United council chooses Scharff, Kniss to lead Palo Alto in 2017

In its first meeting of the year, City Council unanimously elects Greg Scharff as mayor, Liz Kniss as vice mayor

Marking a changing of the guard at City Hall, the Palo Alto City Council bid farewell Tuesday night to three outgoing members, welcomed three newcomers and elected as its mayor and vice mayor two veterans who will need no orientation.

With a pair of unanimous of votes, Greg Scharff and Liz Kniss were chosen by their council peers to serve as the city's mayor and vice mayor, respectively, for 2017. Their election came minutes after Kniss, Lydia Kou, Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka took their oaths of office in a ceremony that brought an overflow crowd of more than 200 people to the Council Chambers.

For the council, the meeting also marked the end of an era, with outgoing Mayor Pat Burt and Councilman Greg Schmid making their final appearances behind the dais (Marc Berman, whose term also expired in 2016, was elected to the state Assembly in November). Each outgoing member received a resolution of appreciation from the council and a round of applause from the Chambers.

For Scharff and Kniss, the election to the council's top two spots was little more than a foregone conclusion. Each has served as mayor in the past and each stands to benefit from the political shift brought about in November, when the council majority tilted away from the slow-growth camp and toward those more amenable to new development. With both Scharff and Kniss actively campaigning in support of the candidates in the latter camp (Kniss, among them), it was very likely that they would have ample support for the council's leadership positions.

The city's loosely followed tradition of electing its vice mayor as the next year's mayor also made Scharff, who served as vice mayor in 2016, the favorite for the top spot. In electing Scharff, the council restored the custom that it had eschewed in each of the past two years. In 2015, then-Vice Mayor Kniss nominated Karen Holman (the top vote getter in 2014) to serve as mayor. In 2016, the council narrowly chose Burt over then-Vice Mayor Greg Schmid.

But while Scharff's election wasn't a surprise, the unanimity with which he was named mayor marked a departure from recent past. It was Councilman Eric Filseth, who is affiliated with the slow-growth wing of the council, who made the nomination, which sailed through with no dissent.

In nominating Scharff, Filseth called him "one of our most tenured and most experienced council members" and praised him for his "strong understanding of policy and city government." Councilman Tom DuBois, who is also affiliated with the slow-growth wing, predicted Scharff will "uphold the basic tenets of good government" and urged the new mayor to be fair to those who disagree with him.

"We generally are together on a lot of items, but we are a divided council on other items," DuBois said. "I expect you to be fair, transparent and respectful."

After the votes were cast, Scharff thanked his colleagues and pledged to work with all council members to address the city's challenges, which include completing the Comprehensive Plan update and moving ahead with at least one affordable-housing project.

"I hope we work together, frankly, to compromise, build consensus and continue to solve the challenges we face and the problems that will undoubtedly arise this year," said Scharff, who also served as mayor in 2013.

Kniss, a former two-time mayor who in November earned more votes than any of her 10 election opponents, was the only other council member on Tuesday to get a nomination for mayor. It was Holman who tried to return the favor from two years ago by nominating Kniss for the council's top position. She noted that Kniss is coming off a successful election and has the community behind her.

"I believe Liz has unique experience and influence in the community to gather members of the council together on the dais," Holman said.

But the nomination never came to a vote, with Kniss thanking Holman but then declining and proclaiming Scharff as the best choice. Minutes later, Councilman Cory Wolbach nominated Kniss to serve as vice mayor. Just like with Scharff's vote, there was no dissent.

"I think she brings a calm, steady, unified voice, an understanding of Palo Alto and institutional memory," Wolbach said.

Both Kniss and Scharff are among the council's longest serving members. Kniss served for two terms before joining the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, from where she termed out. She returned to the council in 2012 and was re-elected last November to her tenth term in elective office.

Scharff, a real estate attorney, joined the council in 2009 (same year as Holman) and was re-elected in 2014. He had previously served as mayor in 2013 and as vice mayor in 2012.

After being chosen as vice mayor, Kniss welcomed the three new council members and emphasized the need for all colleagues to work together and respect each other.

"The ability to disagree in public and go in the backroom and be agreeable with each other -- it's very important to do that," Kniss said.


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51 people like this
Posted by The Real Winners ...
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 3, 2017 at 8:24 pm

... are of course all the developers whose atrocious projects Scharff will now ensure get approved. Th Scharff legacy will be more traffic, more parking problems, more gridlock, less retail, more crowded parks and schools -- and some very happy, wealthy developers.

14 people like this
Posted by citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2017 at 1:08 am

The real winner ... Less than honest Election maneuvers and media who go along get along. The growther candidates are now described in a way that they decried in the elections. The reporter never blinked in moving right along to describing them in a way that they lambasted their opponents for describing them when they were running. Candidates need to consider that votes for them, especially given their campaigns, were not an endorsement of a growth mandate, no matter the reporter's obvious growth activism. They ignore this at peril of creating an even greater unrest.

That said, I am glad to hear the growth proposed as an affordable housing project. I would like the councilmembers to consider that Palo Alto may need to think about buying up retail areas so that it's possible for retail to survive here in the future and serve residents of this town. Prop 13 has long picked winners and losers, but even that honeymoon is over. [Portion removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2017 at 1:20 am

I would like to propose to other citizens not to allow the semantics to cloud the picture. Just as "pro life" was used in that debate, realize that the word "growth" generally means something positive and "slow" something negative. That's not really what they stand for, either. The local sides are really

Pro Quality of Life versus Anti Quality of Life

Pro Resident versus Pro Developer/Corporation or just plain Anti Resident

What does "slow growth" mean except to denote more of the same problems but just over a longer time period? That's not what candidates like Filseth are about. From now on I suggest Pro "Quality of Life" to describe them, or even just describe them as the candidates working for the residents versus candidates who just pretend to in order to win elections and continue ignoring the needs of the people who elected them.

3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 4, 2017 at 8:38 am

[Post removed.]

24 people like this
Posted by The Real Winners, really are...
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 4, 2017 at 9:39 am

...the majority of the Palo Alto public that now has a Council aligned with their goals and desires. The outcome of the recent election and these unanimous votes to place Mayor and Vice-Mayor are the direct reflection of what most of us wanted. Eric Filseth and Tom DuBois supporting the conversation shows how well we can work together. Let's focus on that in the New Year, rather than all the negativity so often prevalent on this forum.

16 people like this
Posted by PR display by Chamber
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 4, 2017 at 10:30 am

One of the happiest winners was the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. Kleinberg stood up at the front of the room for the entire pre-meeting period, wearing bright colors, laughing and congratulating Mark Berman and the other candidates endorsed by the Chamber.
There was no missing the PR self-promotion.

42 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 4, 2017 at 11:15 am

As one who is pro quality of life and is disturbed by the gridlock, Scharff and Kniss are the worst choices for council leadership (or even to be elected to council). Palo Alto will soon be like Manhattan, but without the subways.

43 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2017 at 11:22 am

Mama is a registered user.

Has anyone else noticed how wonderful our town has been over the past couple of weeks? Residents have been able to park downtown, enjoy a meal there, shop at the few retail outlets left to serve us. Monday we will be back to traffic gridlock, double parked delivery vans, construction blocking streets. Sad, sad, sad. And with this Council it is going to get a lot worse!

29 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Frankly, I agree that Scharff and Kniss will leave a legacy of an even more gridlocked Palo Alto. Can some please ask Scharff not to use "frankly" every third word?

6 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 4, 2017 at 1:57 pm

jh is a registered user.

As the mayor, along with the city manager, decides the agendas for and conducts council meetings, and because of the requirement that the agenda be made available to the public in advance of meetings, this keeps a tight lid on controlling what can be discussed at council meetings.

Both the new mayor, Greg Scharff, and vice mayor, Lis Kniss, have a long track record of and have been staunch supporters of commercial development in the past. Despite what they have claimed during their reelection campaigns, as those who pay attention to city issues will know. So it will be interesting to see what direction the new council majority will take takes during the next two years.

However, although their election of the new mayor and vice mayor might appear to represent a swing to pro-growth council leadership during the coming two years (assuming the council will return to the tradition of nominating the vice-mayor as mayor the following year), the spotlight is on the mayor who is controlling the agenda and what can be brought up during discussions. This makes the mayor more accountable to the public and harder to hide a hidden agenda.

As oppose to being a council member who may appear to take a popular position during a discuss, while then quietly ending up voting the opposite. Because they can usually count on their rhetoric and what they appear to stand for being quoted and remembered.

Like this comment
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 5, 2017 at 12:55 am

Congratulations Greg and Liz!

19 people like this
Posted by Eejits
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Eejits is a registered user.

When I read that Scharff is the new mayor, and thatKniss is still on the CC, I almost cried!

These two are by far the biggest traitors to the quality of life in Palo Alto-- talking out both sides of their mouths at once!

[Portion removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 5, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I find it difficult to square where we are as a City and Region vis-à-vis housing and transportation with being optimistic about former decision makers/leaders having another crack at the bat. At least the so-called slow growth advocates are not dedicated to approving more development and increasing the cumulative impacts of that development before some meaningful progress is made towards remedying existing problems. Single decisions are not necessarily determinative of an end result, but each contributes its bit to an outcome - and then we all live with the results. I hope the new Council functions with an awareness that certain decisions cannot be undone. If they do not, it is not far-fetched to think it will not be long before we wake up and ask WHAT HAVE WE DONE?

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