Liz Kniss

(bio submitted by candidate)

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General questions:

1)   Our identity: What kind of city should Palo Alto be in coming decades?

a)    A quiet suburb: great place to have young kids and a great place to retire.  Not a jobs center. Example: Los Altos

b)    A mid-sized university town: innovative and accommodating to a wide range of ages and socio-economic backgrounds.  Significant job center. Example: Boulder, CO

c)    A major job/ university center: major regional economic center, competing with neighboring cities for jobs.  Major expansion of our downtown area.  Example: Austin, TX

         Please select the above model that most closely matches your vision for the future, and please expound with any nuance.

The model in the middle (b) is closely aligned with my perception of what our city is today and where  I’d like to see it heading the future. Palo Alto is unique.  We have is a tremendous quality of life that offers a small town feeling and friendly neighborhoods in the midst of the vibrancy of living in the epicenter of new ideas and innovation. Innovation surrounds us, it’s in our DNA. In the coming decades we need to focus on developing a sustainable infrastructure that continues to attract top companies as well as maintaining an enjoyable quality of life for existing residents, while opening up living opportunities to a range of ages and socio-economic backgrounds.


2)   Jobs: Housing imbalance: Palo Alto has the highest jobs: housing imbalance in the country.  There have been different reactions and policy proposals from public officials and the public. Some common themes are

a)    The jobs: housing imbalance is not a problem; this is a natural occurrence in certain job centers, and should not influence policy

b)    The jobs: housing imbalance is a problem; our first and most significant priority should be limiting office growth and taking other measures to restrict job growth

c)    The jobs: housing imbalance is a problem; our first and most significant priority should be devising policies to incentivize the construction of more housing

Do you agree with one of the above statements more than others? What are your main policy proposals to address this issue?

 I think there needs to be combination of restricting office growth and constructing more housing. Until we can devise and provide additional living space(s), we need to pause and assess Palo Alto’s daytime population.   A general assumption is that there 120 – 140,000 people during the day.  Many of those who commute would like to live here.

I would like to see new housing proposed that is aimed at the younger Palo Alto workers, and proposed for those older residents who want to downsize and yet stay in the city.  There is a great demand for the downtown and Cal Ave areas where public transportation is available and shops and services are in walking distance. 

How should we incentivize? Through zoning changes, I believe. 


3)    How to handle growth: On May 30, 2015, Palo Alto held its “Our Palo Alto summit” to solicit input into our comprehensive plan.  Attendees were asked to respond to the following question:

Three possible approaches to growth management are:

a)    a cap on overall growth;

b)    metering the pace of growth; or

c)    requiring the future growth offset adverse effects, such as increased traffic and parking demand.

         [Which should be adopted by the city?]


My closest choice is (c)  but none of these is an exact answer. I generally support requiring offsets to a building project.  For example, in approving the “Olive Garden” project, we had a number of requirements added, including adding a BMR unit and requiring a TDM and more bike storage.  (This was a 40K sq ft building, with 5K of office space, and 5K of retail.  The remainder in  housing units.)

However, in some situations, metering the pace of growth, meaning that we know the number of workers, where growth is taking place and so forth, is of value. We are ‘metered’ at 50K square footage per year for office growth in the downtown area at present. 



Specific questions:

1)    Housing Element: The City submitted a housing element identifying 2,000 housing units for the next seven years in response to state law.


  • If elected, will you support this Housing Element update or one with similar or more units in different locations?


○    What can we do to ensure that these units actually get constructed?

I support the City Housing Element that identifies sites appropriate for the development of housing. Which housing is actually developed depends on the market and financing from the federal and state government; the city can assist through zoning incentives and some relatively minimal funding.


4) Transportation Management Association/ Transportation Demand Management: Palo Alto has formed a TMA, aimed at helping Palo Alto achieve its goal of reducing single occupancy vehicle traffic by 30% to relieve traffic and parking demand.

  • There are a range of viewpoints in the community about the importance and viability of a TMA.  Where do you stand?

○    Is it a critical tool that should receive a high level of support and attention?

○    Is it an interesting experiment (among many other interesting experiments; not critical, but worth trying)?

○    Is it an unrealistic approach for a community such as ours (for any reason)?

○    Anything else?


I believe that it is a critical tool and has been successfully used in other locations. One of my colleagues and I found this being used in the East Bay 3 years ago and brought the idea back to our CC.  It was a colleagues memo in 2013 to study the possibility. We believe it is close to being a reality for downtown PA.  Both the Stanford Research Park and Stanford U use a form of the TDM program.


  • There have been many sources of funds proposed for the TMA, including development fees, parking fees for commuters and downtown visitors, and employer taxes.  Do you have a viewpoint on what the major source of funding should be, and why?


Funding should be a combination of city funding, business funding and possible grant funding. This program is going to benefit everyone who lives in the city and helps to control our traffic congestion.


5) Caltrain: What do you think should be done about the “at-grade crossings” where Caltrain crosses streets? Which of the following best encapsulates your view:

  • The tracks need to be trenched, to maintain the aesthetic value of Palo Alto
  • We should evaluate all practical design options, considering a variety of issues including appearance, maintaining street connections, avoiding taking property, and cost
  • Palo Alto should consider “value capture”, using funds from new buildings near the corridor to pay for grade separation and station improvements, and should consider the amount of development it would take to pay for the designs we want
  • Palo Alto should not be responsible for Caltrain improvements. We should fight against more frequent service until Caltrain pays to trench the train.
  • No significant changes need to be made to Caltrain


The tracks need to be trenched, to maintain the aesthetic value of Palo Alto. While it may seem this is the most costly, I think this is the most desirable outcome for providing grade separations.  There will need to be a vigorous search for funding sources.


6) Bike infrastructure: please select the choices that are closest to your view:

  • We should focus on creating infrastructure for bicycles: strongly agree
  • We have overly constrained car throughput in places in favor of bicycles: neutral
  • We should slow car traffic to create safer streets for bicycles & pedestrians: neutral (agree depending on street)
  • Our focus on Safe Routes to School should be: increased
  • Our focus on safe routes to work: increased
  • Palo Alto needs more bicycle parking racks: strongly agree
  • Palo Alto needs more bicycle boulevards: neutral
  • Palo Alto needs protected bike lanes: strongly agree
  • Palo Alto should connect our bicycle infrastructure to neighboring communities: strongly agree


Lightning round (short answers only):

Palo Alto Forward submitted a petition calling upon City Council to strongly support some specific housing initiatives.  It has been signed by over 1000 community members (including 8 former mayors).  Choose the answer that best represents your position (and add brief explanation-- 50 words or fewer--  if needed)


1. Encourage construction of more studio apartments and other naturally affordable smaller units.

Strongly Support/ Support, but not strongly/ Not important/ Oppose

2. Encourage buildings composed of apartments and condos over ground-floor retail. Current policy requires developers to build office space into any new four-story building in a commercial district.

Strongly Support/ Support, but not strongly/ Not important/ Oppose

3. Make it easier for homeowners to build second units on their property, especially to accommodate multiple-generation households and caretakers.

Strongly Support/ Support, but not strongly/ Not important/ Oppose

4. Allow car-light and car-free housing in walkable, transit-accessible areas for residents who are able to not own a car.

Strongly Support/ Support, but not strongly/ Not important/ Oppose

5. Facilitate the development of new senior housing, including alternative models such as co-housing, home sharing, and mixed-use senior communities with retail and services.

Strongly Support/ Support, but not strongly/ Not important/ Opposeoverall




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