Castilleja School to seek conditional-use permit for growth plans

Some Palo Alto neighbors still have traffic, parking concerns

Castilleja School leaders announced at a community meeting Wednesday night that they plan to file for a conditional-use permit (CUP) with the City of Palo Alto on June 30, kicking off a months-long process that the school hopes will end with greater enrollment, an updated campus and full support from residents who live in the residential streets surrounding the private all-girls school.

As the school has indicated an interest in growth before, the CUP application requests to increase enrollment by 25 to 27 students per year over four years, bringing the school's total student population to 540. This growth would be monitored annually by an outside, independent firm, Castilleja Head of School Nanci Kauffman said Wednesday.

Castilleja also hopes to build an underground parking garage that would have capacity to accommodate all students and employees, including the increase in enrollment, and to entirely rebuild the middle- and high-school classroom buildings. The school will not grow its enrollment until the underground garage is built, Chief Financial and Operating Officer Kathy Layendecker said.

Other aspects of the application address concerns that have been raised over the past several years by neighbors, from building a below-grade loading dock for deliveries to physically lowering the center of campus and the school's swimming pool by 14 to 15 feet to further mitigate noise. Notably, a new master plan also proposes diverting all student drop-off and pick-up to the underground garage to cut back on traffic in the surrounding streets. Parents dropping students off would come in only from Bryant Street, go down through the underground garage and exit onto Emerson Street, forcing a right turn onto Embarcadero Road.

There will also be more trees, a new entryway into campus and even a public bicycle pavilion with shade, water fountains, benches and tools for bicyclists passing by to use.

Castilleja also promises in the plan to reduce the total number of events held on campus and increase neighbors' access to the school through various means.

Castilleja has laid out consequences for itself if it over-enrolls or if it fails to keep traffic at a stated level -- consequences Layendecker said are "more aggressive" than what the city would typically ask for. If the school violates its enrollment cap, it will be fined $500 per school day until the number drops back down. At the school's first violation of the identified traffic level (440 peak trips), it would be required to increase its traffic-demand-management efforts in some way, and again on the second violation. On the third violation, the school would have to reduce enrollment by five students each year until its number of peak trips drop to below the identified limit.

A press release on the new conditional-use permit application notes that Castilleja has reduced the number of car trips into the neighborhood by 23 percent with a robust transportation-demand-management program. The school offers a new bus route to bring some students to the school, a daily shuttle service to and from the downtown Caltrain station, remote employee parking within walking distance of the school, event parking on a school field and a requirement that all employees participate in the transportation-demand-management program in some way.

At the city's request, Castilleja also recently conducted a study on the impact on Embarcadero from several different scenarios for traffic flow in and out of the school.

The school is considering a two-phased construction process that would start with the underground garage and lowering the pool, both on the Embarcadero side of the campus, and then move to construction of the lower- and upper-school buildings. The first phase is expected to take 12 to 15 months, Kauffman said.

The second phase could be longer. Rob Barthelman, principal at Steinberg Architects, the firm that is designing the school's plans, said buildings of similar size on college campuses can take from 18 to 24 months to build. The school is looking into placing portables on its field to accommodate instruction during the second phase of construction, Kauffman added.

Castilleja and local residents have been engaged in sometimes contentious talks about how to best mitigate the school's impact on the neighborhood since 2013, when the the city fined Castilleja $265,000 for exceeding its enrollment cap. Ire and eroded trust over that time seems to linger, despite the school's best efforts to balance neighbors' concerns with the school's desire to meet what they say is a high demand for the unique education the 6-12 all-girls school offers.

The CUP application did not seem to have the full support of the more than 20 neighbors who turned out for Wednesday's meeting, though not all were critical.

Resident Mary Sylvester said while she appreciates the many meetings Castilleja has held with neighbors throughout the process, the school's plan is still too burdensome on those who live in the surrounding area.

"I'm going to repeat my mantra: I feel that this is way too much to ask of the neighborhood, that Castilleja definitely within the last decade has used up the neighborhood's good will on any number of occasions," she said.

"I just don't see this as a panacea," she said of the new master plan designs. "It looks great but I'm just not sure substantively it's going to deliver."

Resident Debby Fife said the situation reminded her of when years ago the Palo Alto Medical Foundation wanted to expand and eventually left its location in a downtown residential neighborhood to do so.

"I think your goals are admirable and I think the Medical Foundation's goals were admirable (but) that failed, and they were forced to leave," she said. "I think the impact of their expansion was just the neighborhood couldn't tolerate that.

"I feel a bit like this, too. I'm not against Castilleja but you are in our neighborhood and I think all the construction that's going on in Palo Alto the whole character of Palo Alto is changing and I am against enduring for two, three, four years of construction in my neighborhood and expansion of the enrollment here," she continued. "We're the ones who live here and it impacts us."

Glowe Chang, however, expressed support for the new plan in an interview after the meeting. She said she and others who live on Bryant directly across from Castilleja have seen immediate relief in traffic flow and parking on their side of the street since the school started its traffic-management efforts. She appreciated the proposal to lower the center of campus and the pool to absorb more noise within the campus.

While the inconvenience of several years of construction is undeniable, it's justified by the educational opportunities the school will bring to even more young women, the mother of a Castilleja graduate said.

"If we can create some wonderful, young aspiring women for our society, I think that's worth the sacrifice," Chang said.

Continual growth in Palo Alto itself is inevitable, she said, and Castilleja has "gone above and beyond" to address neighbors' concerns about the localized growing pains.

"Of course a quiet neighborhood is everyone's dream, but we are a quarter of a mile from Town & Country (Village). We are that same distance from a public high school, one of two in our city, and the growth is inevitable," Chang said. "I don't think Palo Alto can stay little anymore. It's not Castilleja. I think it's just the city in general."

Kauffman sought to assure neighbors that the school will have rigorous safeguards in place to prevent further traffic and parking impact.

She and school staff also reiterated that the ensuing process with the city will provide ample opportunities for public input and feedback. The school has scheduled a meeting on June 30 to submit the application, which will then be reviewed over a months-long time period by the Architectural Review Board, Planning and Transportation Commission and eventually, the City Council.


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36 people like this
Posted by Mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 23, 2016 at 10:38 am

Think what an impact could be made if all these millions were spent on kids who need it? Lowering the swimming pool? ??? Please! Donate the money to Ravenswood Education Foundation.

16 people like this
Posted by Midtown Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Midtown Citizen is a registered user.

I think Ms. Chang hits the nail on the head when she says "I don't think Palo Alto can stay little anymore. It's not Castilleja. I think it's just the city in general." I drove down Addison from Alma the other day and found the blocks between Ramona & Waverley and Channing & Lincoln blocked off for city construction. Combine that with various homeowners tearing down their homes to replace them with something better and the entire Professorville neighborhood was almost inaccessible. Head downtown and find a block without a major construction project; I don't think you'll be able to find one (if you do, give it a week and come back). At least Castilleja is trying to work with its neighbors to ease the impact of its proposed construction.

33 people like this
Posted by The facts as I see them...
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 23, 2016 at 12:51 pm

The facts as I see them... is a registered user.

1). The city does not do a good job monitoring and enforcing existing CUPs.

2). Castilleja has already demonstrated through past practice that they cannot be trusted to comply without regular monitoring and enforcement.

Before this is approved, the city needs to SHOW that they can monitor and enforce existing CUPs. There will need to be measurable performance standards in the CUP to enable enforcement.

49 people like this
Posted by End It Now
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2016 at 12:58 pm

End It Now is a registered user.

If Castilleja needs or wants more money, let them raise tuition.

With more students, they will be too big to remain in a residential neighborhood. If they really want more students, let them build or lease a larger facility somewhere ELSE!

Casti has proven repeatedly that they can't be trusted to follow the rules or self- monitor, and should not be allowed any more CUPs, ever.

33 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 23, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

Perhap Castilleja needs to follow Nueva's (and many other schools) example and have a separate campus for middle and high school if they would like to expand.

44 people like this
Posted by Too Much to Ask
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2016 at 3:38 pm

It's bad enough that Castilleja wants to expand by 125 students over its existing CUP limit, but now they want to inflict 3 to 4 years of non-stop massive construction on the neighborhood?? What a nightmare for the neighbors. The City should just say no.

37 people like this
Posted by trust them?
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 23, 2016 at 9:39 pm

why should we trust anything Castilleja says

20 people like this
Posted by Concerned resident
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 24, 2016 at 12:29 am

It's bad enough that every other block in the city is torn up for utilities work, there are massive homes being expanded everywhere in town. The City master plan predicts a 30% growth in traffic over the next 15 years. Seriously, in that climate how can we not say no to every new development project that does not include substantial reductions in traffic.
while I am sure Castilleja is a great school, 70% of their students live outside Palo Alto. Their plan relies on a traffic cap of 440 peak morning trips which they believe is reasonable. That also means another 440 in the afternoon and does not count late arrivals and parent meetings during the day. So the neighbors are looking at 1,000 car trips on their block each day. Would you like that on your block? I wouldn't.

16 people like this
Posted by Otherideas
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 24, 2016 at 10:51 am

Why doesn't the district sell the Cubberly property to Casti. It has the parking and will remove the traffic from quiet residential area that is already over burdened. Use the funds received from the sale to improve existing PAUSD campuses.

19 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 24, 2016 at 8:33 pm

I imagine the neighbors who so adamantly oppose any construction at Casti, would not hesitate to remodel their own homes. This of course would subject their neighbors to one or two years of construction noise, literally next door. Of course, annoying your neighbors with years of construction noise during the process of what you might consider a reasonable remodel project, is what happens all over town, all the time. I have endured two such projects right next door. The projects required no variances, and as such, there was little grounds for protest. Construction noise is annoying, but a reality all over town, to somehow declare your home construction noise free, or more specifically Casti construction noise free, is extraordinarily selfish.

I see the morning drop off routine at Casti almost every day. It seems to be well organized with traffic control people out doing their thing. It pales in comparison to the heavy traffic rumbling by on Ebarcadero. Further, Bryant street there, being the bike lane, has through traffic barriers to auto traffic, which no doubt reduces auto traffic on Bryant. Very few residential streets benefit from such traffic restrictions.

I have no connection to Casti other than as a daily witness to their morning drop off routine.

22 people like this
Posted by No upside for Palo alto
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 24, 2016 at 10:20 pm

I see lots of upside for Casti if they expand, but zero positives for Palo Alto. More traffic and construction for students who don't live here. More money for casti, more traffic for Palo Alto.

12 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 24, 2016 at 10:53 pm

I'm with you Ed!

I've lived in Old Palo Alto over 40 years. As the housing stock becomes obsolete new families move in and remodel. I hear noise from 3 projects every morning. Some of the bigger house projects have been banging away for more than a year and a half. As soon as one project ends, another starts I just tune it out.

Casti predates almost all the houses surrounding it. Why should it not be allowed to modernize and expand, too, to support our local regional growing population which wants the best schools Paly a couple of blocks away has been remodeling and expanding for the locally increasing number of students and changing educational desires. Hige new theater... big new gym. It looks like acasti is not adding more building square footage than Paly has added recently.

And now that Casti just graduated its first transgender student no one can complain any more about it being just for "girls" as a veiled excuse for not letting just "privileged girls" who want to challenge themselves at our oldest local prep school to have an improved campus.

Go Casti!

23 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2016 at 9:33 am

No dog in this fight. But there's a big difference between a private school that has full control of the size of their enrollment, fees/tuition, facilities vs a public school,that has no choice to expand due to increasing enrollment.

22 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 25, 2016 at 11:12 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

@Oldster - You are correct that Casti predates some of houses around it, but back then it was a boarding school with little to no traffic impacts. They have already been allowed to modernize and expand. If they wish to expand further (and they are already WAY over their agreed upon size), they should find an additional site to build another campus.

28 people like this
Posted by Too Much to Ask
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 26, 2016 at 2:30 pm

There is no comparison between a home remodel construction project and the massive construction that Castilleja has proposed to accommodate its desired 30% enrollment increase. It is true that after 10 plus years of not complying with its enrollment and TDM obligations, Castilleja (because it wants something) has finally taken some steps to reduce traffic impact to the neighborhood. But even with Castilleja's efforts, the traffic is heavy, the streets are congested, and there are ongoing safety issues. The neighborhood simply cannot absorb the increase in traffic and congestion that an additional 125 Castilleja students inevitably will bring. Bottom line -- Castilleja wants to shoehorn a very large enrollment increase of 125 additional students into a small parcel of land that sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood and has poor street access. The more sensible approach would be either to maintain current enrollment or separate the middle school from the upper school and find a new site for one or the other.

3 people like this
Posted by University Townie
a resident of University South
on Jul 4, 2016 at 1:53 pm

Ours is a University town. If forced to choose between more retail, expanded business space and growth of our schools, I choose education. Castilleja is part of Palo Alto’s tradition of excellence and innovation in PUBLIC and PRIVATE education. Castilleja has to evolve and grow like every other school in the area. Every High School in Palo Alto offers curricular options in high school that are far broader than those of several decades ago.

Don’t punish the school because long departed school administrators exceeded enrollment limits that the City did not feel important enough to adequately monitor or enforce. Saying that “Castilleja” cannot be trusted is like saying that Stanford, the Airport, the PAUSD, or the City of Palo Alto cannot be trusted because of past policies or failed policies. Critically evaluate Castilleja’s proposal, then set expectations and get the City to enforce them stringently. Let’s not have frustration over new construction downtown or traffic into Town and County taint our City’s values.

3 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2016 at 7:22 pm

@University Townie How can you say that Palo Alto is a university town? Ann Arbor is a university town. Amherst, Cambridge, Berkeley, Champaign are all university towns.

Palo Alto as a whole wants nothing to do with Stanford. You can go months in Palo Alto without seeing any reference to Stanford. Palo Alto doesn't embrace the students, the faculty or any part of the University.


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