News

Castilleja School wins key vote in contentious expansion proposal

Commission supports environmental analysis, but warns city needs to impose stringent conditions

The Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission voted on Sept. 9 to recommend approval of the Environmental Impact Report for Castilleja School's remodeling project. Embarcadero Media file photo by Sinead Chang.

Castilleja School received a long-awaited boost Wednesday in its bid to rebuild its campus and expand student enrollment when the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission endorsed the environmental analysis for the contentious project.

In doing so, however, commissioners also indicated that Castilleja still has plenty of work to do to regain the trust of skeptical neighbors and earn the final approval for its phased remodeling plan, which calls for demolishing and replacing most of the campus buildings, shifting its swimming pool to an underground level, building an underground garage and gradually increasing enrollment from 426 to 540 students.

For Castilleja, which has been pursuing the campus renovation for the past four years, the commission's 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Doria Summa dissenting and Vice Chair Giselle Roohparvar and Commissioner William Riggs absent, represents a small victory in the school's long and highly controversial approval process. A vocal group of residents from nearby neighborhoods have been fighting the proposal, with dozens attending the commission's Aug. 26 meeting to raise concerns about the proposed underground garage, the high number of school events and Castilleja's shoddy record at following the rules of its prior conditional use permit.

Some critics of the project also argued that the project's Final Environmental Impact Report is flawed because it fails to consider other alternatives, including shifting its campus to another location and foregoing the proposed garage in favor of satellite parking sites and shuttle services.

Kimberly Wong, who lives near the school, was one of several residents who argued in recent weeks that building an underground garage in a single-family neighborhood would be inconsistent with the city's zoning code.

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"They cause disruption in traffic, are not aesthetically pleasing even if you lace (them) up with greenery, and are not consistent with a single-family zoned neighborhood," Wong wrote to the council.

Palo Alto's planning and legal staff noted, however, that the restriction on underground parking applies to "single-family uses" and thus would not apply to Castilleja. City staff similarly rejected the argument from the group Palo Alto Neighborhoods that the underground garage should be counted in the school's gross floor area because the facility constitutes a "basement." The city concluded that the garage is not a basement but an "underground facility" that does not need to be counted in square footage calculations.

While Summa challenged the staff interpretation, other commissioners were generally satisfied with the environmental analysis, which identifies as its preferred alternative a design with a smaller garage than what the school had previously presented. The revised proposal obviates the need for Castilleja to demolish two homes, reduces the number of trees that would need to be removed and allows the school to disperse student drop-offs at three locations to avoid queuing of cars at its campus off of Embarcadero Road at 1310 Bryant St.

Mindie Romanowsky, an attorney for Castilleja, said the school chose to build an underground garage to address neighbors' complaints about the impacts of surface parking, including headlights and noise from car doors slamming.

"I remember taking it to the board and making a pitch that even though this was going to be a big task to take on, that it was what they wanted, because it was going to be impact-reducing," Romanowsky said.

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In voting to support the environmental report, various commissioners praised the thorough analysis of Castilleja's potential impacts as it expands. They also noted that the hard work will come next month, when the commission considers the conditions of approval that would govern Castilleja's expansion. These conditions will include rules that limit the number of events on campus, address an increasing student population and measures that limit traffic impacts. The commission plans to formulate the specific conditions on Oct. 14.

Commissioner Bart Hechtman alluded to the $265,000 fine that Castilleja was forced to pay in 2013, when the city found that the all-girls school had exceeded its enrollment limit of 415 students. The city also required Castilleja to gradually reduce enrollment, which it has been doing, although its population is still higher than 415 students.

Hechtman observed that in addition to paying the penalty for its transgression, Castilleja lost the trust of neighbors. As such, the city's approval of the school expansion plan should include enforcement measures that ensure compliance.

"Castilleja needs to recognize that it is wholly their responsibility to adhere strictly to every condition of approval," he said.

Hechtman also rejected an argument from some residents, including members of the group Preserve Neighborhood Quality of Life Now, that the Castilleja project does not benefit the Palo Alto community and that the school should seek another location if it chooses to expand.

"I believe that Castilleja is an asset to our city and should be supported and maintained," Hechtman said. "The benefit of having Castilleja here is that Palo Alto residents don't have to drive their daughters to some other city to get an education that no one disputes is world-class."

Hechtman also argued that the environmental review for the school's expansion has been extremely thorough and that he is ready to support its approval. Commissioner Michael Alcheck agreed and called the environmental review a "gold standard work-product."

Alcheck similarly noted that it will be critical for the commission to clearly understand how the city will enforce the conditions in the new permit, a topic that is expected to get scrutinized at the Oct. 14 meeting.

"My impression of the applicant is they are prepared to operate under that kind of seriousness," Alcheck said.

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Castilleja School wins key vote in contentious expansion proposal

Commission supports environmental analysis, but warns city needs to impose stringent conditions

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Sep 10, 2020, 9:26 am

Castilleja School received a long-awaited boost Wednesday in its bid to rebuild its campus and expand student enrollment when the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission endorsed the environmental analysis for the contentious project.

In doing so, however, commissioners also indicated that Castilleja still has plenty of work to do to regain the trust of skeptical neighbors and earn the final approval for its phased remodeling plan, which calls for demolishing and replacing most of the campus buildings, shifting its swimming pool to an underground level, building an underground garage and gradually increasing enrollment from 426 to 540 students.

For Castilleja, which has been pursuing the campus renovation for the past four years, the commission's 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Doria Summa dissenting and Vice Chair Giselle Roohparvar and Commissioner William Riggs absent, represents a small victory in the school's long and highly controversial approval process. A vocal group of residents from nearby neighborhoods have been fighting the proposal, with dozens attending the commission's Aug. 26 meeting to raise concerns about the proposed underground garage, the high number of school events and Castilleja's shoddy record at following the rules of its prior conditional use permit.

Some critics of the project also argued that the project's Final Environmental Impact Report is flawed because it fails to consider other alternatives, including shifting its campus to another location and foregoing the proposed garage in favor of satellite parking sites and shuttle services.

Kimberly Wong, who lives near the school, was one of several residents who argued in recent weeks that building an underground garage in a single-family neighborhood would be inconsistent with the city's zoning code.

"They cause disruption in traffic, are not aesthetically pleasing even if you lace (them) up with greenery, and are not consistent with a single-family zoned neighborhood," Wong wrote to the council.

Palo Alto's planning and legal staff noted, however, that the restriction on underground parking applies to "single-family uses" and thus would not apply to Castilleja. City staff similarly rejected the argument from the group Palo Alto Neighborhoods that the underground garage should be counted in the school's gross floor area because the facility constitutes a "basement." The city concluded that the garage is not a basement but an "underground facility" that does not need to be counted in square footage calculations.

While Summa challenged the staff interpretation, other commissioners were generally satisfied with the environmental analysis, which identifies as its preferred alternative a design with a smaller garage than what the school had previously presented. The revised proposal obviates the need for Castilleja to demolish two homes, reduces the number of trees that would need to be removed and allows the school to disperse student drop-offs at three locations to avoid queuing of cars at its campus off of Embarcadero Road at 1310 Bryant St.

Mindie Romanowsky, an attorney for Castilleja, said the school chose to build an underground garage to address neighbors' complaints about the impacts of surface parking, including headlights and noise from car doors slamming.

"I remember taking it to the board and making a pitch that even though this was going to be a big task to take on, that it was what they wanted, because it was going to be impact-reducing," Romanowsky said.

In voting to support the environmental report, various commissioners praised the thorough analysis of Castilleja's potential impacts as it expands. They also noted that the hard work will come next month, when the commission considers the conditions of approval that would govern Castilleja's expansion. These conditions will include rules that limit the number of events on campus, address an increasing student population and measures that limit traffic impacts. The commission plans to formulate the specific conditions on Oct. 14.

Commissioner Bart Hechtman alluded to the $265,000 fine that Castilleja was forced to pay in 2013, when the city found that the all-girls school had exceeded its enrollment limit of 415 students. The city also required Castilleja to gradually reduce enrollment, which it has been doing, although its population is still higher than 415 students.

Hechtman observed that in addition to paying the penalty for its transgression, Castilleja lost the trust of neighbors. As such, the city's approval of the school expansion plan should include enforcement measures that ensure compliance.

"Castilleja needs to recognize that it is wholly their responsibility to adhere strictly to every condition of approval," he said.

Hechtman also rejected an argument from some residents, including members of the group Preserve Neighborhood Quality of Life Now, that the Castilleja project does not benefit the Palo Alto community and that the school should seek another location if it chooses to expand.

"I believe that Castilleja is an asset to our city and should be supported and maintained," Hechtman said. "The benefit of having Castilleja here is that Palo Alto residents don't have to drive their daughters to some other city to get an education that no one disputes is world-class."

Hechtman also argued that the environmental review for the school's expansion has been extremely thorough and that he is ready to support its approval. Commissioner Michael Alcheck agreed and called the environmental review a "gold standard work-product."

Alcheck similarly noted that it will be critical for the commission to clearly understand how the city will enforce the conditions in the new permit, a topic that is expected to get scrutinized at the Oct. 14 meeting.

"My impression of the applicant is they are prepared to operate under that kind of seriousness," Alcheck said.

Comments

Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:10 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:10 am
81 people like this

Shame on the Planning & Transportation Commission for wasting more of the city's money and ignoring the concerns of residents. Remember that the PTC chair Ms. Templeton is running for city council.


sfvalley
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:38 am
sfvalley, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:38 am
62 people like this

Just so you know, the school didn't continue to reduce enrollment. They reduced for two years. Then they stalled out, keeping it at 23 students higher than allowed for 3 more years, and only started reducing enrollment again after the neighbors paid an attorney to write a formal complaint to get the City to insist on it. Neighbors had to do that! The PTC last night only listened to City staff, the school and the EIR preparer (may as well have been the school) and parroted the school's attorney at this meeting. It was embarrassing; only one commissioner even brought up 4 years' worth of neighbors' concerns (we didn't get to speak).


No upside for Palo Alto
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:45 am
No upside for Palo Alto, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:45 am
63 people like this

Castilleja continues to waste Palo Alto taxpayers' time and money with their expansion plans. Go back to your CUP and expand elsewhere.


PA Community Advocate
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:50 am
PA Community Advocate, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:50 am
59 people like this

What tangible value does this school and other private schools provide to the Palo Alto community at large? Honest question.


Roy M
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:14 am
Roy M, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:14 am
24 people like this

Thanks to the Planning Commission on endorsing the EIR. Here, I will note Commissioner Hechtman's observation that "Castilleja is an asset to our city and should be supported and maintained." The school has made every effort to listen to the neighbors over the years, first in proposing a garage in the first place, then in revising the plan to the alternative they plan to pursue in conjunction with this final EIR. I am sure that the school will continue to listen and do every effort to address legitimate concerns. My question is will the opponents ever acknowledge what Castilleja has done up to now, and will they keep an open mind towards the future instead of focusing solely on sins of the past?


Not a neighbor
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:20 am
Not a neighbor, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:20 am
98 people like this

How Casti is a resource is beyond me. 75% of students do not live in Palo Alto, it pays no taxes; events are closed to the public. The neighborhood and a safe bike boulevard which will be impacted are city resources, not the school.


Chris
Registered user
University South
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:23 am
Chris, University South
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:23 am
27 people like this

Can the complaining neighbors be required to take a 40-hour class in mediation? They have been wasting more of the city’s time than Castilleja because they have made no meaningful concessions. Their my way or the highway attitude Is extremely unproductive. As usual in Palo Alto, the loud complainers will result in worse solution than would have otherwise happened. Look at Rickey’s, Alma Plaza, Maybell, and Cubberley.


Casti the Con Artist
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:08 pm
Casti the Con Artist, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:08 pm
47 people like this

So tired on narcissistic Castilleja conning people into believing that their expansion of this Palo Alto site is for the good of the community.


Old Palo Alto Resident
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:17 pm
Old Palo Alto Resident, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:17 pm
68 people like this

I was so disgusted watching the PTC meeting last night. I can't believe 2 commissioners can actually believe the 100+ events should be set as baseline when the current CUP clearly stated 5 events plus several and previous Planning Director has asked Castilleja to reduce the number of events. Those 2 commissioners are basically advocating for violation of the law then come back to PTC to legitimize the violation. Is this how Palo Alto government work?


What I Learned
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:23 pm
What I Learned, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:23 pm
75 people like this

Here's what I learned from watching this meeting:
1. Chair Cari Templeton shows no capacity to lead. She lost my vote for City Council. She shared a single brief echo of another Commissioner's thought. She remained nearly entirely silent, finally being asked by another Commissioner if she had anything to say? Given what's at stake I was shocked that she chose to bring nothing and ask nothing.
2. Commissioner Alchek continues to be verbally disrespectful to female Commissioners and had to be reigned in last night.
3. Alcheck didn't disclose that his attorney for his notorious carports/garages legal issues and Casti's attorney are the same person, Mindi Romanowsky. The pubic should know this.
3. We saw some Commissioners (not Summa who fought it) charge ahead and vote without due diligence, not possibly able to read and absorb the complex 30-page detailed memo that staff had unexpectedly dropped on them mid-afternoon. A ridiculous action by staff who had 2 weeks to get the memo to Commissioners, and by some Commissioners who then enabled this charade. All this did was to create another cause of action for a lawsuit against the city.


Seriously?
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:27 pm
Seriously?, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:27 pm
54 people like this

Have to say that how the PTC dealt with this issue was deeply flawed. I will certainly NOT be voting for Ed Lauing or Cari Templeton for City Council. Even a casual observer can see that neighbors have put forward many alternatives that would make this expansion better for all citizens - offering intelligent ideas to reduce traffic, emissions, other impacts that will affect everyone, in every neighborhood of Palo Alto. Does anyone want to get stuck on Embarcadero behind the 1477 cars per day that the EIR affirms? Or ride on a bike boulevard blocked by out-of-town cars rushing to drop off and pick up? Or live across from proposed buildings the size of two Home Depots, which host major events every 3 days during the school year? You could easily be next.

According to the PTC, since it is not a "significant" increase over what currently exists (which is based on current non-compliance), it is all technically acceptable. The city did not release its 30 page report until yesterday afternoon, which included many factual errors and questionable comments. But the public was not allowed to speak at all last night and some commissioners were adamant that the vote go forward even with this late information and two commissioners missing. Wondering whose pocket they are in? This was NOT Palo Alto leaders at their finest.


Novelera
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:27 pm
Novelera, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:27 pm
17 people like this

I don't get all the sour grapes about a SCHOOL. If people want to object to growth of non-residential projects, why not concentrate on what's happened to downtown Palo Alto and the lack of a firm limit on commercial buildings' growth. This City Council punted the opportunity to enact a meaningful limit on square feet of growth permitted.


Old Palo Alto Resident
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:29 pm
Old Palo Alto Resident, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:29 pm
49 people like this

For Single Family Neighborhood, the Palo Alto Muni code clearly stated there is no underground garage. Somehow the City Attorney interrupted the law as since it only called out NO underground garage for residential use, the restriction does not apply to Castilleja. So are you basically telling me that "business" in Single Family Neighborhood has more property right than the residents? This is so backward. When you write Muni code for Single Family Neighborhood, the intension is that all the properties are mostly Single Family home or as least residential properties. No one would expect to have businesses in the middle of a residential neighborhood let alone having more property right than residents who live there. This is outrageous!!!


eyeswideopen
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:56 pm
eyeswideopen, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:56 pm
46 people like this

Castilleja needs to leave Palo Alto. [Portion removed.]
I will not be voting for anyone running for City Council who voted for accepting the school's new proposal as being okay. I will be campaigning AGAINST TEMPLETON and LAU.

And the comment by Hechtman about parents not having to drive their daughters to another community to get an education is absurd. One-fourth of the girls who attend this expensive private school are from Palo Alto. Three-fourths are driving here from other cities. And, by the way, we have excellent PUBLIC schools in Palo Alto that we, as residents pay for big time.
Castilleja likes the cache of a "Palo Alto" address. Let them find some land somewhere else--in a business district and near public transportation-- and let them teach girls there for top dollar.
The school adds nothing to Palo Alto. [Portion removed.]


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:57 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 12:57 pm
41 people like this

It appears that Casti wants the prestige that goes with a larger school and the PT&C members who support their plans want the neighbors to put up and shut up with expanding Casti's non-conforming use. A use which was originally allowed because it was a small residential school in a residential neighborhood. Which is no longer the case.

In other words, this vote is a good indication of who on the commission does not value the residential nature of R-1 neighborhoods. Whose ultimate objective is to weaken restrictions that currently do not allow dense construction within R-1 zoning.

If Casti's expansion is approved, whoever votes to do so is setting a deliberate precedent to weaken Palo Alto's R-1 single family home restriction. Sending a clear message that invites future arguments for other dense and non-conforming developments within R-1 neighborhoods. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Coming near you, if there is a development promoting majority on council, future applications from developers for exceptions to R-1 zoning to allow denser (read tall) non-conforming buildings overlooking single family homes. Possibly not even residential since Casti is no longer a residential school, and using Casti as their leverage and excuse for approval.


Local
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 10, 2020 at 3:09 pm
Local, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 3:09 pm
30 people like this

Casti has been in Palo Alto for over 100 years, and adds to the City's reputation as a world center for education and intellectual life. Every school and office has renovated or expanded in the past few decades, so I don't understand why Casti cannot be afforded a renovation and small increase in capacity.

Most of the elements of the current proposal are a result of requests made by the neighbors. People forget, but this has gone on for 5 years, and the local neighbors were the ones who wanted an underground parking facility. The neighbors wanted the two houses to be preserved, and trees to be preserved, and drop-off areas to be dispersed. The current proposal is a reflection of what the neighbors have been asking for, but they just keep shifting the goal posts.

So what is really going on here?

Its striking that nobody complains about the traffic created by Stanford football games, office buildings, and the others schools that have grown. But when an all-girls school wants to modernize, everyone is aghast.

Good for the PTC to vote overwhelmingly in favor of this proposal.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 10, 2020 at 3:49 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 3:49 pm
20 people like this

@Local, of course people complain about traffic, especially on Embacadero which is one of only 3 direct roads to/from 101. (Actually with University now closed to through traffic and San Antonio under constant construction, it'd now the ONLY direct route, making the PTC's position even worse.

As for the commuter traffic from office buildings, there was recently a ballot-initiative petition to cap office growth. It got enough signatures to qualify for the ballot but then the pro-development City Council majority pulled off some fancy footwork with some highly deceptive polls paid for by the taxpayers.
Most of those signing the petition wanted a TOTAL ban on office construction, not just a cap on square footage.


No upside for Palo Alto
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 10, 2020 at 3:55 pm
No upside for Palo Alto, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 3:55 pm
34 people like this

@local - Palo Alto's "reputation" will be fine without Casti expanding their school. I have no objection to their updating their campus IF and its a big IF, they go back to their CUP and stop asking to add students.

As my name says - there is no real upside for Palo Alto, Casti wastes our time and money. The get a huge tax break and add nothing to Palo Alto except "prestige" lol and traffic. Our City employees have much more valuable things to do with their time than dealing with a private school's desire to expand to make more money.


Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2020 at 4:00 pm
Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 4:00 pm
20 people like this

Thank you to the PTC for endorsing the EIR, for recognizing that the extensive and thorough report itself is evidence of the commitment Castilleja has brought to this project and to addressing substantially the concerns that were raised in the DEIR. I appreciate the leadership of the PTC on this important project and their capacity to appreciate that this compromise has no significant impact. I'm glad we can finally begin to move forward and make progress on this project for a 21st century school that is an asset to this amazing, forward thinking community.


I like Palo Alto
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2020 at 4:11 pm
I like Palo Alto, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 4:11 pm
30 people like this

RE Local's comment above:

Stanford offers many opportunities to local residents who have no Stanford affiliation. Stanford does, as you say, contribute to Palo Alto's reputation as a center of education and intellectual life. So how many people out of the immediate area have even heard of Castilleja? Close to zero I suspect outside of college admission committees. As to expansion of "other schools" there is a big difference between public schools and Casti which is obvious and other private schools are not in R1 neighborhoods. And while offices have expanded, perhaps too much, at least whoever owns their buildings is paying taxes and employees use other Palo Alto businesses like restaurants so there is an up side there. No upside for the general community from Casti.


Ed Lauing
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 10, 2020 at 4:34 pm
Ed Lauing, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 4:34 pm
26 people like this

To clarify, there was no vote - or debate - last night at PTC on the proposed Castilleja expansion PROJECT. The PTC voted only on the Castilleja EIR - a required preliminary step to the expansion proposal. In our meeting in 2019 on the draft EIR, and our meetings this year on the Final EIR, there has never been PTC debate on the PROJECT. That debate is now scheduled to begin on 10/14/20. Approval of an EIR is a preliminary step in consideration of a project when required by law. Going forward, the PTC will now debate the proposed project itself and make “findings” in that regard. There is no correlation between a vote by PTC to send the EIR to council for consideration and a vote taken by PTC on the actual project or an amended project.

I voted last night to move the EIR to council because it identified mitigations for the major problems, and city legal counsel advised that other issues raised were not illegal. My EIR vote is not a predictor of my ultimate position on the project after future debate.



Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 10, 2020 at 5:13 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 5:13 pm
21 people like this

"I voted last night to move the EIR to council because it identified mitigations for the major problems"

@Ed, which "mitigations for the major problems" were identified and hence deemed sufficient to move forward? Please be specific about which "major problems" were mitigated.

And were the closure of Univesity Ave and the construction on San Antonio even considered or was the EIR just considered in splendid isolation without regard to the traffic problems resulting from having ALL access roads to 101 under construction at the same time?


There goes the neighborhood
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2020 at 5:24 pm
There goes the neighborhood, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 5:24 pm
39 people like this

You could almost hear the Caltrain whistle sounding as three PTC commissioners railroaded the Castilleja EIR down the tracks over the protest of fellow commissioner Summa.
• Last minute multi-page data delivery: no problem. -we don’t need time to carefully read them...
• Public comment, No (unless you’re the attorney from Castilleja)
• Input from absent Commissioners-not if the PTC has a quorum
It was quite a show; here are my Performance Awards nominations:
• Best Magic Trick: City staff and attorney “Transforming an underground garage into a parking facility”
• Traffic Management: EIR preparer Dudek disappearing EIR serious traffic impacts by Dispersion
• Urban Myth Maker: Castilleja Attorney Romanowsky, recalling all those outreach sessions (2016 and earlier) at which neighbors asked for an underground garage. Castilleja “listened” and gave neighbors what they requested
• Best Tough Sheriff: Commissioner Alcheck: be sure the Use Permit has penalties in the (unlikely) event Castilleja might inadvertently violate attendance, noise, and event number thresholds
• Best SNL Skit: Commissioner Templeton trying to get a straight answer from the staff as to why the no garage/street level parking solution was rejected
• Special Environmental Protection Award: Commissioner Hechtman ...be sure the Use Permit requires temporary trailers removed


CeCi Kettendorf
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:56 pm
CeCi Kettendorf, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 10:56 pm
29 people like this

@Ed:
"I voted last night to move the EIR to council because it identified mitigations for the major problems,"..........
What does this mean? Please explain what mitigations you have identified. If you have identified mitigations of the major problems then you must be confident that the problems are such soft problems, inconsequential, that you ignored them and voted for moving the project along. This issue has been exhaustively debated in the press for years now; there is nothing new; you are aware of all; it has all been said. What mitigating factors new to the topic are there?


Facts and Figures
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:07 pm
Facts and Figures, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:07 pm
34 people like this

I am dumbfounded as to why City resources are still being spent on this project. Dumbfounded.

Casti is an AMAZING school, but it needs to honor its existing use permit and expand elsewhere or just move.

We already have TOO MUCH traffic on Embarcadero. We don't need an EIR to know this. Plus, we are considering closing Paly's access on Churchill, and now we still want to expand Casti? Come on. Even considering this is ludicrous.


Old Palo Alto resident
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:35 pm
Old Palo Alto resident, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 11:35 pm
42 people like this

I am extremely disappointed at the three ring circus that occurred at the PTC meeting. The only comic relief was the background as the kids ran past a very irritated commissioner who managed to steer everyone away from thoughtful discussion and instead throwing a fit and steam rolling over the one concerned commissioner voicing valid concerns of the late submissions. Instead, he managed to wrestle most of the commission into accepting this FEIR as is.

The adoption and purpose of the PTC Commission according to the bylaws states:
The Planning and Transportation Commission of the City of Palo Alto (“Commission”) desires to update its existing Rules and Regulations and Bylaws in order to facilitate public participation in Commission proceedings, assure procedural fairness during meetings and hearings".

The last minute submissions did not allow for proper public participation nor did it give adequate time for the Commissioners to read, understand, much less decide and debate on the 30 page memo. Is this a fair and equitable process? Was this process transparent enough? I think not!

The Castilleja administration has repeatedly promised to be more transparent and even publicly apologizing for their past digressions in the August 24, 2018 Opinion piece by the head of Castilleja. Nanci Kauffman stated, "There is a saying about trust: It takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair. Obviously, I hope it will not take forever to regain our community's trust." This was two years ago and they still hide behind legal counsel and confusing submissions and addendums enough to make anyone's head spin. We asked them to do the right thing, to consider other alternatives. What lessons have they learned... To fool the public into thinking they are now doing the right thing by dialing back on taking homes which shouldn't have been taken in the first place, for not cutting down trees which they should have protected but have inexplicable "lost" 2 during these 4 years, or not asking for variances which put the neighborhood at risk. I only see them skirting the laws, checking the boxes to "hear" the public, and continuing blindly on their path to expansions at the expense of the neighborhood and for their own profit. How is that equitable?

I have now lost trust in the PTC commissioners who were obviously ignoring blatant omissions, inconsistencies in the FEIR and completely disregarding valid concerns that the public raised. It is clear that there is bias in this commission. These are not people I would trust to run for City Council or to represent its citizens in any public office.


Shameful conduct of PTC
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2020 at 9:56 am
Shameful conduct of PTC, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 9:56 am
37 people like this

Takeaways from PTC Mtg.:

1. Chair Templeton can't run a meeting, kowtowed by Alcheck, not able to contribute to discussion
2. Alcheck went on for 18 minutes in a garbled, rambling talk without being held to 10min.Trying to rush the Castilleja project through at any cost
3.Lauing seemed to try for the middle ground, not able to counter Hechtman , gave tidbits to Doria Summa
4. Hechtman seems to think Castilleja is worthy of large expansion/traffic/igoodwill when their record and actions for the last 15 years are unworthy of P.A. support
5.Summa the only commissioner who actually was ready for a ROBUST discussion to delve into the REAL issues

Lastly, seems to me that the City, and City Staff are not able to diligently represent their constituents and should be forced to pay PNQL attorney Moncharsh's fees!


Hulkamania
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2020 at 1:08 pm
Hulkamania, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 1:08 pm
21 people like this

"Castilleja's shoddy record..." says it all.


Eduardo F. Llach
Registered user
Southgate
on Sep 11, 2020 at 2:22 pm
Eduardo F. Llach, Southgate
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 2:22 pm
23 people like this

We support the Planning & Transportation Commission vote of 4-1 to endorse Castilleja's Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR). We support the opportunity it provides to Palo Alto young women to have options in their education, like my grandmother had when she graduated from Castilleja 103 years ago. Castilleja has worked with the community to develop a plan that addresses the community concerns in an exemplary manner. I live next to Paly, and I get no say on whatever they decide to do, traffic is a mess, but my kids went there and I've supported Paly. We understand the value Castilleja, Paly and all our schools bring to all of us, we need to support them as they evolve to better serve our kids and our neighbors' kids. The plan is a great one, Palo Alto will be far better off when it is completed. Thank you PTC!


Facts and Figures
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2020 at 2:31 pm
Facts and Figures, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 2:31 pm
20 people like this

@Mr. Liach,
Dear Mr. Liach,
With all due respect, Palo Alto young women get no preference for attending Casti.
Casti is not a Public charter or Public lottery (like Hoover, Ohlone, and the Mandarin immersion).
Nope, Casti is a private school with admission rules aplenty. Not one of those rules says we'll admit all the Palo Alto young women who want to attend and then look at young women from other cities.
This is overreaching at its very worst. Your email just ignores the plain reality which is that Casti would offer just as many opportunities to young women in Palo Alto if it were based in an area with less traffic. Moreover, Casti could just do what other schools have done and build / rent a second campus.
You live near Paly. Great. What use permit is Paly violating? Please explain.


Trisha Suvari
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2020 at 5:32 pm
Trisha Suvari, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 5:32 pm
15 people like this

I recognize that the commissioners have a very difficult job to do and they have been dutifully listening to both the neighbors concerns as well as the supporters for the project. I commend them for taking an unbiased look at the solid plan for modernizing Castilleja, it has been no easy task. While it is impossible to please everyone, their job is to focus on the future and not the past. With careful considerations being made to update the plans in order to address the concerns of the neighbors, I am pleased that the preservation of the neighborhood will remain and a smaller parking garage will address the neighbors concerns over delivery trucks, traffic flow, and parking. The commissioners are doing their job with the facts laid out before them and I applaud them for not allowing high emotions effect their decision making process to consider keeping this great school in Palo Alto where it has been for over 100 years.


Palo Alto resident
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:06 pm
Palo Alto resident, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:06 pm
19 people like this

I am astonished at the outrage I see in these comments. The commissioners on Wednesday evening did the hard work they are tasked with: reviewing the dense and highly scrutinized Environmental Impact Report. They voted based on a review of the facts in the report, and they followed CEQA law. This project has taken years and years to meander through the city process, and I applaud these commissioners for doing the important job they signed up for and moving the process forward. From beginning to end, this process should rely on facts, not politics and not emotions. The FEIR outlined the facts, and the commissioners' vote recognized that. Thank you, Commissioners.


Cindy Chen
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:10 pm
Cindy Chen, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:10 pm
21 people like this

I appreciate Castilleja's project alternative, which incorporated feedback and suggestions from the neighbors while 100% in compliance with Palo Alto's comprehensive plan. This process has taken over seven years, requiring Castilleja to be a good partner and be open to modifications. What was important about Wednesday evening was that the PTC commissioners closely analyzed the Final Environmental Impact Report, asked staff important questions that needed clarifying, and after assessing the strength of the report, made the correct decision to move the process forward. In particular, Cari Templeton showed the leadership required to bring different views together to find a reasonable outcome. This meeting reflects well on Cari Templeton and Ed Lauing as city council candidates because they proved they can listen, respond to facts, and take their roles as commissioners seriously while serving our community.


JT Brown
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:23 pm
JT Brown, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:23 pm
21 people like this

Thank you, Commissioners, for your vote on Wednesday evening. The Environmental Impact Report studied the Castilleja project ad nauseam, and its findings were clear: that the underground garage, enrollment increase, and campus modernization will not adversely impact the neighborhood, as long as mitigations and accountability measures are put in place. Kudos to the Commissioners for asking tough questions, recognizing the strength of the report, and allowing the process to continue. I look forward to the next hearing where these accountability measures will be discussed further.


No upside for Palo Alto
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:30 pm
No upside for Palo Alto, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:30 pm
23 people like this

JT Brown - aka as Lorraine Brown's husband - please be transparent in your posts. Your wife is a Casti exec.

Again - Casti is a great school. It has been over its CUP for YEARS. If it wants to update its campus, thats fine at its current CUP. If it want to grow - move.


JT Brown
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:53 pm
JT Brown, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 6:53 pm
13 people like this

@No upside for Palo Alto, I am confused. I am transparent...that's why I used my name rather some alias. I'm a 23 year resident of this city, expressing my own sincere and transparent opinion. What is your name?


Nancy Tuck
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2020 at 7:52 pm
Nancy Tuck, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 7:52 pm
16 people like this

Excellent news from the PTC! Approving the FEIR is the right move. Castilleja has gone back to the drawing board many, many times to amend the plans based on community feedback, in addition to mitigating those aspects that were deemed to have an impact on the immediate community. I live in that community and overwhelmingly welcome the prospect for an updated campus that can accommodate more students.
It is amusing that nearly ALL of the complaints above are made anonymously, while the supportive ones give their names. I'd hide too if I was submitting specious and derisory comments. Would you support the school if 100% of the students resided in Palo Alto? Really? Should we apply that to Stanford too? 1477 cars on Embarcadero due to Castilleja???
It's a busy town BECAUSE of its educational assets. Castilleja is a gem of an asset. Our home prices are exorbitant because it is a desirable place to live, go to school, work, worship, exercise, dine and shop. Top notch companies locate here because they know they can attract top employees to this community, with world class choices for education. The youthfulness and vitality are palpable. Commission members - please keep these wonderful aspects of Palo Alto deeply in your minds as you debate the project. Those of my neighbors who are looking for a retirement community should do just that.


Too much of a good thing
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2020 at 8:27 pm
Too much of a good thing, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 8:27 pm
20 people like this

The previous poster calls Castilleja "a gem of an asset". In that case I think we have too much of a good thing. We have Stanford close by already, as well as all manner of well-known tech companies. If you only have jewels and no food you will die. We want to exchange some jewels for food. In particular, we need to find a way to support a more diverse residence base. Castilleja does nothing for that. No taxes, no public school, nada. Enough.


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2020 at 10:28 pm
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2020 at 10:28 pm
37 people like this

I will use my real name and, as a Castilleja parent, say SHAME on the PTC (except Ms. Summa) for rushing this meeting, letting Alcheck again lead the stampede to agree with the silliness of a large underground garage being called a basement and therefor not part of the FAR but be used exclusively to park cars because it is in the "envelope" but not under a building. Are you also confused?

It was almost comical to see Ms French and the City attorney explaining the precise, historical intricacies of this slight of hand. But actually tragic because this "trick" will now established a precedent and will come back to haunt other neighbors.

Also it sounded like most of the Commissioners and certainly ALL of the public did not have time to see, let alone read the very last minute document produced by Staff. If it was important enough to write, should it not be read and commented upon?

And why was the neighbor's attorney not allowed the same time to speak as Castilleja's? This entire meeting appeared to lack any semblance of transparency. This is what is so shocking. It has little to do with the results but how the results occurred. Thank you.


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2020 at 7:38 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 7:38 pm
22 people like this

Isn't there a requirement that staff release any substantial new information five days before a public meeting? This agenda item should have been postponed until not only the commissioners but also the public had a chance to read staff's report.

Or is this city staff once again up to it's old tricks of trying to bypass any public scrutiny?

Shame on the PTC chairperson for not postponing this discussion to a future meeting.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 12, 2020 at 7:56 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 7:56 pm
22 people like this

Since Churchill Ave. is now the leading contender for closure at the RR tracks, should that be factored in to Casti's EIR since much of that traffic will be diverted to Embarcadero?

The PTC should have been aware of the Casti issue and hence postponed the the vote to consider factors like closing Churchill. Again, it feels like another poorly thought-out rush job.


Fred Balin
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 13, 2020 at 3:02 pm
Fred Balin, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 13, 2020 at 3:02 pm
26 people like this

Gist of comments to go the city council;

Last week, during the Planning & Transportation Commission’s discussion related to the environmental impact report for the Castilleja School redevelopment proposal, Commissioner Michael Alcheck, echoing the comments of Castellija's attorney, stated that the explicit wording of a city ordinance should be ignored in favor of the city’s past practices.

The issue at hand was the law that requires that any basement under Castilleja School be under the building’s footprint. In Alcheck’s view at the hearing, the city’s past interpretation and practice overrides the wording in the municipal code, and therefore, the underground garage is legal.

But in 2015, as a commissioner, and arguing privately in regard to his own residential redevelopment proposals, Alcheck advocated the exact opposite.

A city ordinance prohibited garages in the front half of a home’s footprint if the majority pattern on a block was of parking structures in the rear. The city’s long-term interpretation and practice was to treat carports the same way as garages, and therefore to disallow Alcheck’s applications for carports in the front of each lot.

Alcheck argued a strictly literal reading of the law, stating that since carports were not explicitly prohibited in the front of the lot, it was legal for him to have his carports in the front.

---

When it worked in favor of Alcheck’s personal interests, he advocated for a strict reading of the code. But when it benefited a project he had already signaled support for, he spoke in favor of ignoring the clear reading of the code.

---

Three years ago, and after the council was informed by the planning director, that Alcheck had illegally converted his carports into garages, three current council members voted to reappoint him: Greg Tanka, Adrian Fine, and Liz Kniss.

A year ago this month, I submitted to the city a 100+ page investigation of Alcheck’s misdeeds in his carport-to-garage caper. It helped influence the council’s decision to implement a broader discussion of the work of commissions, but nothing came forward in relation to Alcheck.

With this news of his contradictory and self-centered decision-making process, council should finally do what is long overdue: ask for his resignation, and if not received, remove him from the commission.


Fred Balin
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 13, 2020 at 9:04 pm
Fred Balin, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 13, 2020 at 9:04 pm
20 people like this

jc asks:

"Isn't there a requirement that staff release any substantial new information five days before a public meeting? This agenda item should have been postponed until not only the commissioners but also the public had a chance to read staff's report.”

There is such a requirement in the current City Council Procedures and Protocols Handbook excerpted below. It was instituted after late submissions in such abuses as the Alma Plaza and "JJ&F Block” PC projects. It does not apply to the PTC, although it would make perfect sense that it should. Someone else here might be able to speak to how conscientiously it has been followed at the City Council.

Council Handbook Page 7
Late Submittal of Correspondence or Other Information Related to Planning Applications

"In order to allow for adequate staff review and analysis, and to ensure public access to information, all plans, correspondence, and other documents supporting planning applications being heard by the City Council must be submitted to staff not later than noon five working days prior to the release of the Council Agenda Packet. If any correspondence or other information is submitted after this deadline to Council Members or staff, and Staff determines additional review is needed Staff will reschedule the item for a future Council meeting. If a Council member receives planning application materials from a project applicant he or she shall notify the City Clerk and the City Manager as soon as possible."


Observer
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 15, 2020 at 9:44 pm
Observer, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 9:44 pm
13 people like this

Amazing that the commission proceeding with the meeting when it seems impossible that they could have absorbed and thought through the issues dealt with in the long report that wasn't available until that very afternoon. Have a look at the report and see whether you concur that this process was bulldozed through without adequate consideration by the members of the commission: Web Link


Fred Balin
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2020 at 10:20 am
Fred Balin, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2020 at 10:20 am
7 people like this

One more thing …

After the quasi-judicial, Castellija EIR hearing of August 26, with public comment closed and the item continued to a later date, September 9, Michael Alcheck, by his own admission, contacted the applicant in violation of the commission’s procedural rules .

See "Planning and Transportation Commission Procedural Rules,” Section IV-B-5-e (“No Contacts After Hearings”) on Page IV-3 within Web Link .

Hear Alcheck’s disclosure at: Web Link .


Observer
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 21, 2020 at 6:23 pm
Observer, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2020 at 6:23 pm
9 people like this

FredBalin.... Thanks for pointing out Mr. Alcheck's trangression, which is no surprise given his checkered history. The restriction: "e) No Contacts after Hearings. Following closure of the hearing,
and prior to a final decision, Commissioners will refrain from any contacts pertaining to the item, other than clarifying questionsdirected to City staff." His disclosure has him admitting he contacted Castilleja staff after the hearing - but it doesn't seem legitimate that simple disclosure should excuse the malfeasance. His knowing conduct in ignoring the prohibition should produce some form of censure, not just giving him a pass because he disclosed his shady deed.


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