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FPPC: Filseth, Kniss no longer have conflicts of interest on grade separation

Mayor, city councilwoman allowed to weigh in on major infrastructure project

California's Fair Political Practices Commission has said that Mayor Eric Filseth and City Councilwoman Liz Kniss can now participate in decisions about grade-separation projects, from which they have previously abstained based on prior advice from the agency.

City Attorney Molly Stump sought advice on their potential conflict of interest from the state commission last year as the City Council discussed options for the redesign of four rail intersections in Palo Alto. The FPPC advised at the time that Filseth, then vice mayor, and Kniss, then mayor, did have conflicts of interest and couldn't participate in related decisions.

The City Council has since narrowed down the potential options for reconfiguring the railroad crossings. In May, the council voted to eliminate a proposal for a citywide underground tunnel and to consider building a tunnel in south Palo Alto. It has also decided to move the decision for Palo Alto Avenue, the northernmost rail crossing, into a separate downtown area planning process.

As such, the potential grade-separation project under consideration that is closest to Filseth's Downtown North home is now 1.5 miles away, and none are within 1,000 feet of a multifamily rental property that Kniss owns on Alma Street.

"It is not reasonably foreseeable," Fair Political Practices Commission General Counsel Dave Bainbridge wrote in a Sept. 12 letter, that rail-crossing decisions "would have a material financial effect" on their properties or financial interests.

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"Conflict-of-interest laws are there for a reason," Filseth wrote in an email to the Weekly. "I'm glad to be approved to participate on the three crossings I don't live near."

Kniss did not immediately return a request for comment.

Bainbridge noted in his letter that the FPPC is "not a finder of fact when rendering advice" and the advice is based on the information that the city provided to them.

The council aims to make a final decision on its preferred alternatives for grade separations this fall.

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FPPC: Filseth, Kniss no longer have conflicts of interest on grade separation

Mayor, city councilwoman allowed to weigh in on major infrastructure project

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 11, 2019, 9:14 am

California's Fair Political Practices Commission has said that Mayor Eric Filseth and City Councilwoman Liz Kniss can now participate in decisions about grade-separation projects, from which they have previously abstained based on prior advice from the agency.

City Attorney Molly Stump sought advice on their potential conflict of interest from the state commission last year as the City Council discussed options for the redesign of four rail intersections in Palo Alto. The FPPC advised at the time that Filseth, then vice mayor, and Kniss, then mayor, did have conflicts of interest and couldn't participate in related decisions.

The City Council has since narrowed down the potential options for reconfiguring the railroad crossings. In May, the council voted to eliminate a proposal for a citywide underground tunnel and to consider building a tunnel in south Palo Alto. It has also decided to move the decision for Palo Alto Avenue, the northernmost rail crossing, into a separate downtown area planning process.

As such, the potential grade-separation project under consideration that is closest to Filseth's Downtown North home is now 1.5 miles away, and none are within 1,000 feet of a multifamily rental property that Kniss owns on Alma Street.

"It is not reasonably foreseeable," Fair Political Practices Commission General Counsel Dave Bainbridge wrote in a Sept. 12 letter, that rail-crossing decisions "would have a material financial effect" on their properties or financial interests.

"Conflict-of-interest laws are there for a reason," Filseth wrote in an email to the Weekly. "I'm glad to be approved to participate on the three crossings I don't live near."

Kniss did not immediately return a request for comment.

Bainbridge noted in his letter that the FPPC is "not a finder of fact when rendering advice" and the advice is based on the information that the city provided to them.

The council aims to make a final decision on its preferred alternatives for grade separations this fall.

Comments

City Council Observer
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 11, 2019 at 12:24 pm
City Council Observer, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 11, 2019 at 12:24 pm
34 people like this

Why is it that the FPPC can render decisions multiple times on this issue in far less time than they are taking to reach some conclusion re the Kniss campaign financing misdeeds? Something fishy about the lack of any movement on the latter.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 11, 2019 at 2:06 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 11, 2019 at 2:06 pm
19 people like this

How wonderful to have someone who doesn't believe we have traffic problems making decisions that impact, er, traffic flow.


Gus L.
Barron Park
on Oct 11, 2019 at 4:33 pm
Gus L., Barron Park
on Oct 11, 2019 at 4:33 pm
Like this comment


Says WHO?? Filseth, Kniss??
Yeah, Right..


Morris
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2019 at 10:17 pm
Morris, Old Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2019 at 10:17 pm
Like this comment

"consider building a tunnel in south Palo Alto."

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, how does the owner of the rail infrastructure feel about having its tracks, trains and stations placed underground through Palo Alto? Has there been any outreach to JPB to see if they approve of the concept in principle? No other peninsula city is contemplating a trench or tunnel. Burlingame gave up on the idea.

Go ahead and dream your pipe dreams only to risk having them scuttled if they don't meet with the approval of JPB. Besides a high water table, there is no natural drainage in the area. One of the first things JPB will consider is the risk of a Palo Alto tunnel/trench becoming impassable due to flooding. The city has a frankly poor record of keeping Oregon expwy. dry.


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