Guest Opinion: Castilleja doesn't exist in a bubble | February 28, 2020 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 28, 2020

Guest Opinion: Castilleja doesn't exist in a bubble

by Mary Sylvester and Andie Reed

Our corner of Old Palo Alto, bounded by Alma Street, Embarcadero Road, Churchill Avenue and Waverley Street, is an eclectic grouping of small and large homes and apartments on tree-lined streets where neighbors largely know each other and enjoy stopping to chat. Some of us own and some of us rent. Among our neighbors are singles, families with school-age children and full-time jobs, and a few of us lucky enough to be retired.

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Andie Reed is a retired accountant living on Melville Avenue. Mary Sylvester is a 40-year resident of Palo Alto, where she is professionally employed and has raised her two children.


Posted by Looking Forward
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 4:26 am

All excellent points. Excavating a gargantuan garage and making traffic on Embarcadero and local streets even worse is not what we want in a city with far too many commuter cars already. And all those extra car trips increase energy consumption and greenhouse gasses.

Let's have the Castilleja megadonors and bright students come up with a 21st century solution instead of making our environment worse.

Posted by henny
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2020 at 7:40 am

Over the past few years I have attended a couple of PNQL meetings, typically when they feature a prospective city council member or PTC member. My feeling is the neighbors are very concerned about the current traffic impacts that will only be increased by any expansion plans proposed by the school. There is some residual anger from the over enrollment scandal of a few years back. Also, some dismay that the school continues to be led by people who misrepresent their relationship with neighbors. However, there is a way forward that would grant the school a modest enrollment increase with its new Conditional Use Permit (say 8% which is what they got last time), dependent upon the underground garage going away. Once a strong shuttling and off-site parking program was in place there could be bench marks met that would allow the school another enrollment increase. And, finally, if the week night and weekend events were drastically reduced another enrollment increase would be permitted. Of course, all this would have to be monitored and enforced as the school's history of compliance with their Conditional Use Permit is sketchy at best.

Posted by nearby neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2020 at 9:02 am

I recall that early in this process Castilleja hired former Planning Director Steve Emslie as a consultant. It was clear to me then that they knew there would be opposition and they hired an insider to muscle their way through.

Emslie is working for other developers now, but Casti's developer mentality remains.

Posted by Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2020 at 9:34 am

Of course Castilleja doesn't exist in a bubble. That's why some of the students who go there come from other communities, to pop the bubble and expand opportunity for students who can't attend schools like Gunn and Paly in their home towns. The parking lot will not increase traffic and there is a cap in car trips, so I'm not sure why that continues to be a thread in the conversation. But even more important, the changes in the plan, which appear substantial and meaningful, were in direct responses to neighbor concerns. It felt like such a positive step toward compromise. I encourage the respondents above who speak of a 21st century solution to actually review the plans in detail--Castilleja's proposal is eminently forward-thinking.

Posted by Hypocrites
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2020 at 10:06 am

In all the discussions it is disheartening to read all the negative comments about the number of out of town Students that go to this school.
Sounds like "Palo alto only for Palo altoans". So much fit progressive Palo alto

Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2020 at 10:12 am

If the school had made changes in direct response to the neighbors, they would have removed the underground garage from the plans years ago. Tearing down rental stock and old houses is not in the best interest of the community, so the school not doing so isn't forward-thinking nor is it a compromise, it is because they were having a hard time getting it through the process. Please don't believe what the school says "the neighbors want". Ask the neighbors. Also, the DEIR states clearly that the underground garage increases car trips.

Posted by Shuttles
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 12:28 pm

They have shuttles NOW and have been using them for the past 4 years. Many faculty and staff use off site parking and walk or bike to campus. The garage is for faculty and staff during the day. They use the playing field for event parking.

Posted by Care About Education
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2020 at 12:42 pm

From where I sit, I think Castilleja has met its neighbors' concerns on three levels. 1) I remember some people argued that taking down the homes would disrupt the residential feel of the neighborhood. The school heard that and is preserving the homes. 2) I remember there was concern about taking down mature trees. The school heard that as well and trees are being conserved. 3) People who opposed the garage, which by the way is only a subset of neighbors, said it didn't fit in the neighborhood. The school scaled it down and made it as small as possible while still providing sufficient parking. In this guest opinion piece, it seems like the only way that the school can be seen as responding to neighbors is by taking away the garage completely. I feel for the school at this point.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 28, 2020 at 12:48 pm

Thank you, Mary Sylvester.

Also I'm very offended by their "support women's education" campaign as if they have a monopoly on education and those opposing their expansion don't. If that's the type of logic they're teaching the girls, shame on them.

Posted by Downfall
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 28, 2020 at 1:17 pm

Does anyone know if the school has ever come in to compliance with the current 415 attendance cap after they were found to be exceeding this in 2013? Any further enrollment increases should not be considered until they are in compliance with the current cap.

Posted by Baffled
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2020 at 3:17 pm

No, they are reducing their enrollment by attrition, but are not back to 415 yet. Their hope is to have an approved project and not ever have to go back to the number. It still baffles me how people can still believe that a building garage is ok. It’s bad for the environment, draws unnecessary cars into the neighborhood, and increases traffic, as the DEIR clearly states! Doing away with the garage, modernizing their current buildings, and increased is the way the only way to minimize impacts to the neighborhood since the school is so adamant about not finding a satellite campuses, which many other private schools have so wisely done! Castilleja in its “reduced” plan has not addressed the most blatant and impactful issue of traffic in their proposal by promoting a green campus with a environmentally damaging garage. There needs to more forward thinking if they want to grow in place for the next 100 years.

Posted by Baffled
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2020 at 3:27 pm

They need to increase SHUTTLING and stop allowing “privileges” to juniors and seniors to drive. The school should teach students about being accountable for their actions and being good neighbors! This is one way to make a noticeable difference. And making shuttling mandatory for everyone, including for parents, especially for events will make a huge improvement on traffic flow. Why is it that Castilleja is not willing to include this in their Conditional Use Permit?

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2020 at 3:55 pm

I've never seen a breakdown by grade, but, at 448 students grades 6-12, that is 64 students per grade. If the existing campus went to grades 9-12, enrollment would be 256 students per grade. Castilleja just needs to build a grade 6-8 campus at another location. That is what all the other private schools have done and are doing.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 28, 2020 at 4:00 pm

I still don't understand why the school, which violated its user permit by exceeding the 415 attendance cap has never been punished. Why would their ridiculous plans even be up for review when they have been in violation for years. Imagine a resident who remodels his home in violation of city height limits, then submits another application to increase the height limit he has already violated even further. Is Castillja enjoying special privileges that make it immune to consequences that regular residents would not escape?

Posted by Hypocrites
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2020 at 5:13 pm

Maurucio--the school was fined. Now shall we stick to facts

Posted by Looking Forward
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 29, 2020 at 8:12 am

Regarding the fines, Castilleja paid $265,000 back about seven years ago for having exceeded the legal enrollment at the site. They remain out of compliance but have paid no fine for the successive years. That means they have taken in millions of dollars in tuition that they aren't legally entitled to.

It seems like one lesson Castilleja is teaching its students is that breaking the law is OK ... if you are politically well-connected.

Posted by Just Wondering...
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 29, 2020 at 8:21 am

Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto, you state that Castilleja building a parking lot doesn't mean an increase in traffic. Then why would Castilleja spend all that money to build an expensive parking lot if they expected less traffic? #Confused

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 29, 2020 at 3:27 pm

When you prorate the fine they have paid over the years they've been violating their user permit, their fine is negligible when factoring in their revenues. No wonder they continued to violate their commitments. They've been lightly slapped on the wrist, and now have the chutzpah to make outrageous demands.

A private school should not be in the midst of a residential area already subjected to heavy traffic. The claim that Castilleja has been there before their neighbors is silly. Home owners who lived along what is now Oregon Expresswy were forced to move through eminent domaine so the Expressway could be constructed. Castilleja should sell their property and find land in a non residential area elsewhere in the Bay Area and build there as large a campus as their heart desires.

Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 29, 2020 at 6:30 pm

No castilleja. No to expanding in a residential neighborhood and messing up Embarcadero for years. Expand somewhere else.

Posted by Casti Tuition is $50k.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2020 at 12:13 pm

The out-of-town people I know who have daughters attending Casti are from Atherton, Burlingame Los Altos, Menlo Park, etc. These are not people whose children are suffering. Many of them work here. Tuition is $49,900. Families who can afford this can afford to give their kids a car to drive to school...and a lot of them would do that if more parking were available. Hence, the push for the big parking garage. Eliminating the parking garage from the project is a good idea. Build it, and cars will come.

Posted by Tapas
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2020 at 12:16 pm

Remember Harker Academy? New homes forced them out. They moved to San Jose. Castellaja should also move to San Jose or set up a sister school bcranch elsewhere.

Posted by 20yrPAres
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2020 at 3:07 pm

Vote against the expansion. Having come from an elite private school in the east coast, we were always chartered to engage and support the community. Neither the school or parents believe this, which is a bit sad. I've worked with some of the parents in tech and feel that they don't need to give back. Its a wrong attitude and the city and residents should STOP this type of behavior else the behavior will continue. Limit the expansion. If they want to send their children to a real private school, then send them to the east coast where new money and false righteousness is put in check. Actually a bit embarrassing every time that I hear this school and palo alto together.

Posted by A Fine that Hurts
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 2, 2020 at 3:12 pm

Casti got off easy with that one time fine! I think they should have to pay the total tuition earned by over enrollment for each year in violation. Why should they profit? At about $45K/year/ per student that would get them under compliance quickly.

Their level of entitlement is like no other. Come on Castilleja- follow the rules like everyone else. Why should your school be any different than every other school or business that wants to expand? Open a second location- yes, it is not convenient but that's the way it is done for schools and businesses that have a desire to grow but don't have room. Stop thinking you are better than everyone else.

Posted by Ethics&Integrity
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2020 at 7:08 pm

First, I am not located close enough to be bothered by the traffic,parking,and concurrent environmental impacts. I have been extremely concerned about the unethical message the actions of Castilleja,gives to the young women attending the school. If you cheat, are dishonest, fail to listen to your neighbors,what kind of value, ethical, integrity message are you giving to your students.

I did need to drive through the neighborhood a couple of months ago during an thoughts, these neighbors best not have family or friends try to visit or they must park blocks away!! It was unbelievable!!

Posted by lipstick
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2020 at 8:38 pm

The latest plan from Castilleja is another example of the school not addressing neighborhood concern.

The “concessions” were easy revisions for the school. Both removed dubious aspects of the project – a setback variance and loss of residential properties – that had been questioned by the Planning Commission and the DEIR. These concerns threatened to derail the project and served the school’s interest in increasing the enrollment without any substantive improvement to the primary neighborhood concerns of excessive traffic and parking.

The new plan for separated drop off zones all around the school does nothing to alleviate the overall traffic or parking in the neighborhood. In fact, as the neighbors argued at the beginning of this process five years ago, cars must drive around the school through the neighborhood to get to these drop off points. This is simply an effort to spread the impacts around but it exacerbates the basic problems.

The reduction of the garage parking spaces to the legal minimum again does nothing to keep cars out of the neighborhood. If students and staff can access the school from all sides they will be less likely to brave the garage entrance and will continue to park on the neighborhood streets.

Castilleja’s touted compromise is lipstick on a pig. Let’s have some real concessions that will actually alleviate their gross impact on the neighborhood and the city.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 3, 2020 at 2:32 pm

Castilleja is too big to be trusted and far too big to remain. This all began when they found themselves over enrolled ohh what a shock. The simple truth is GREED they are not what they pretend to be

Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2020 at 2:47 pm

Right. Those darn greedy shareholders trying to maximize their obscene profits!

Oh, wait... it's a non-profit and doesn't have any shareholders or any profits.

Those darn little girls trying to get an education! How dare they!

Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2020 at 3:03 pm

and we all know you need an underground garage in order to educate girls. and anyone standing up for civic responsibility must be against educating girls.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 3:05 pm

Posted by Family Friendly, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Those darn little girls trying to get an education! How dare they!

The girls may be trying to get an education, but, their parents and the Castilleja administration want that education to have a "Palo Alto" brand.

Once again-- the middle school could be split off and located in a nearby town, allowing Castilleja graduates to still have the Palo Alto brand, while reducing the number of students and the associated traffic at the historic Palo Alto site.

Posted by No upside for Palo Alto
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2020 at 8:53 am

Castilleja is a great school BUT should REDUCE their enrollment to their permitted amount. If they want to grow, open another campus or move to a different location.

Posted by John
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 7, 2020 at 9:13 am

There is no satisfying the NIMBY crowd in Palo Alto. It’s easier negotiating with 3 year olds.

Casti is one of the finest schools in the country, takes on many underprivileged students, and already goes to great lengths to mitigate traffic and placate the entitled neighbors - who live in a great city and have no idea what quality of life issues really are. It is an asset that should be treasured and embraced. Even when the school met the demands of neighbors and reduced scope of its project, it was not enough. It will never be enough for these folks. I’m ashamed to call them my neighbors.

I wish Casti would find a more welcoming town, then sell the land to developers to put up another mall or office building. Then all the whiners would be begging for that quaint little school to return.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2020 at 9:52 am

Posted by John, a resident of Professorville

>> Casti is one of the finest schools in the country,

It may be a great school now. It may be a bad school in the future. It is irrelevant to the discussion, because, the issue is one of land use, zoning, and type of activity, not whether the school is good or bad. We all have no control over, nor, should we, of whether the school is a wonderful school or a poor school. It is a private school.

>> It is an asset that should be treasured and embraced.

It already requires too much traffic and parking for the neighborhood, and, they want to expand it.

>> I’m ashamed to call them my neighbors.

You are confusing very different issues and attributes. Your neighbors have every right to worry about traffic and parking, even though (today-- who knows about tomorrow?) it is an asset to be treasured and embraced (except that they have been breaking the rules for years -- a fine example for our youth ...)

>>I wish Casti would find a more welcoming town, then sell the land to developers to put up another mall or office building.

It isn't zoned for that.

>> Then all the whiners would be begging for that quaint little school to return.

How about they move the middle schoolers to a different campus? There have been and are going to be more school closings in the area (due to declining birth rates, older population moving in, maturing area etc.). Why do you-- yes, you personally-- buy into the single-minded vision of the school's leadership team to expand right there on that spot? I have no confidence in that leadership team because of the irrational desire to greatly expand on that very limited site. It makes no sense, yet, there has been no real consideration of alternatives.

Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2020 at 10:01 am

Maybe moving the school to the campus of Notre Dame de Namur would give Castilleja more room as well as help the university stave off closure due to falling enrollment.

Web Link

Posted by Hopes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 7, 2020 at 2:33 pm

I also “wish Casti would find a more welcoming town, then sell the land to developers to put up another mall or office building.” Then when the developers learn that they can only build housing with a large percentage of BMR and affordable housing, they lose money on the deal. Then developers might start to realize that Palo Alto zoning actually matters, and cannot be easily thwarted by indirect graft. And Casti will stop abusing its host neighborhood, and be able to become bigger and maybe famous. Atherton, perhaps? They would need to buy one or two of the larger estates.

One can only dream.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2020 at 5:06 pm

Castilleja does not need to have a Palo Alto address. The need to buy land that is not in the midst of a residential area, and build there the kind of campus they envision. Their presence at such a difficult location, adjacent to a very congested arterial, being a privileged private school is diminishing the quality of life, and safety, of many residents. Not only should their plan be rejected, but the school should be pressure to sell their land and relocate.

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