Castilleja School seeks Palo Alto's approval for underground parking garage | News | Palo Alto Online |


Castilleja School seeks Palo Alto's approval for underground parking garage

School offers solution for traffic, parking impact

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Castilleja School has a new solution to a years-long battle over increasing enrollment — and thus traffic in the surrounding residential neighborhood: build an underground parking garage.

Independent all-girls school Castilleja sent a letter to the City of Palo Alto on Friday, Jan. 30, to request its support for the proposal, which will begin with the school embarking on a master planning process — possibly rethinking the layout of the Bryant Street campus — and conducting a feasibility analysis for the construction of an underground parking garage. After these processes and further engagement with the community over the plan, Castilleja plans to apply for a new Conditional Use Permit (CUP) from the city.

The city required the middle and high school to submit plans for a new CUP after finding in October 2013 that Castilleja had exceeded its city-imposed enrollment cap for 12 consecutive years. The city ordered the school to reduce the number of students it admits, pay a $300,000 fine and cut back on the car traffic it generates.

Castilleja has come under fire for many years for what neighbors described as a traffic nightmare that descends during morning pick-up and afternoon drop-off hours. Months before the city's notice of findings, the school had sought the city's blessing to gradually increase enrollment from 445 students to 515. Criticism from neighbors and a letter from city planners lead to the school backing off from that plan.

Since then, the school has hosted several neighborhood meetings, facilitated by a conflict-resolution professional, to gather feedback and ideas for specific changes the school could implement to reduce its traffic impact. Consensus emerged, the school said, around several changes, including an underground parking garage and a master-planning process designed to include input and collaboration from neighbors, the city and other Castilleja stakeholders. Other suggestions include relocation of a delivery loading dock, improved parking and circulation around campus, additional parking and traffic-impact reduction measures and evaluation metrics and an evaluation of the current campus layout.

"We have multiple interests going on here," Head of School Nanci Kauffman told the Weekly. "We're a school that wants to provide the best education we can for the students; we also want to meet the growing demand on the Peninsula for places in schools; we want to have the best program that we can have, which we believe is a good-sized high school; and we want to make sure that we don't negatively impact our neighbors."

Alan Cooper, who's lived across the street from the school for 30 years and was one of a small subset of neighbors that two Castilleja board members and the professional facilitator has met with, said neighbors support the garage as one piece of the solution.

"The proposal for the underground parking is one of the alternatives that neighbors desire and is part of the neighbor's list to reduce the impact of parked cars on the surrounding neighborhood," Cooper wrote in an email. "So, there is support for this underground parking garage, if it is large enough to handle the additional cars and significantly decrease the street parking."

Neighbors also proposed an alternative to achieve the same goal, he said: off-site dedicated parking.

Kauffman noted that the school began in the fall of 2013 several transportation-management efforts that have continued and expanded. The school operates a morning shuttle that serves an average of 40 to 60 students from Woodside and Los Altos, and has added parking spaces on campus and dedicated staff members to monitoring school traffic in the morning and throughout the day.

There is also now a shuttle that picks up staff and students who take Caltrain into Palo Alto. New internal polices encourage employees to reduce personal car trips by 20 percent through the use of public transit, walking, biking or carpooling instead of driving at least one day a week.

In the 2013-14 school year, with 448 students enrolled, the school reduced peak trips by 18 percent to a number lower than the peak trips experienced when 385 students were enrolled, according to the school.

A transportation survey conducted in April 2014 indicated that 32 percent of students walk, bike, shuttle or take transit to school compared to 25 percent of employees who do so. Ten percent of employees carpool, and after the new internal incentives, employees who drive to school were averaging four days a week with another form of transit one day per week.

This year, enrollment was cut to 444 students. Next year, that will be reduced by an additional six students, Kauffman said.

The master-planning process is expected to take several months and will conclude with the creation of a formal plan and CUP application that will be submitted to the city in mid-2015, the school said.

"Despite the school's past CUP violation, the willingness our neighbors have shown to allow us to take steps to regain their trust through consistent improvements and transparent communication is much appreciated and critical to our long-term success," Kauffman wrote in an email sent to neighbors on Friday, Jan. 30. "As we look ahead to the future, I am confident that together we can address the impact that population growth has, and will continue to have, on our streets and on our local public and private schools."

Cooper said though there is a "wide range of opinions within the neighborhood regarding the future impact of Castilleja on the neighborhood, based on prior experience and current actions," he's optimistic that the school is moving in a more "constructive direction."

"I personally am optimistic that the school governing bodies will work with neighbors on a fair and honest basis going forward," he said.

Related content:

Castilleja vows to reduce enrollment

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


7 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Creative proposals are a good thing. Parking doesn't solve traffic, though. Perhaps this will help.
I would like to inquire whether pumping of groundwater will be necessary there. I reside in an area where a basement is forbidden (I am told) and yet there are a few exceptions one sees - curious. We are in a drought, and I am lectured to let my valuable landscaping die while others pump out groundwater from basements or fill their swimming pools. I suggest prioritizing saving attractive and valuable landscaping over huge water usage that comes from re-filling and maintaining pools and pumping/throwing away groundwater.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2015 at 2:46 pm

@anonymous - No one is using the groundwater, so pumping it isn't wasting it. It is just moving it from under a property out to the bay.

3 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2015 at 3:43 pm

I seem to recall posters saying they were neighbors of people pumping and subsidence was an issue or lack of water to the roots of he neighbor's street trees or etc.

15 people like this
Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2015 at 7:06 pm

As a long time resident of the area around Castilleja (back to when it was a boarding school) we were very dismayed when the school ran roughshod over its neighbors, blithely ignoring the enrollment cap set by the city. No one denies it is a great institution, doing terrific work, but how many people can be crammed onto a single block, which rests in the middle of a residential neighborhood? The school wants to keep growing, adding kids (who drive) plus staff, as well as the crowds who come to sports events, evening lectures and so on, while it has virtually no onsite parking and no lanes for drop-off and pick-ups. It is like happily granting your neighbor a permit to add a guesthouse, and finding out they installed a 24 hour high-rise hotel instead. We are thrilled to see this administration seems committed working with the neighbors to find workable solutions, so the school can meet their needs and restore some peace to the surrounding area.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2015 at 10:32 pm

@anonymous - Never trust nothing a poster says in these forums.

12 people like this
Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 3, 2015 at 7:54 am

Years of construction hell are in that neighborhood's future. I feel for you.

13 people like this
Posted by Fredrick
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 3, 2015 at 8:31 am

They should consider satellite parking and have a shuttle bring the students to campus. Or, they can move out of the neighborhood and find a bigger location. Businesses are encroaching on residential neighborhoods more and more these days and it is really affecting the quality of life for residents. The new "AltSchool" is opening up in Downtown on Emerson and plans to move into a really small space right next door to residents. If this school becomes successful and grows it's going to be a big problem for the residents on that block.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 3, 2015 at 8:51 am

If it was legal to pump groundwater, wouldn't we all be using it to irrigate our property?

18 people like this
Posted by Just say NO.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 11:14 am

If they build more free parking, it will encourage more auto trips--on Paly and Jordan school commute routes. Just say no to this request.

The city is asking local businesses to start a TMA. Castilleja should be invited to join or create shuttle and carpool systems of their own to reduce the auto impacts so additional parking won't be necessary. Why should wealthy private school parents be allowed to pamper their precious darlings in this way when local public school kids are being asked to bike, walk to school on that route? Increased Castilleja car trips would endanger PAUSD school commuters who walk and bike to school on these routes.

Just say no. Castilleja squandered a lot of good will in the community with their previous disregard of enrollment cap agreements with the city and neighbors in their CUP. Don't make it worse. Respect the school routes and our environment. Find a way to reduce car trips to your site, as PAUSD schools do.

4 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2015 at 11:25 am

Annette is a registered user.

Neal makes a good point about construction. It would be helpful, I think, if there were some sort of construction queue so that no one area is under "construction siege" due to multiple big projects underway simultaneously. I also think water availability needs to factor into all planning. I understand why developers and others want to expand and build but I question if doing so is truly viable or responsible given this state's water situation. We cannot meet water needs now; what's the plan if the situation worsens?

10 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2015 at 11:54 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Pumping ground water leads to collapsed aquifers. These never recover.

Collapse leads to settling. Settling leads to structure damage.

Established Trees use ground water.

There may come a time where we need every drop of water. Find some other way.

15 people like this
Posted by jm
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2015 at 12:45 pm

If Castilleja wants to expand then it is time for them to find a new school site. It is shocking to find out that Castilleja has routinely ignored their use permit for years. And what kind of example is this to their students? Money can do what it wants? I also think it is outrageous that Castilleja should be allowed to to have events during non-school hours that further disrupt neighbors' lives. I remember when Castilleja was primarily a boarding school in a residential neighborhood with minimal traffic and parking impacts.

I have no connection to the school nor know anyone who is impacted.

2 people like this
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 3, 2015 at 12:50 pm

We used to have a well and pumped group water to irrigate our yard. (One pays a water tax when one has a well.) After several years, we had our water tested at the County Extension and found that it was so hard (high mineral content) that the country recommended against watering plants with it.

Like this comment
Posted by judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 3, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Oops! That was GROUND water, not group water.

18 people like this
Posted by SJ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2015 at 5:41 pm

Let's leave the schools alone and focus on more important matters....PAUSD has experienced enrollment increases and has many, many schools in Palo Alto residential neighborhoods. What is different about Castilleja? No one complains about PAUSD enrollment increases (increased traffic, parking, noise, etc.) because there is no forum to complain - by law, PAUSD is exempt a requirement to seek any sort of approvals for its increased enrollment counts from the City of Palo Alto. There is increasing population in the US, California, the Bay Area and Palo Alto - no one is going limit population growth in Palo Alto and no one is going to turn the clock backwards to the time when all of Palo Alto was a sleepy and less populated town surrounded by open fields. Look at downtown Palo Alto, look at Town and Country, look at virtually all traffic arterials (101, University Avenue, Page Mill, El Camino, Middlefield Road, etc.). Virtually all areas in Palo Alto are FAR different (in terms of population, use and intensity of development) than they were decades ago. Bowling alleys, movie theaters, arcades, marinas, empty lots have become the victims of increased real estate development. There are no other sites in Palo Alto or any other adjacent community for virtually any entity (including schools and non-profits) to run to thanks (currently) to the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, Stanford, other tech start-ups, VC firms, etc. If Castilleja were to move away, it would likely just be replaced by an even denser development (closer to the curbs, denser, taller and with no open space). Virtually all new single family development is far denser than it was decades ago. For quality of life issues in Palo Alto, we would be better off focusing on limiting future office building development, constructing more parking for downtown Palo Alto and California Avenue, working to synchronize traffic lights, encourage more shuttle/bicycle use, etc.

2 people like this
Posted by Parking Disruption
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2015 at 6:52 pm

Residents living near churches are about to undergo more traffic disruption.
The Presbyterian church at the corner of Cowper Street and Lincoln has just announced that they are renting out their parking lot to a local business. The church parking lot is becoming a company parking lot. People attending church events will no longer be able to park in the church parking lot. They will be forced to park in the neighborhood. I feel sorry for the neighbors surrounding that church. I wouldn't be surprised if other churches in PA begin renting out their parking lots, too. Is this how developers are getting around having to provide parking in their new, ugly, monster sized, underparked developments?

7 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2015 at 7:13 pm

The obvious difference between Casti and most PAUSD schools is that the PAUSD schools have parking lots for the students, faculty/staff and visitors. Whereas, Casti admittedly does not have anywhere close to what it needs for parking.

The other obvious difference is that Casti had a CUP and purposely violated the enrollment cap.

Sure the neighbors should know that they are moving in next to a school. But they moved in under circumstances that guaranteed a cap on enrollment. Casti exceeded the cap.

As for the complaints that any remedy penalizes the Casti students ... that's bunk. Casti admin is responsible for any penalty as they are the ones that screwed up. That's like blaming the motorcycle cop for your speeding ticket.

7 people like this
Posted by pa parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2015 at 7:33 pm

It would seem that the additional parking is to deal with existing parking issues, not expanded enrollment. Ohlone Elementary has about 20 parking spaces and 600 kids and counting. Paly does not have enough lockers for students. Some students don't get a locker! Living near a PAUSD school is SO SO SO much more congested than Castilleja. Have you seen the line of 50+ cars lines up to pick up kids at local elementary schools that are WAY over capacity. We are all in this together.

5 people like this
Posted by Shoulda, woulda
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2015 at 8:19 pm

Casti should have thought of this when they decided to violate their contract with the city and admit too many students.

6 people like this
Posted by Cyclist
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 4, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Since 2013 the school has started a shuttle service, makes daily efforts to manage its traffic and parking impact, and paid a $300,000 fine (compared to the builder who destroyed the historic Eichler complex and paid only a $95k fine). The improvements are noticeable and the neighborhood has had no fresh complaints come to light. Now they want to make a big investment in a hidden parking structure to further contain their parking impact and keep cars within their grounds. At least hear them out before quashing their idea.

1 person likes this
Posted by jm
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2015 at 10:52 am

"Sure the neighbors should know they are moving in next to a school."

For many neighbors they were moving in next to a boarding school with some day students. You can't shift blame to them because they knew when they moved in what the situation is.

Time for Castilleja to find a new school site that provides for their needs now they are a day school with long term wish to expand their student enrollment.

5 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2015 at 11:26 am

All business entities (retail, office, public schools, private schools, universities, laboratories, etc.) evolve over time and Castilleja is no different. One shouldn't expect that any of these entities will remain static (i.e. remain a boarding school, etc.) over decades of time. Buildings have a functional life span of 40-80 years and no entity ever replaces a building like-for-like. Why is Paly building a new Performing Arts theatre when they already have one? Why is Apple building a new headquarters when Cupertino is filled with existing office buildings? Why did Stanford replace its football stadium? All of these entities must evolve or they will fall into irrelevancy. For neighbors that live near non-residential uses (including schools), the expectation should be that change will happen over time. Neighbors should embrace successful neighbors - it is better than living next to a declining property. Even residential properties get upgraded over time and the longer a property goes without upgrading just means that the severity of the upgrade when it does happen will be far greater than if done more often along the way. This is just the way real estate works.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 5, 2015 at 12:36 pm

You misinterpret my point - I'm putting Casti in the position of fixing the problem, not the neighbors. But to be fair - Casti stopped being a boarding school decades ago.

13 people like this
Posted by mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Castilleja school is not zoned as a business, it is zoned as four different residential addresses that were permitted under the terms of the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to operate a school on those combined residential properties. The current location was never and is currently not zoned as a school. They are just one of the neighbors on a large lot. They have not been a good neighbor for over a decade, but have improved as of late. Castilleja can continue function as a school on a residentially zoned 6 acre lot as long as they adhere to the CUP.

6 people like this
Posted by Nearby Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2015 at 7:16 am

No more groundwater pumping until the governor says the drought is over!
There are lots of beautiful old trees and homes nearby.

1 person likes this
Posted by jm
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2015 at 10:28 pm

I'm old! When I moved here my house was 12,000 dollars. I still pay $250 property tax a year. I was promised this town would stay sleepy and bucolic. Instead the whole dang city's turned into a madhouse. I blame the girls at this school for all my problems because even as a boy I was afraid of girls. So beguiling yet all-knowing! Where's my glasses?

6 people like this
Posted by La-Dee-Da
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2015 at 6:48 pm

I will believe this underground parking thing when I see it. Castilleja has been dishonest with the residents and the city leaders many times in the last twenty years.

6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2015 at 9:40 pm

While an underground parking garage might address the inconvenience of a shuttle from off-site parking, Castilleja should really find a new campus. It has deep pocket donors and the demand to grow. It would solve a lot of headaches to just move.

Like this comment
Posted by Barron Park Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2015 at 10:27 pm

Castilleja can buy adjoining properties for outrageous sums of money to build a parking lot, if they need it so bad. Otherwise, their enrollment is capped!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2 people like this
Posted by I support PNQLNOW.ORG
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2017 at 9:33 am

a resident of Old Palo Alto
1 minute ago
Congratulations! Palo Alto administrators and Palo Alto residents won the day. No one and no big powerful business is above the law.

Excerpts from Palo Alto City Manager's letter to Castilleja dated 5/23/17:

". . . l am writing with regard to the School's current student enrollment level, which continues to exceed the limit set by Conditional Use Permit 00-CUP-23, issued November 2, 2000."

". . . Since then, student enrollment has been reduced from 448 students to 438 students, but has remained 23 students above the permitted number of 415 for several years."

"We ask that reductions recommence in the 2018-19 school year and that the reductions remain consistent with the scale of past reductions (approximately 4-6 students per year)."

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