.

Great! This map shows a clear mandate from the City's voters, and should make it far easier for Planning & Transportation and the Council to approve/not approve high-density housing projects going forward.

High-density projects are clearly supported in the north starting at College Terrace. So continue reviews as usual for all projects located in those neighborhoods, and it's an automatic turndown for the middle and southern neighborhoods.

No need to undertake costly consultants, studies, etc. The voters have made their wishes clear.

16 people like this
Posted by Theodore
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2016 at 11:42 pm

Traffic and parking are a problem. So, instead of letting workers live close to jobs, which may make public transit viable, the no- to slow-growth people want workers to commute longer distances, which will certainly make traffic and parking even worse.

I don’t like to fight, but this deep disagreement about possible impacts makes fighting inevitable.

24 people like this
Posted by Random
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 17, 2016 at 8:52 am

South Palo Alto is definitely a problem area. They have far too many people afraid of progress masquerading as concern for their quality of life. Until that changes, it will always be the neglected part of Palo Alto that looks like you are entering a time warp. Too many mid-century modern buildings which don't provide much in the way of services and goes dark after about 8 PM. Now that council can clearly see that there is a vocal minority, maybe it won't be so afraid to proceed with projects that are sensible instead of using stall tactics at the behest of people who frankly wouldn't accept any change as long as it affected them any. Maybe this will finally signal the end of Planning, ARB, and Council's paralysis.

8 people like this
Posted by Nate
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 17, 2016 at 12:12 pm

The specter of a Trump victory and Hillary's faltering campaign brought a tidal wave of desperate Hillary Democrats to the polls in Palo Alto. In a backlash against an impending Trump victory they voted establishment democrat, and they voted female, with little regard for local issues.

Like this comment
Posted by What PAF wants
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 17, 2016 at 3:19 pm

A "mixed use" office building at 611 Cowper with ONE residential unit just sold.
Is this what PAF is working for?

FOR RENT $32,000/MO 4th floor 611 Cowper ST PALO ALTO CA 94301
3 BR 3 Bath condominium
“Exquisite 4th-floor penthouse in downtown Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley! The talented Hayes Group architecture firm & The Wiseman Group Interior Design were teamed to accomplish this rare, recently completed mixed-use building...”

Web Link
Thank you Mr. Hayes. Hayes also designed the oversized glass thing across the street, under construction. [Portion removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by What PAF wants
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 17, 2016 at 3:50 pm

The owner and developer of oversized 611 Cowper is Stephen Reller, supporter of Greg Tanaka.

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

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