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After years of division and revision, city prepares to rule on Castilleja redevelopment

Palo Alto sets hearings on school's plan to replace buildings, construct garage, add students

The Palo Alto City Council is scheduled to hold hearings on Castilleja School's proposed growth plan on March 8 and 15. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

When the Palo Alto City Council launches its review Monday of Castilleja School's contentious plan to reconstruct its campus, it will kick off a process that will influence not just the Bryant Street institution but also the city's process for evaluating future major developments.

The school, which was founded in 1907, has been in the spotlight since 2016, when it submitted plans to modernize the campus. While the plans have gone through numerous revisions since then, the passionate feelings on both sides of the debate remain the same. The school's supporters say that Castilleja's proposal will enhance the institution and the broader community. Opponents say the plans would burden the single-family neighborhood with cars and noise.

In the months leading to the council's March 8 hearing on Castilleja, hundreds have submitted letters urging the city to support the school and advance the project.

"We must do all we can to protect, preserve and further the mission of this valuable community resource for our next generation of female leaders," High Street residents Dick and Anne Gould wrote in one such letter last week. "Castilleja has shown how this can be done, while protecting our neighborhood and environment — the school's leadership is to be commended for their 'listening' and for their efforts."

The project's many opponents counter that the plan is both illegal and insensitive to neighborhood concerns. They point to the school's history of exceeding its enrollment cap — a transgression that prompted the city to issue a $265,000 fine in 2013 — and argue that its plan to bump up the number of students from 426 to 540 and to build a garage is incompatible with the character of their neighborhood. The plans, they contend, should be significantly scaled down and the new garage eliminated altogether.

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"To allow this increase right now makes a mockery of city laws and regulations," Mary Sylvester, who lives near Castilleja and who is a member of the group Preserve Neighborhood Quality of Life Now, told the council this week.

Both views will get plenty of airing in the next two weeks when the City Council is scheduled to hold hearings on what is easily this year's most complex and divisive development project. But even as Castilleja continues to be lionized and demonized by its supporters and opponents, the council's verdict may come down less to the passionate feelings on both sides and more to technical interpretations of ambiguous zoning laws.

Is the garage a garage?

Palo Alto city staff have determined that Castilleja School's proposed parking facility not as a garage but as a basement based on city zoning code. Embarcadero Media file photo by Sinead Chang.

Among the most critical questions that the council will weigh is: Should the new underground structure be considered a garage? To a layman, the answer is clearly yes. Castilleja has referred to the subterranean facility as a garage in its plans and the city's documents, including the environmental analyses and the statement of findings, similarly use the term routinely in describing the project.

Yet when it comes to code, staff had determined that the subterranean facility with 78 parking spaces is in fact not a garage but rather a "basement." That's because the city's zoning code defines a "garage" as a "portion of a principal residential building or an accessory building to a residential use designed to be utilized for the parking or storage of one or more motor vehicles, which is enclosed on three or more sides and covered with a solid roof." Because the Castilleja is not a residential use, the city's planning and legal staff had concluded that its garage is not, technically, a garage.

"Since these definitions relate to residential buildings and uses — they do not apply to the proposed parking facility for a non-residential use," a new report from the Department of Planning and Environment states.

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In explaining staff's conclusion that the facility is a basement, Deputy City Attorney Albert Yang told the Planning and Transportation Commission in September that basements are defined by code as structures that are at least 50% below ground. Thus, "this underground parking facility could qualify with that definition."

"We believe it's a reasonable interpretation of our code," Yang said at the Sept. 9 meeting. "These are areas where there is some gray area."

Castilleja's proposed garage would have an exit ramp leading to Emerson Street. Courtesy WRNS Architects

The distinction between a "garage" and a "basement" is a critical one for Castilleja. Under the city's zoning code, underground garages are illegal in R-1 neighborhoods; basements are not. Garages also count in tallying up a project's gross square footage; basements do not.

Thus, if the council rejects staff's logic and concludes that Castilleja's underground parking facility is in fact a garage, the school may be forced to either remove the structure from its plans or scale down its expansion plan.

Not everyone agrees with this interpretation. Critics of the Castilleja proposal and even some planning commissioners have characterized the staff interpretation as a major giveaway by the city to the school.

"How can a parking garage not be a parking garage?" Becky Sanders, co-chair of the umbrella group Palo Alto Neighborhoods, asked at a Nov. 4 hearing of the planning commission. "How can it not be included in the floor area when the zoning code clearly states that it's included?"

The thorny question has already stymied the commission, which split 3-3 over the issue when it was reviewing the project in October and November. While three commissioners — Bart Hechtman, Michael Alcheck and Giselle Roohparvar — deferred to the city's planning and legal staff, three of their colleagues — Ed Lauing, Doria Summa and Cari Templeton — couldn't make the finding that supported staff's interpretation.

Templeton, who otherwise supported the Castilleja project, observed during the commission's Nov. 18 discussion that the underground garage is "a big departure from what other properties in the area are allowed to do." She also suggested that if the project goes through, the city will see more requests for underground facilities.

"We don't want to see an inadvertent side effect of abuse of this particular kind of structure," Templeton said.

Summa agreed.

"I just can't find anything in the code that allows for the floor area of the parking garage not to be counted," Summa said.

How many car trips?

The city of Palo Alto and Castilleja have agreed to stringent traffic-monitoring requirements as part of the school's proposed redevelopment plan. Embarcadero Media file photo by Sinead Chang.

For critics of Castilleja's expansion, it's not just the new garage that's the problem. It's also the cars. Over the course of the long planning period, neighbors have complained that allowing the expansion would endanger bicyclists on Bryant Street and create parking problems for neighbors whenever the school hosts major events.

Castilleja has maintained in its plans and its comment letters that it would adopt a more robust "transportation demand management" plan that would minimize the number of vehicle trips to campus. Its proposed program includes measures such as shuttles, carpool programs and mandates limiting single-occupancy driving by school staff. As a further assurance to neighbors, the city and the school had agreed to stringent traffic-monitoring requirements. Under the proposed system, if the school were to exceed allowed traffic limits, it would have to freeze enrollment increases.

To Castilleja's chagrin, the planning commission decided on Nov. 18 that this is not enough. Rather than adopt the school's proposed measures, which the environmental analysis showed would result in "less than significant" traffic impacts, the commission voted to institute a more stringent standard of "no net new trips." While two commissioners, Alcheck and Hechtman, argued that this standard is too rigid, five others supported the proposal from Commissioner William Riggs, who proposed the "no net new trips" policy, which is currently in effect at Stanford University.

"We should hold them to the same standard that we hold Stanford to," Riggs said at the Nov. 4 meeting.

The new standard would limit the school to no more than 1,198 average daily vehicle trips to and from Castilleja, the number of trips that the environmental impact report estimated for the school's current population of 426 students. Castilleja would need to adopt more aggressive transportation measures if it wants to enroll 540 students.

Castilleja has argued that the commission's recommendation — which would also commit the school to not exceeding 383 trips during the morning peak commute time — goes too far. School officials have pointed to its history of reducing traffic and recent analysis showing that the traffic impacts of the school's expansion will have a "less than significant" impact on the neighborhood. Its proposed transportation measures include providing transit passes, creating a "guaranteed ride home" program for those who don't drive to school, off-site pick-up areas and a bike-share program on campus.

During recent hearings, Castilleja officials have also pointed to the large number of traffic programs that the school already has in place, including vans that shuttle to Caltrain stations and a policy that prohibits employees to come to work in a single-occupancy vehicle more than twice a week. Nanci Kauffman, head of Castilleja, told the planning commission during an Oct. 28 review that the policies have helped the school reduce its vehicle trips by 31%.

"I don't know another employer in Palo Alto who has the same stringent requirement for employees," Kauffman said.

Mindie Romanowsky, an attorney representing Castilleja, urged the commission in a Nov. 17 letter to reconsider and reject the "no net new trips" standard. Upholding it, she argued, "will equate to the City holding the School to an unreasonable and higher standard than the City would require of any other project and could serve to paralyze the school's ability to use their property and to grow in a meaningful way."

Two planning commissioners shared this view. Hechtman and Alcheck both suggested that the city's initial proposal — tying traffic impacts to allowed enrollment expansion — provides a sufficient "safety net" to ensure that traffic conditions will not deteriorate. The conditions thus ensure that the city will not be "stuck in traffic without recourse."

"The conditions create a framework with which the school would have to meet certain hurdles before they could continue to grow," Alcheck said.

The student dilemma

From left, Castilleja seniors Sophia Nesamoney, Reese Ketsdever, Lauren Traum, Madison Lewis, Annika Kouri and Dana Abbo work together in an artificial intelligence workshop. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

While most development decisions are binary in nature, subject to either approval or denial, the Castilleja expansion presents the council with an unusually broad discretion with which to tinker. In considering a new conditional use permit for the school, for example, the council will have to weigh a number of questions that have already generated significant debate: How many special events should the school be allowed to host? (The planning commission settled on 74 per year.) When should these events be allowed to take place? (No more than five on Saturday evening and none on Sunday, according to the proposal.) Should Castilleja be forced to modify its tree plan, which calls for removing 18 trees and planting 99 trees? (City staff had concluded that the school's tree-removal plan is legal, a finding that PNQLNow members dispute.)

On Thursday, planning staff had identified another complication in the approval process: a Castilleja neighbor discovered that the floor area of an existing classroom building is not 42,000 square feet, as staff had initially thought, but 35,000 square feet with a 7,000 square foot basement -- a basement that is exempt from calculation. Because Castilleja has expressed its commitment not to add above ground square footage as part of the reconstruction, the finding means that the school now has to trim 4,370 square feet from its proposed project to meet this goal. It also means that the project will have to undergo another review by the Architectural Review Board for the revised design and that whatever action the council takes on March 15 will not be the final approval.

The council will, however, confront in the next two weeks another key question that is at the heart of the Castilleja debate: How many students should the school be allowed to have?

The school has been gradually decreasing its annual enrollment since 2013, when it was found to have exceeded the cap of 415 students by 8%, or 33 students. In 2020, the school was still overenrolled, with 426 students. If its project is approved as proposed and the traffic conditions are met, it would be able to gradually ramp up enrollment to 540 students.

In explaining its decision to seek an increase to 540 students, Castilleja officials have pointed to both their desire to further the school's mission to educate more young women and to their recent traffic studies, which indicate that going to that level would not worsen traffic around the school.

"That was a number that we derived primarily on the basis of both what serves the school program but also to be sure that we could maintain the promise of not having a traffic impact," Kauffman said on Oct. 28.

But many neighbors, and some planning commissioners, believe 540 is too many. Lauing and Summa both suggested that 450 may be a more reasonable number. Once Castilleja proves that it can manage that many students with no neighborhood disruptions, they argued, it can seek further increases.

Lauing suggested that limiting the enrollment number to 450 would minimize the risk that the project would worsen area traffic. If Castilleja's traffic-mitigation strategies succeed, Castilleja should have no problem getting the city's permission for additional increases, he said.

"I think given the risks now, the city needs a safety net," Lauing said. "We know it's easier to manage TDM with a lower number of students because Castilleja is successfully doing that right now and I salute them for that. But it gets harder as enrollment increases."

Some of the project's critics support this plan. Hank Sousa, a Castilleja neighbor and member of PNQLNow, said he and others in his group would be comfortable with an 8% enrollment increase, bringing the number to 448. Such an increase, he wrote in a Feb. 18 letter to the council, would limit the number of cars in the neighborhoods and obviate the need for a new garage while still allowing Castilleja to grow.

"We feel a modest enrollment increase and some revisions to the proposed plans can work for the neighbors," Sousa wrote in a Feb. 21 letter to the council.

That view, however, has been rejected by both the city's planning staff and the majority of the planning commission, which supported allowing Castilleja to move to 540 students. Planning commission Vice Chair Giselle Roohparvar spoke for the majority when she argued that the school should be allowed to go as high as it wants to on enrollment, provided it can contain the impacts of its growth.

"I don't think there is a problem with having 540 — or however many — students, as long as there's no impact on traffic," Roohparvar said at the Nov. 18 meeting. "And that can be managed."

City staff is also supporting Castilleja's proposal for increasing the student population to 540, provided that its traffic impacts remain low and that the increases are limited to no more than 25 students per academic year. A report from planning staff notes the prevailing perspective over the course of the recent hearings: "The number of students enrolled at the school was less important than Castilleja's ability to meet its trip reduction targets."

The council is expected to tackle the question of whether or not to approve an expansion to 540 students or to mandate a more gradual growth plan on March 15, its second scheduled hearing on the Castilleja project. The first meeting, on March 8, is reserved largely for public comments.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect the memo staff had sent out on Thursday night, indicating that Castilleja will need to revise its plans to reduce gross floor area by 4,370 square feet.

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After years of division and revision, city prepares to rule on Castilleja redevelopment

Palo Alto sets hearings on school's plan to replace buildings, construct garage, add students

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Mar 4, 2021, 9:22 am

When the Palo Alto City Council launches its review Monday of Castilleja School's contentious plan to reconstruct its campus, it will kick off a process that will influence not just the Bryant Street institution but also the city's process for evaluating future major developments.

The school, which was founded in 1907, has been in the spotlight since 2016, when it submitted plans to modernize the campus. While the plans have gone through numerous revisions since then, the passionate feelings on both sides of the debate remain the same. The school's supporters say that Castilleja's proposal will enhance the institution and the broader community. Opponents say the plans would burden the single-family neighborhood with cars and noise.

In the months leading to the council's March 8 hearing on Castilleja, hundreds have submitted letters urging the city to support the school and advance the project.

"We must do all we can to protect, preserve and further the mission of this valuable community resource for our next generation of female leaders," High Street residents Dick and Anne Gould wrote in one such letter last week. "Castilleja has shown how this can be done, while protecting our neighborhood and environment — the school's leadership is to be commended for their 'listening' and for their efforts."

The project's many opponents counter that the plan is both illegal and insensitive to neighborhood concerns. They point to the school's history of exceeding its enrollment cap — a transgression that prompted the city to issue a $265,000 fine in 2013 — and argue that its plan to bump up the number of students from 426 to 540 and to build a garage is incompatible with the character of their neighborhood. The plans, they contend, should be significantly scaled down and the new garage eliminated altogether.

"To allow this increase right now makes a mockery of city laws and regulations," Mary Sylvester, who lives near Castilleja and who is a member of the group Preserve Neighborhood Quality of Life Now, told the council this week.

Both views will get plenty of airing in the next two weeks when the City Council is scheduled to hold hearings on what is easily this year's most complex and divisive development project. But even as Castilleja continues to be lionized and demonized by its supporters and opponents, the council's verdict may come down less to the passionate feelings on both sides and more to technical interpretations of ambiguous zoning laws.

Among the most critical questions that the council will weigh is: Should the new underground structure be considered a garage? To a layman, the answer is clearly yes. Castilleja has referred to the subterranean facility as a garage in its plans and the city's documents, including the environmental analyses and the statement of findings, similarly use the term routinely in describing the project.

Yet when it comes to code, staff had determined that the subterranean facility with 78 parking spaces is in fact not a garage but rather a "basement." That's because the city's zoning code defines a "garage" as a "portion of a principal residential building or an accessory building to a residential use designed to be utilized for the parking or storage of one or more motor vehicles, which is enclosed on three or more sides and covered with a solid roof." Because the Castilleja is not a residential use, the city's planning and legal staff had concluded that its garage is not, technically, a garage.

"Since these definitions relate to residential buildings and uses — they do not apply to the proposed parking facility for a non-residential use," a new report from the Department of Planning and Environment states.

In explaining staff's conclusion that the facility is a basement, Deputy City Attorney Albert Yang told the Planning and Transportation Commission in September that basements are defined by code as structures that are at least 50% below ground. Thus, "this underground parking facility could qualify with that definition."

"We believe it's a reasonable interpretation of our code," Yang said at the Sept. 9 meeting. "These are areas where there is some gray area."

The distinction between a "garage" and a "basement" is a critical one for Castilleja. Under the city's zoning code, underground garages are illegal in R-1 neighborhoods; basements are not. Garages also count in tallying up a project's gross square footage; basements do not.

Thus, if the council rejects staff's logic and concludes that Castilleja's underground parking facility is in fact a garage, the school may be forced to either remove the structure from its plans or scale down its expansion plan.

Not everyone agrees with this interpretation. Critics of the Castilleja proposal and even some planning commissioners have characterized the staff interpretation as a major giveaway by the city to the school.

"How can a parking garage not be a parking garage?" Becky Sanders, co-chair of the umbrella group Palo Alto Neighborhoods, asked at a Nov. 4 hearing of the planning commission. "How can it not be included in the floor area when the zoning code clearly states that it's included?"

The thorny question has already stymied the commission, which split 3-3 over the issue when it was reviewing the project in October and November. While three commissioners — Bart Hechtman, Michael Alcheck and Giselle Roohparvar — deferred to the city's planning and legal staff, three of their colleagues — Ed Lauing, Doria Summa and Cari Templeton — couldn't make the finding that supported staff's interpretation.

Templeton, who otherwise supported the Castilleja project, observed during the commission's Nov. 18 discussion that the underground garage is "a big departure from what other properties in the area are allowed to do." She also suggested that if the project goes through, the city will see more requests for underground facilities.

"We don't want to see an inadvertent side effect of abuse of this particular kind of structure," Templeton said.

Summa agreed.

"I just can't find anything in the code that allows for the floor area of the parking garage not to be counted," Summa said.

For critics of Castilleja's expansion, it's not just the new garage that's the problem. It's also the cars. Over the course of the long planning period, neighbors have complained that allowing the expansion would endanger bicyclists on Bryant Street and create parking problems for neighbors whenever the school hosts major events.

Castilleja has maintained in its plans and its comment letters that it would adopt a more robust "transportation demand management" plan that would minimize the number of vehicle trips to campus. Its proposed program includes measures such as shuttles, carpool programs and mandates limiting single-occupancy driving by school staff. As a further assurance to neighbors, the city and the school had agreed to stringent traffic-monitoring requirements. Under the proposed system, if the school were to exceed allowed traffic limits, it would have to freeze enrollment increases.

To Castilleja's chagrin, the planning commission decided on Nov. 18 that this is not enough. Rather than adopt the school's proposed measures, which the environmental analysis showed would result in "less than significant" traffic impacts, the commission voted to institute a more stringent standard of "no net new trips." While two commissioners, Alcheck and Hechtman, argued that this standard is too rigid, five others supported the proposal from Commissioner William Riggs, who proposed the "no net new trips" policy, which is currently in effect at Stanford University.

"We should hold them to the same standard that we hold Stanford to," Riggs said at the Nov. 4 meeting.

The new standard would limit the school to no more than 1,198 average daily vehicle trips to and from Castilleja, the number of trips that the environmental impact report estimated for the school's current population of 426 students. Castilleja would need to adopt more aggressive transportation measures if it wants to enroll 540 students.

Castilleja has argued that the commission's recommendation — which would also commit the school to not exceeding 383 trips during the morning peak commute time — goes too far. School officials have pointed to its history of reducing traffic and recent analysis showing that the traffic impacts of the school's expansion will have a "less than significant" impact on the neighborhood. Its proposed transportation measures include providing transit passes, creating a "guaranteed ride home" program for those who don't drive to school, off-site pick-up areas and a bike-share program on campus.

During recent hearings, Castilleja officials have also pointed to the large number of traffic programs that the school already has in place, including vans that shuttle to Caltrain stations and a policy that prohibits employees to come to work in a single-occupancy vehicle more than twice a week. Nanci Kauffman, head of Castilleja, told the planning commission during an Oct. 28 review that the policies have helped the school reduce its vehicle trips by 31%.

"I don't know another employer in Palo Alto who has the same stringent requirement for employees," Kauffman said.

Mindie Romanowsky, an attorney representing Castilleja, urged the commission in a Nov. 17 letter to reconsider and reject the "no net new trips" standard. Upholding it, she argued, "will equate to the City holding the School to an unreasonable and higher standard than the City would require of any other project and could serve to paralyze the school's ability to use their property and to grow in a meaningful way."

Two planning commissioners shared this view. Hechtman and Alcheck both suggested that the city's initial proposal — tying traffic impacts to allowed enrollment expansion — provides a sufficient "safety net" to ensure that traffic conditions will not deteriorate. The conditions thus ensure that the city will not be "stuck in traffic without recourse."

"The conditions create a framework with which the school would have to meet certain hurdles before they could continue to grow," Alcheck said.

While most development decisions are binary in nature, subject to either approval or denial, the Castilleja expansion presents the council with an unusually broad discretion with which to tinker. In considering a new conditional use permit for the school, for example, the council will have to weigh a number of questions that have already generated significant debate: How many special events should the school be allowed to host? (The planning commission settled on 74 per year.) When should these events be allowed to take place? (No more than five on Saturday evening and none on Sunday, according to the proposal.) Should Castilleja be forced to modify its tree plan, which calls for removing 18 trees and planting 99 trees? (City staff had concluded that the school's tree-removal plan is legal, a finding that PNQLNow members dispute.)

On Thursday, planning staff had identified another complication in the approval process: a Castilleja neighbor discovered that the floor area of an existing classroom building is not 42,000 square feet, as staff had initially thought, but 35,000 square feet with a 7,000 square foot basement -- a basement that is exempt from calculation. Because Castilleja has expressed its commitment not to add above ground square footage as part of the reconstruction, the finding means that the school now has to trim 4,370 square feet from its proposed project to meet this goal. It also means that the project will have to undergo another review by the Architectural Review Board for the revised design and that whatever action the council takes on March 15 will not be the final approval.

The council will, however, confront in the next two weeks another key question that is at the heart of the Castilleja debate: How many students should the school be allowed to have?

The school has been gradually decreasing its annual enrollment since 2013, when it was found to have exceeded the cap of 415 students by 8%, or 33 students. In 2020, the school was still overenrolled, with 426 students. If its project is approved as proposed and the traffic conditions are met, it would be able to gradually ramp up enrollment to 540 students.

In explaining its decision to seek an increase to 540 students, Castilleja officials have pointed to both their desire to further the school's mission to educate more young women and to their recent traffic studies, which indicate that going to that level would not worsen traffic around the school.

"That was a number that we derived primarily on the basis of both what serves the school program but also to be sure that we could maintain the promise of not having a traffic impact," Kauffman said on Oct. 28.

But many neighbors, and some planning commissioners, believe 540 is too many. Lauing and Summa both suggested that 450 may be a more reasonable number. Once Castilleja proves that it can manage that many students with no neighborhood disruptions, they argued, it can seek further increases.

Lauing suggested that limiting the enrollment number to 450 would minimize the risk that the project would worsen area traffic. If Castilleja's traffic-mitigation strategies succeed, Castilleja should have no problem getting the city's permission for additional increases, he said.

"I think given the risks now, the city needs a safety net," Lauing said. "We know it's easier to manage TDM with a lower number of students because Castilleja is successfully doing that right now and I salute them for that. But it gets harder as enrollment increases."

Some of the project's critics support this plan. Hank Sousa, a Castilleja neighbor and member of PNQLNow, said he and others in his group would be comfortable with an 8% enrollment increase, bringing the number to 448. Such an increase, he wrote in a Feb. 18 letter to the council, would limit the number of cars in the neighborhoods and obviate the need for a new garage while still allowing Castilleja to grow.

"We feel a modest enrollment increase and some revisions to the proposed plans can work for the neighbors," Sousa wrote in a Feb. 21 letter to the council.

That view, however, has been rejected by both the city's planning staff and the majority of the planning commission, which supported allowing Castilleja to move to 540 students. Planning commission Vice Chair Giselle Roohparvar spoke for the majority when she argued that the school should be allowed to go as high as it wants to on enrollment, provided it can contain the impacts of its growth.

"I don't think there is a problem with having 540 — or however many — students, as long as there's no impact on traffic," Roohparvar said at the Nov. 18 meeting. "And that can be managed."

City staff is also supporting Castilleja's proposal for increasing the student population to 540, provided that its traffic impacts remain low and that the increases are limited to no more than 25 students per academic year. A report from planning staff notes the prevailing perspective over the course of the recent hearings: "The number of students enrolled at the school was less important than Castilleja's ability to meet its trip reduction targets."

The council is expected to tackle the question of whether or not to approve an expansion to 540 students or to mandate a more gradual growth plan on March 15, its second scheduled hearing on the Castilleja project. The first meeting, on March 8, is reserved largely for public comments.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect the memo staff had sent out on Thursday night, indicating that Castilleja will need to revise its plans to reduce gross floor area by 4,370 square feet.

Comments

Hulkamania
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2021 at 9:41 am
Hulkamania, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 9:41 am

In the end, no one will be happy.


Shameful conduct of PTC
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2021 at 9:42 am
Shameful conduct of PTC, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 9:42 am

City Staff is so one sided that they should receive stipends from Castilleja.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 4, 2021 at 9:51 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 9:51 am

"Yet when it comes to code, staff had determined that the subterranean facility with 78 parking spaces is in fact not a garage but rather a "basement."

What a farce! This from the city that spends a fortune lecturing residents to get out of OUR cars while defending Casti which has a 75% out-of-town student body! Lecture THEM to take shuttles and public transit!!!

Does the city NOT know that Embarcadero clogs up with traffic, something that will become even worse if they close Churchill to through traffic? If not, they should sure be replaced immediately. Does the city NOT know that cars STILL get stuck in the middle of El Camino and Embarcadero because of the backups -- this after 2 of our highly paid transportation "leaders" have studied the matter and surveyed "stakeholders" for the last 10 years!!

This "stakeholder" says enough. We DO have traffic problems and don't need to make them worse when there's NO community benefit.


Hallewell
Registered user
Community Center
on Mar 4, 2021 at 10:34 am
Hallewell, Community Center
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 10:34 am

Of the several issues: Embarcadero Traffic, Neighbor Impact, Education, Legality - it's pretty clear, at least to me, that the school has failed big time on legality. imo it probably fails on two of the other three. The council should represent the voters and enforce the voter agreed laws.


Why?
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2021 at 11:26 am
Why?, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 11:26 am

Ahhh... the ironies of having the parking lot enter and exit on Palo Alto's Bryant Street Boulevard. Sad.


Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2021 at 1:18 pm
Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 1:18 pm

Thank you Palo Alto Weekly for finally understanding that this proposal is NOT AN EXPANSION! This is a very balanced article about a nuanced proposal. I also appreciate the acknowledgement that the PTC supported 540 students. This is because—as the article asserts—impacts are what matter. All of this conversation about an increase in traffic is pointless. The traffic is capped. One point to clarify: City council will not be choosing between approving 540 OR a more gradual plan. Castilleja's plan is gradual, only 25 students a year. This has always been a gradual, thoughtful, careful plan. It is critical for everyone to learn the facts here because they make it clear that this project is a win for all parties.


Roy M
Registered user
Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2021 at 2:25 pm
Roy M, Downtown North
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 2:25 pm

Thanks to the Weekly for a fact-based look at the situation. I am looking forward to the proposal getting a fair hearing in front of the council. As the article states and Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto reiterates, the enrollment increase would be gradual and will not happen if the traffic can't be managed. Daily car trips have decreased about 31% due to the school's traffic management initiatives, so I have every reason to believe that the school can manage it with increased enrollment.


sfvalley
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2021 at 3:19 pm
sfvalley, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 3:19 pm

30% more students, faculty, staff, volunteers, in a tiny 6-acre site between busy Embarcadero and narrow streets of small, older homes? There is no win for the neighbors or the City of Palo Alto in these plans. The school should rebuild, slightly increase enrollment, and then, if they are so confident they can reduce impacts (more shuttling, using kiss-n-ride lots), then allow them to EARN more students. Putting all the risk on the neighbors by granting a HUGE increase, with the same administration that never managed to get down to their max enrollment after being told do to so by the City, and doesn't comply with CUP-limited events numbers, is disheartening. Who will enforce? The City hasn't been able to for the last 10 years; this is a serious give-away to a non-tax paying entity that serves very few Palo Altans.


Old Palo Alto Resident
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2021 at 4:21 pm
Old Palo Alto Resident, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 4:21 pm

As a fairly new resident of Palo Alto I have tried to educate myself on the issues and I appreciate this balanced article. My opinion is that a very small group of loud complainers are making this seem like a neighborhood issue when most of us neighbors are supportive of the plan. This beautiful and world class school was here way before all of us and should be allowed to renovate and grow with the population- Palo Alto’s population has grown from less than 10k when the school was founded to more than 60k now. That population causes traffic. But this population is what makes Palo Alto a great place to live. Help this wonderful school thrive into the next hundred years and stop the bickering please.


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2021 at 4:32 pm
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 4:32 pm

As a Castilleja parent, i continue to be disappointed in Castilleja's push to expand. Not satisfied with breaking their Conditional Use Permit for 14 years, expansion is now the solution.

On 3/8 most Castilleja student, parent and grandparent will likely discuss how wonderful the school is for girl's education. That is NOT the issue. As if girl's education on the Peninsula will come to a standstill if Castilleja does not expand!

The issue is: do we mangle our established (for a reason) Zoning codes, Comp Plan and Sustainability Plans so a private school can expand?

Any changes to the Zoning Code will become "precedent" and be used over and over to the detriment of Palo Alto neighborhoods.

I laugh when I see signs supporting Castilleja miles away from the school site. It is easy to support something when YOU do not have to put up with 5 years of construction, sit in traffic and have a garage ..oops! now a basement holding only cars, in your neighborhood.

It seems so simple; why do we have Zoning Codes if we are just going to ignore them when we want. Not an easy task for the City Council. Thank you


Nancy Tuck
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2021 at 6:11 pm
Nancy Tuck, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 6:11 pm

I DO live in the neighborhood and fully support the proposed renovation and gradual enrollment increase. Traffic has not been an issue when the school was in full session (pre-pandemic), and I don't fear any issue with the new garage. The garage puts 78 cars underground, preserving street parking, and allowing for more landscaping at the street level rather than a surface parking lot. As for the construction phase -- just more of the same as far as this community goes. Paly's performing arts center, the ever-constant home construction, and the electrification of the Caltrain tracks have kept the neighborhood busy with noise for years. I am excited about how the Castilleja block will look, and believe it will further enhance the attractiveness of the neighborhood. Castilleja has been a remarkably considerate and conscientious neighbor - which is notable.


Person
Registered user
Southgate
on Mar 5, 2021 at 6:18 am
Person, Southgate
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 6:18 am

Castilleja should move to another location, as do most private schools that exceed their space.


Person
Registered user
Southgate
on Mar 5, 2021 at 6:22 am
Person, Southgate
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 6:22 am

Dare I say that the "need" to expand relates to the increasing volume of wealthy parents and alumni who want their daughters to attend Castilleja. This has nothing to do with the school's need to absorb a larger volume of students whose parents are not currently lobbying Castilleja for admission.


Bill Bucy
Registered user
Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2021 at 9:27 am
Bill Bucy, Barron Park
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 9:27 am

Things have been kind of boring since the pandemic hit. I suggest the council stick this one on the ballot so we can enjoy what could be an epic electoral free-for-all


Trisha Suvari
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2021 at 9:42 am
Trisha Suvari, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 9:42 am

Castilleja should be able to modernize just as all of the other neighborhood public schools have been able to do. It makes no sense that public schools are able to update or expand, yet, when a private school wants to modernize their campus, they are held to different standards. If you read the facts on the project, the footprint of Castilleja will be the same. In fact, there will actually be more visibility from the sight line and more trees! The parking garage was put in the plans out of neighbors request, now they have changed their minds because they want to do anything to just stop the project from happening. Castilleja has revised their plans numerous times to accommodate the neighbors, the plans are a win for both sides. It is a fact that even with increased enrollment, the traffic will not change. The amount of car trips allowed is capped and will remain that way. Allow Castilleja to modernize their campus, just as all of the other schools are able to do.


Neal
Registered user
Community Center
on Mar 5, 2021 at 9:48 am
Neal, Community Center
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 9:48 am

Make no mistake. Castilleja is big business. Like any business, it's goal is to make money and lots of it. They are doing it at the expense of the neighborhood. Who in their right mind doesn't think this project will adversely affect the quality of life in the surrounding area? To add insult to injury, Castilleja is not paying its fair share of taxes. Allowing a business like this to expand is right out of Trump's playbook. Hurray for business and screw the environment i.e. neighborhood. The CC has a moral and legal obligation to protect the residents, not the other way around.


How to help the hotspot areas
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2021 at 9:55 am
How to help the hotspot areas, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 9:55 am

I DO NOT agree the redevelopment/expansion of Casti. I live two blocks from Castilleja(Casti) on Bryant St. Embarcadero Street had already overloaded with the traffic from Stanford university, Stanford hospital, PAMF, Paly and Casti during rush hours on normal times. Embarcadero and El Camino Real streets are the "spine" for commuting in this part of Palo Alto. I couldn't imagine Casti adding the constructions and more traffic due to the increase enrollments which made the traffic unbearable to the neighbors. More than 75% of Casti students do not live in Palo Alto, they commute by cars. In addition, given the interaction of Churchill and Alma most likely would be closed permanently, I think the redevelopment/expansion is a terrible idea.


Duveneck neighbor
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2021 at 10:10 am
Duveneck neighbor, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 10:10 am

I have written this before, and I write it again:

No one is taking the long-view on traffic.

Within ten years -- that is, only at most five years after the most optimistic completion date for the project -- self-driving vehicle use will be widespread in our area. This change affects this project, dramatically.

There is therefore no need for the parking garage. Instead, satellite drop-off/transfer points should be developed, in non-residential areas, where students can transfer to self-driving vans owned or leased by the school. The number of trips can be reduced dramatically; simultaneously, and ironically, more students could be accommodated.

Save the huge amounts required to build the garage; use it instead for labs, or develop the much-less-costly satellite transfer points; or reduce the tuition; or give more scholarships to needy students; and so forth.

(BTW, calling it a 'basement' offends the sensibilities, and Staff -- legal and otherwise -- should be reprimanded for this insulting subterfuge. Simultaneously, Council must close this loophole.)

Self-driving vehicles can and will, ultimately, respond to dynamic traffic conditions. Council can place hard limits on number of vehicles per unit time; these limits can be implemented in software, through vehicle coordination; if the limits aren't working well (either too few or too many vehicles/impacts, measured quantitatively), then changes are easy to implement.

As well, Council should consider petitioning CalTrain to stop at the Embarcadero 'station', once in the morning, and once in the afternoon, in each direction, to accommodate students coming from out-of-town. Get the students out of vehicles altogether, and walk the last 200 meters or so.


Old Palo Alto Resident
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2021 at 10:36 am
Old Palo Alto Resident, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 10:36 am

According to the current CUP, Castilleja legally is only allowed to have 5 major events plus several more each school year. However, they have been holding more than a 100 events each school year. They are applying for 90 events each school year and selling it as they are doing the neighbors a favor to go from 100+ to 90. What a great salesman skill. What I don't understand is why the staff comes up with this arbitrary 70+ number for event? Did they ask the neighbors or study the impact before coming up with this number? Looking at how the staff is basically siding with the school in many of their proposal, I am just wondering if the staff are really working for the residents of Palo Alto or for the school?


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Mar 8, 2021 at 10:45 am
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Mar 8, 2021 at 10:45 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Palo Alto Resident
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2021 at 3:12 pm
Palo Alto Resident, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Mar 8, 2021 at 3:12 pm

Castilleja's renovation and modernization plan will allow more girls and young women from all sociodemographic backgrounds to attend a unique school the gives them a voice, trains them in life-long leadership skills, and offers a superb education in an enriching environment. The plan has been vetted and approved by all of the appropriate committees including an environmental report that commented on the strength of the proposal. Using traffic or a garage as an excuse to limit women's access to education in today's age is puzzling at best, and claiming that Castilleja is an elitist school is factually wrong. Many of Castilleja's immediate neighbors across the street support the proposal, as do numerous families throughout Palo Alto, including those whose children do not attend Castilleja.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 8, 2021 at 3:58 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 8, 2021 at 3:58 pm

Of course the expansion would allow more girls to attend, something Casti has done WITHOUT approval in the years they've violated their enrollment cap and now they want to expand even more! Is law-breaking the type of "life-long leadership skills" Casti now teaches?

What's so "puzzling" about why people worry about increased traffic? Embarcadero is 1 of only 3 direct access roads to 101. It already backs up for blocks, wastes people's time and has had numerous accidents by frustrated drivers creating their own lanes to avoid the traffic backups.

Not too "puzzling" that people don't want don't want to make traffic more chaotic with 5 years of construction.

Many Casti's neighbors, Casti graduates and/or Casti parents oppose this expansion BECAUSE it violates the principles of "community service" and honesty Casti once taught.

Tune into tonight's CC meeting to hear why there's no community benefit to expanding Casti. And remember one can still "support women's education" without supporting this expansion.


Staying Young Through Kids
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2021 at 5:36 pm
Staying Young Through Kids, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 5:36 pm

Better than a garage...a little tongue in cheek here.

See if Castilleja will pay to to upgrade the CalTrain / Embarcadero underpass to make it 4 or 5 lanes AND pay for grade separation at Alma / Churchill to keep that open.

If they would do that they would get cheerful citywide support for just about anything they want to build! Until then, better to keep enrollment where it is at the Palo Alto site. I'm sure their second site will wonderful once it's built.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 12, 2021 at 7:54 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 7:54 pm

Staying Young, brilliant! No need to make it tongue in cheek.

I do wonder about the claim that "all" Casti kids take the train, esp. since the Atherton station closed years ago and I've never heard of trains serving Woodside, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley, etc.


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 15, 2021 at 12:33 pm
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 15, 2021 at 12:33 pm

What does it mean when someone says" i live in the neighborhood or I am a neighbor"?

I ask this as I was shocked to learn that Nanci Kauffman does not live on any of the streets bordering Castilleja...not Bryant, Embarcadero, Emerson or Kellogg.

She lives near the corner of Bryant and Churchill; well buffered from all the noise, immediate traffic and impending construction. No wonder she is not bothered by the proposed expansion, swimming pool loud speakers, special activities or the noise expected from all.The "garage" and shunting exiting traffic onto Embarcadero may even lessen traffic impacts on Nanci's section of Churchill! Her "neighbors" likely support expansion as it does not impact them.

No wonder Nanci's "neighbors" feel differently about Castilleja's expansion than the "neighbors" on the streets bordering Castilleja!

I live right next door to a Church and school. Neighbors 2 doors down or on the other side of the street are not impacted the way I am...Luckily the Church/School, IMO, have been responsible and respectful of their neighbors and to me, are welcome.

If only Castilleja would be a good neighbor.


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