Castilleja requests restraining order against alleged sign vandal

Submitted petition states posters for school expansion found damaged

In the battle over expanding the private all-girls Castilleja School, lawn signs have become perhaps the most visible manifestation of the discord between the school, its supporters and some of its neighbors in the past couple of years, with both sides waging aggressive campaigns to garner support for and against the school's proposed redevelopment.

But in a sign of how seriously people are taking the issue, some have allegedly vandalized and stolen the lawn signs of the otherside. The problem became acute enough that Castilleja filed for a temporary restraining order against a Palo Alto man who opposes the expansion, claiming that he is responsible for the repeated theft of and damage to the school's pro-Castilleja signs.

School leaders filed a 38-page request for the restraining order against neighbor James Poppy, 64, which was signed by Head of School Nanci Kauffman on Feb. 1 and filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Feb. 7. The court approved the temporary restraining order, which will be in place until a hearing on Feb. 26.

In its court petition, Castilleja wrote that it has video evidence and witnesses to show that Poppy engaged in repeated vandalism or removal of signs, including at Kauffman's home. Poppy told the Weekly that he did remove five signs at one time and admitted the incident to police, but he maintained that he is not responsible for the other acts of vandalism.

Castilleja's petition asks the court to require Poppy to stay at least 50 yards away from the school, located at 1310 Bryant St., as well as from Kauffman and Associate Head of School Kathy Layendecker, and more generally from people who are known to him to be Castilleja students, employees or supporters.

He would be barred from directly or indirectly contacting any of the protected persons, including by phone, in writing or by any electronic means, and disturbing the peace of the persons or destroying any personal property. He would also be banned from stalking, threatening, intimidating or assaulting any of the people in the order. The court filing also asks that Poppy reimburse the petitioners for nearly $5,500 in legal costs and filing fees.

Castilleja repeatedly reported the vandalism to police, the petition states. The alleged thefts and defacing began on Sept. 12, 2017, when a school banner hanging over the Embarcadero Road overpass was stolen and several signs were vandalized with a sticker stating "Stop the Lies -- Nanci K and Kathy L: Stop Lying to City Hall. What are you teaching students? Get what you want no matter the cost or impact to others?"

School security cameras showed a silhouette of a man walking the perimeter of the campus with a sheet of paper believed to be the "Stop the Lies" stickers.

In October 2017, eight red cyclamen plants that formed a letter "C" for Castilleja were pulled out of the ground and tossed over a hedge and a Castilleja yard sign was stolen.

Three more incidents occurred in March 2018, captured on surveillance videos and witnessed by a school maintenance worker. After the worker called Palo Alto police, Poppy was cited for petty theft. In a police report dated April 1, 2018, Poppy admitted to stealing the signs from the school property.

"I made a bad judgment," he told an officer, the report noted.

Castilleja's attorneys then sent Poppy a cease-and-desist letter in May of that year demanding that he not steal or vandalize the Castilleja signs, trespass on school property or misuse the school's logo. Poppy agreed in writing not to continue the behaviors, according to the petition.

In December 2018 and January 2019, additional vandalism took place, including an incident in which someone used stickers to change "We Support Castilleja" signs into "We Support White Privilege" signs. The school then requested the restraining order.

When reached by phone, Poppy denied that he is responsible for any vandalism that occurred after a March 31, 2018 incident.

"I fessed up to my one incident. I'm sorry about the bad judgment. But I didn't do any of this. I wanted to do this amicably. I thought about hiring a lawyer, but we're talking about lawn signs," he said. "Restraining orders are usually for domestic violence or something like that," he added.

Poppy said he would stay the 50 feet away from Kauffman and Layendecker.

"I would gladly do that if I knew what Kathy Layendecker looks like," he said.

Some neighbors, including Poppy, are opposed to the school's proposed redevelopment, saying they have been negatively impacted for 15 years since the school began enrolling more students than they were legally allowed to. In addition to new development, Castilleja is asking the city to allow it to increase its student body by 30 percent above its current permitted enrollment.

Poppy said he thinks the school is using him to make students believe that opposition to the school's expansion boils down to one person.

Castilleja spokeswoman Lorraine Brown said the school's attorney has told them not to comment on the case.

But school neighbor Nelson Ng said that residents who oppose the school's expansion have also had their signs targeted by vandals and thieves. They have logged at least 50 incidents of sign theft and damage in the past couple of years. They have since stopped counting.

He has video from his home surveillance camera in 2017 and 2018 of such incidents. On Aug. 16, 2017, a man running down the street during daylight can be seen swerving off the sidewalk and swatting a sign flat onto the ground on an adjacent property. On March 18, 2017, a man jogging on the opposite side of the street at night crossed over and ripped a sign out of Ng's yard, throwing it down into the gutter.

On April 8, 2017, also at night, a man jogging on the opposite side of the street looked both ways, crossed the street and ripped the sign out of Ng's front yard, then ran across the street and down the block carrying the sign. A man walked up at night on July 20, 2017 to Ng's gate and stole a sign, carrying it away. Ng reported the incidents twice to police, he said.

Ng also has photographs of multiple signs that were torn or cut up and discarded at various locations in the neighborhood surrounding the school. He is opposed to the vandalism, he said.

"I truly believe in freedom of speech. The signs are a way for the neighbors and Palo Alto residents to voice concerns about Castilleja's expansion plan and violation of the existing conditional use permit," Ng said in an email on Friday.

"But at the end of the day, the signs are not the issue. The true issue is the impact to the neighborhood by Castilleja's expansion. In the last couple of years, the school's stubbornness to push forward with a plan having significant impact to our quality of life impact has taken a major toll on our mental well-being," he said.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that Castilleja has asked to increase its enrollment through a variance. The school wants to increase its enrollment through the conditional-use permit.


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4 people like this
Posted by zap
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2019 at 2:56 pm

[Post removed.]

40 people like this
Posted by Long time Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:06 am

I am appalled to read about the extensive theft and vandalism occurring on the Castilleja campus. For Mr. Poppy to suggest that Castilleja “is using him to make students believe that opposition to the school's expansion boils down to one person” is absurd. Castilleja is a SCHOOL, and when an opponent of the school with self-admitted “bad judgment” repeatedly trespasses school property to vandalize or steal - let alone steal banners or deface signs off-campus - it is only COMMON SENSE that the administrators would seek to legally stop him for the sake of school safety. Please Mr. Poppy, do not present yourself as a victim here.

35 people like this
Posted by Chuck
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:17 am

As I read this article, I’m left with the sense that Mr. Poppy thinks that the school’s application to increase enrollment somehow justifies his behavior? That the school’s application to enroll more students somehow justifies his many acts of vandalism and theft? Every day, schools across the country apply to modify their use permits - whether it’s to modernize their campus or increase enrollment or something else entirely - and it is a fair and legal process. As Mr. Ng said in the article, signs are a form of freedom of speech, and there is zero justification for Mr. Poppy’s illegal behavior.

28 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:38 am

This sustained theft and damage taking place on school property is obviously something that school officials must respond to. Honestly, they are leading a school, and cannot look the other way when illegal activity is taking place again and again around school grounds. It would seem that some action needed to be taken to contain and restrict vandalism and damage.

34 people like this
Posted by Castilleja teacher and parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:50 am

I can assure you, both as a teacher at the school and a parent, that we have not been telling students that the opposition to the CUP application boils down to one man. Last year, some of the girls even took it upon themselves to go and meet the neighbors. All of us -students,parents and employees want to come to a positive resolution.

54 people like this
Posted by Former Casti Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2019 at 11:24 am

The only thing that Mr. Poppy has clearly done is removing the yard signs on March 31. Everything else are allegations, almost all with little to no evidence that Mr. Poppy was indeed the culprit. Is the groundskeeper absolutely certain that the man he saw is Mr. Poppy? Feelings are running high in the neighborhood, and many people oppose Casti's plans. There are many potential culprits, and it's possible that the some of these incidents are unrelated to Casti. (Teenagers on a Friday night). Perhaps the community should avoid a rush to judgment? And, perhaps Casti should avoid the appearance of trying to silence one of its most vocal critics.

70 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2019 at 12:59 pm

Many people oppose Casti's expansion when they're already over their permitted enrollment cap. Casti has repeatedly claimed that people who oppose this expansion are against education but that's like saying people who oppose sticking a McDonald's in a residential neighborhood are against food.

Remember that Embarcadero is one of the most heavily used streets and one that will become even more clogged if Stanford gets its expansion plans approved.

Maybe Mr. Poppy and Mr. Ng should hire also hire lawyers since they too have had so many signs stolen. To accuse someone based on "similar body type" is hyperbole that borders on slander.

41 people like this
Posted by Melville Ave Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2019 at 4:54 pm

As another neighbor of the school, I still don't understand the claims that Castilleja has any negative impact on our block , and certainly not to our community. The traffic is incredibly well managed, the students are polite, and a lengthy list of concessions to appease the neighbors has been in practice for years. To put stickers around town (including the head of school's front yard!!??) that change the signs to say "White Privilege" is beyond any trace of civility. And can hardly be written off as "bad judgement". The students - whether caucasian or of color - must feel so bullied. Hopefully relief will come when the EIR is out, and adults can gather in the room to discuss the situation like decent human beings.

22 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 10, 2019 at 5:06 pm

Mr. Ng’s ridiculous monitoring of his signs shows the profound misplacement of priorities on petty issues rather than amplifying Casti’s Excellence with another generation.

33 people like this
Posted by YP
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2019 at 7:20 pm

YP is a registered user.

As a sideline observer with no skin in the game, seriously how long has this soap opera gone on? can't we make a decision after all these years about Casti expansion, it's really getting old....

18 people like this
Posted by Casti parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 11, 2019 at 10:56 am

It is really sad and depressing to hear that a grown man is acting like this especially considering that this a school for girls and women. Mr. poppy also posts aggressive and negative comments on Next Door. I hope he can change and learn to fight for his causes in a mature and productive way.

32 people like this
Posted by Enough Already
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 11, 2019 at 11:13 am

I am so disturbed by all of this. Mr Poppy was clearly in the wrong as everyone is entitled to free speech, even if it is something that will most likely destroy his neighborhood quality of life and decrease the value of his home. But enough already with the most SHAMELESS signs ever created- who doesn't support women's education? Castilleja appears impudent for using that slogan. My two daughters are proud Casti graduates from 2005. Casti's mission seems to have changed in the last ten years, acting like it is the best school around and therefore has the right to educate more girls than they have space for. There is something special about being a boutique girls school in the middle of a neighborhood. Keep Casti charming with a high teacher to student ratio. If Castilleja grows, where will the increased staff live? And for goodness sake- pull all those offensive signs as they are making me apologetic to my neighbors who know I have always been a strong supporter of Castilleja.

53 people like this
Posted by I support women's ed, but not Casti's proposal.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2019 at 11:32 am

I support women's ed, but not Casti's proposal. is a registered user.

I agree with "Enough Already." As a woman who graduated from a women's college, I definitely support women's education, but Casti's signs irk me. The project is simply too big for the location. Let it go.

30 people like this
Posted by get the 2 sides together
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2019 at 11:35 am

Apparently both sides are defacing signs (not acceptable behavior), but most of the accusations against a named person appear to be innuendo. You can sue anyone for anything, and in this case, you can write whatever you want in a restraining order; words like "stalking, assaulting, threatening and intimidating" are unfounded fear-mongering. This is not about signs. It does feel like the school, with deep pockets for PR and legal experts, is pulling out all the stops. It is all a distraction from the real issues. The school has a reputation of playing fast and loose with the facts.

52 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2019 at 12:15 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I also agree with Enough Already. City Hall, specifically Keane, should have held Castilleja to the terms of its use permit YEARS AGO. Was that a wink and nod agreement? Instead of requiring compliance the school was allowed to function with apparent disregard for the agreed-upon enrollment cap. And now they want more?

The Castilleja problem is a micro-version of the City's overall problem: fit. Think Cinderella. Push and shove as they might, neither of the stepsisters could fit their too-big foot into the offered slipper. Castilleja cannot fit its expansion plans into the neighborhood.

The school offers a great academic program. I sent my daughter there for middle school but might think twice about that now as I watch how the school is conducting itself. Castilleja isn't doing too well in the citizenship category these days. Taking this to the point of getting a restraining order is absurd. That said, all signs should be left alone, including the ridiculous and condescending original "We Support Women's Education" signs. Seriously, who around here doesn't?

27 people like this
Posted by Casti tearing at our community fiber
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2019 at 1:49 pm

Their selfish insistance at expanding beyond the area's cababilities to handle the increase is obvious and flipping the finger at long time residents who until now, have gotten along just fine with Casti.

They need to SEE waht they are doing. This does not happen without them trying to get around or change the rules and the community is in a uproar.

Casti needs to step back if they want to be seen as a good neighbor. The rules were made for this exact reason but Casti does not want to hear it. They do not care about why the rules were created and they don;t care about it if you want them upheld. They want what Casti wants and that's it.

11 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2019 at 4:35 pm

Hilarious that everyone is beating up on this small school, while the City Council just eliminated the downtown office development cap and rammed through a new hotel.

Good job, people. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Charlie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

on Feb 14, 2019 at 4:38 pm

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9 people like this
Posted by Connie Cavanaugh
a resident of Triple El
on Feb 25, 2019 at 5:15 pm

I have been following the conflicts between Castilleja and the Neighborhood as a Palo Alto resident interested in our future. I am also a long time friend of Jim Poppy. The idea that Jim could be a danger to anyone on the Castilleja campus is beyond ludicrous. It seems his ONLY mistake is moving 5 signs in a moment of frustration. He has apologized and completed community service. This has been blown far far out of proportion. It’s seems Jim’s is the only name Castilleja has. It is also apparent that there is no believable reason to think Jim is accountable for anything else.

1 person likes this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 26, 2019 at 6:54 am

Annette is a registered user.

I do not know Connie Cavanaugh but based on what I have read I agree that there is no reason to think that Mr. Poppy (another person I do not know) is responsible for anything other than what he admitted to doing. It is improbable that a person who admitted to removing 5 signs nearly a year ago AND was cited for petty theft for doing that AND is thus known to the police AND is aware that cameras are being used to surveil the school and at least some homes in the area would turn around and do the same thing and worse. That makes no sense whatsoever.

This community, and the Castilleja neighborhood in particular, is mighty riled up over the school’s expansion plans but I am wondering if the school doth protest too much. What is really going on here? Petty theft is a very far cry from stalking and assault and the other bad conduct listed in the TRO. The school is advancing big claims that demand substantiation, especially since there's no indication that Mr. Poppy has engaged in any such conduct.

Our standards are supposed to be higher than “guilt by accusation or assumption” but more and more it seems we are becoming a society that presumes guilt. This is not good.

6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2019 at 10:23 am

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace

>> The school offers a great academic program. I sent my daughter there for middle school but might think twice about that now as I watch how the school is conducting itself.

Once upon a time, I thought that Castilleja seemed to be a good alternative for some girls and their families. That was long before the school embarked on its current "growth at all costs" direction. The fact is, sometimes growth is bad. Many people, such as yourself, attest to the value that the old Castilleja provided. Once upon a time.

>> That said, all signs should be left alone, including the ridiculous and condescending original "We Support Women's Education" signs. Seriously, who around here doesn't?

I agree. Those patronizing signs do a wonderful job of educating people about what Castilleja has become. Leave them up. Let them plant more. When Castilleja finally moves somewhere else so that it can fulfill someone's dreams of ever-increasing grandiosity, no one will miss it.

3 people like this
Posted by Money interests rule
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2019 at 10:31 pm

It looks as though Castilleja, like Stanford. is now in the hands of the money + growth + bigger-at-all-costs developers.
They fight dirty, withhold information, and hire insiders so as to bias negotiations in their favor.

Why else would they have hired Steve Emslie, former Deputy City Manager and former Manager of the city Planning Dept? He is a city insider who knows where to put pressure and where to grease the wheels.

He may no longer be consulting for Casti but it reflects the slipperyness of the school's behavior.
Full speed ahead! There's money to be made here!

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