Castilleja is proposing to grow to 540 students over four years, adding 25 students annually. The private, all-girls middle and high school currently enrolls 438 students. It is struggling to meet a growing demand, however, with an acceptance rate Head of School Nanci Kauffman said she doesn't like to brag about: The school is now accepting only one in 10 applicants for its freshman class.
"This is a moment where I make a promise to you," Kauffman told the crowd gathered at the Bryant Street campus, "that promise being that any future growth that we would propose for approval by the city, we would propose it happening over time; we would propose that there would not be an increase in the impacts that you have become accustomed to and that we would be held accountable for in some very direct ways."
This accountability would come in the form of annual audits conducted by an outside firm, traffic and parking counts conducted twice a year by an independent firm, limits on the number of special events the school hosts and reports on the impact of those events, Kauffman said.
If the city grants Castilleja the conditional-use permit school officials plan to apply for, the city would also monitor the agreement and would likely have in place penalties if certain thresholds are exceeded.
Accountability and monitoring are crucial for Castilleja's neighbors, some of whom are still smarting over the school's 12-year-long violation of the previous enrollment agreement. The city ordered the school to reduce the number of students it admits, pay a $300,000 fine and cut back on the car traffic it generates.
One longtime neighbor, Vic Befera, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1968, put his views succinctly: "Five hundred and forty students over my dead body."
"I don't feel we should be awarding any increase in enrollment for bad behavior," another man said at the meeting. "I don't trust the school can absorb all of the traffic and parking onto the site. I don't trust this proposal. I don't feel this is going to be validated by the city."
Neighbors did acknowledge Wednesday night the efforts Castilleja has made in recent years to ease the traffic and parking problems on neighboring streets. Over the last three years, Castilleja has built a robust transportation-demand management (TDM) program: a bus that brings students to school, a shuttle service to and from the downtown Caltrain station, remote employee parking within walking distance of the school, event parking on a school field and a requirement that all employees participate in the TDM program in some way.
These efforts are paying off, staff said Wednesday night. Peak morning trips have dropped from about 1.18 trips per student in the spring of 2012 to 0.85 in the fall of 2015, according to Robert Eckols, a senior associate at Fehr & Peers, a transportation and engineering firm working with the school. (The school is proposing a goal of 0.80 trips per student in year four of the plan.)
In 2012, only 10 percent of students walked or biked to school, according to Eckols. Last fall, 10 percent of students were walking to school, 11 percent were biking and 14 percent were taking the new shuttle.
But neighbors are not necessarily celebrating the changes.
"The idea that the traffic level now is acceptable is not going to fly with the neighbors," nearby resident Bruce McLeod said.
To accommodate additional students, the school is proposing two additional bus routes, an afternoon shuttle service to accommodate after-school activities, another shuttle to and from a remote parking location, an expanded parking program, a reduction in the number of food-service deliveries and a new underground parking garage that would give the school 66 off-street parking spaces.
All of this would be done with "very stringent sets of benchmarks" and "pretty rigorous oversight," Kauffman said.
Ken Hirsch, chair of the school's board of trustees, told the crowd, "We think accountability is essential to actually having this work, and we don't think we should grow if we don't meet the metrics."
McLeod, a member of a smaller working group that has been meeting with school officials and a professional facilitator for many months, stressed the importance of the neighbors, school and city to continuing to collaborate — genuinely — as they move forward. He said he hopes the working group "continues to be an important part of the process rather than an afterthought."
Castilleja is currently conducting a study with the City of Palo Alto on the impact on Embarcadero Road from several different scenarios, from creating a "slow-down" lane into the school to providing access from Embarcadero onto Bryant and Emerson streets with immediate access onto campus on each block. Fehr & Peers was hired to conduct the analysis and is aiming to present its findings to the city in March, Hirsch said.
Tom Shannon, who has lived across from the school on Kellogg Avenue since 1989 and is a member of the smaller working group, seemed cautiously optimistic about the school's promise to increase its transportation-management efforts.
But, he told the Weekly after the meeting, "The proof is in the pudding of their promises."
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