Commission not swayed by Castilleja's plan to add students | January 21, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 21, 2022

Commission not swayed by Castilleja's plan to add students

Members split over whether school should be allowed to raise enrollment to 540

by Gennady Sheyner

After more than five years of revisions and public hearings over its contentious plan to redevelop its campus, Castilleja School sent a signal last week that its patience is wearing thin and asked the city in a letter to provide it with "clear direction" and "minimal further requests."

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Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2022 at 11:07 am

felix is a registered user.

Interesting that Reckdahl recused only because of a letter written by PAN in the past.

Cari Templeton is currently Membership Chair of PA LWV which now has a petition link on its website encouraging signatures about Palo Alto affordable housing.

The League Housing Committee advocates to the City and sometimes urges people to show up for key City meetings to support the League position.

To think that the LWV Membership Chair isn’t acting above reproach as a City Commissioner is noteworthy. Will Templeton recuse herself from affordable housing items? Time to. Why is this any different that Reckdahl - he’s not even an PAN officer.

Bart Hechtman’s recent lengthy monologue to try to convince the public that he has no conflict, ignored his undeniable appearance of conflict, about which he remained silent.

So Reckdahl takes the high road - and the other two?


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 20, 2022 at 11:26 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Excellent points. He had to recuse himself for a letter?? So tired of the double-standard that favors only the big stake holdders.

Re the League of Women Voters petition, by the same logic City Councilwoman Cormack should certainly recuse herself from most issues. Her collusion with LWV president Liz Kniss during the confirmation of Mayor and Vice Mayor re trying to change the rules mid-gane was totally transparent and way more serious than a letter.

In Alcheck's 10 -- TEN -- years on the commission, did he ever once recuse himself?? Of course not.

Congratulations to the new Chair and Vice Chair. Thanks for finally bringing some objectivity and common sense to this. To date, we've only heard vague promises that there'll no traffic impacts based on outdated traffic numbers.
What a shameful waste of time and money!

What can we do to change this double standard of recusal??


Posted by M
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 11:46 am

M is a registered user.

Land is scarce on the Peninsula, resulting in issues of school density and housing density. Palo Alto City's inability to make timely and balanced decisions on housing density is emblematic of why we have SB8, 9 and 10. Its inability to make a decision after 6 years on school density at Castilleja has allowed the question do descend into ugly ad hominem attacks. The City seems unable to make decisions on almost anything important. We and Castilleja deserve a decision, not a restart.


Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 20, 2022 at 11:58 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Oh it is rich that Mr. Reckdahl is advised to recuse. Being a gentleman, he does.

And Alcheck, for 10 LONG years, was given a pass, despite his family's contributions to Castilleja as previous describe in detail, online, by Rebecca Eisenberg.

And why is there NOT a NO GARAGE ALTERNATIVE as mentioned by Ms. Suma.

Because Dudek did not include one in their DEIR and Staff, when asked to return with a NO GARAGE ALTERNATIVE, never did. Castilleja and Staff just assumed an illegal in a residential area underground garage would be approved.

Time to demand a NO GARAGE ALTERNATIVE.

A garage is not needed per VERY CAREFUL reading of the 7/23/21 Fehr & Peers' Castilleja Parking Study.

The study identified 143 available on site and adjacent to the school frontage parking spaces; 39 more than the 104 parking spaces Fehr & Peers deemed "appropriate" for an enrollment of 540 students.

PTC/CC please carefully read this report!

No parking garage equals no need for a Utility Easement for the Melville sewer line. Still can't find out if this has been granted and whether Castilleja or us, the taxpayer, will foot the bill for any damage due to Castilleja's underground tunnel (garage to campus) running mere feet below this vital sewer line.

And no need to move an estimated 530,000 cubic feet of soil for garage construction. And less traffic congestion during and after construction.

It is ridiculous to worry about the amount of time Castilleja's expansion plans have been discussed. If they had been sq foot appropriate, did not require breaking/bending/twisting of PA Codes/Ordinances and did not require an easement or other "special treatment"; the project would be done by now.

Congratulations to the residents who oppose this project and have fought against it so valiantly.

PTC and CC: Please request a NO GARAGE Alternative, which was sadly missing from the original DEIR. That was, IMO, the beginning of this entire fiasco. Thank you.


Posted by Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 12:25 pm

Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto is a registered user.

Bravo to Commissioners Hecthman, Roophavar, and Templeton for calling out the completely ridiculous suggestion that Castilleja should apply for a new CUP every time they want to add students. That line of thinking is proof that there are some city leaders who really do want to drive Castilleja into the ground while ignoring facts. Let’s stop here for a moment on those two points. 1. They want to make it as difficult as possible for a school to improve conditions and educate kids without new impacts. Okay, what makes sense in that statement when you know it is coming from city leaders? Communities need strong schools, all kinds of strong schools. 2. They think this process will go quickly next time, but they don’t believe in the documented and researched TDM results. Castilleja has the data on the trip reductions, but three commissioners won’t believe it. And they say that voters are supposed to believe this reapplication process will be efficient? We have the data on the CUP process. It is slow and divisive. Meanwhile, educational opportunities are lost. I appreciate how steady and reasonable Commissioners Templeton, Roophavar, and Hechtman were as they based their comments on facts, data, research, and true reflection on the work they have been charged to do.


Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 1:06 pm

Palo Alto native is a registered user.

I agree with the sentiment that Hechtman should voluntarily recuse himself, or have our City Attorney recuse Him. Meeting with Castilleja’s lawyers is a conflict of interest and calls into question his fairness and objectivity about the many issues regarding Castilleja. We need to hold our Commissioners to the highest standards of conduct!Thank you Ed Lauing for heading up the PTC in a objective manner.
Also, there should be a No Garage alternative for PTC to weigh in on.


Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 1:14 pm

Old Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

This June will be the 6th year since Castilleja submitted their plan for the underground garage. I really don't understand why it is so important to them. Is Castilleja in the business of educating girls or building an underground garage? The parents should really should ask the leadership team of the school to understand what are their priorities. It is really sad to see how hard they have wasted so much time in fighting for the garage instead of coming up with really sustainable way to educating more girls. Now even hire a new lawyer to threaten the City into getting what they want.


Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 1:21 pm

Old Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

I think Commissioner Chang is right on about asking the number of events in different time of the day. Events during evenings and weekends have significant impact to the neighborhood's quality of life. Therefore, it should be strictly limited. Commissioner Templeton tried to make a case that school should be allowed to have as many events as they want. However, she neglected to recognize this is a single family residential area. Events traffic was not studied in the EIR which has significant impact to the neighborhood. If she wants Castilleja to have more events, then those events should be offsite in the current campus or better yet find new campus that is away from others home.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 20, 2022 at 1:56 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Casti supporters, please explain EXACTLY how the proposed traffic monitoring plan will work to ensure there are no backups on Embarcadero which is already jammed much of the day. A few simple questions:

Who pays for the monitoring, Casti or taxpayers? How often will it be monitored? What times of the day? Will monitoring be done on weekends and evenings for special events? What are the penalties for violations? Are there escalating penalties for repeat violations (an obvious concern with Casti)? Who will ensure monitoring is done at peak times rather than when traffic is lightest? (I ask because PA has a known history of conducting traffic studies when traffic is the lightest, forcing residents of Crescent Park and elsewhere to fund their own studies)

I must have missed the answers to those and other concerns over the years.

Re Hechtman's recusal, why are you calling on him to voluntarily recuse himself when he already has? Are you also calling for Templeton and Cormack to voluntarily recuse themselves? If not, why not?


Posted by Castilleja neighbor, 600 feet
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 4:21 pm

Castilleja neighbor, 600 feet is a registered user.

At last night’s PTC meeting 1/19/22, One PTC commissioner mentioned that he had vaguely had some contact with Castilleja’s lawyers.
If that is true, shouldn’t he have recused himself from the Castilleja discussion? Fair is Fair.

Adding another 125 students will only cause more traffic issues because 75% of the students come from outside Palo Alto.

Adding to this an underground parking garage with entrance off of Embarcadero/Bryant and exit Emerson/Embarcadero will only cause more traffic problems.

If “1 ton of cement gives off 1 ton of carbon dioxide”, would this help with climate change by building an underground parking garage with millions of tons of cement? If Palo Alto is trying to be environmentally friendly, then city council should insist on major shuttling for Castilleja’s students, staff, and teachers.

A while ago, when one city council member raised the question of the exact square footage for Castilleja’s expansion, should ‘t this have been answered on the spot?

There are tree codes in Palo Alto and there should be no exceptions. That is why we have city codes.

All of the above are cause for concern for Castilleja’s expansion.



Posted by azr
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 4:52 pm

azr is a registered user.

Thanks, Gennady, for a good summation.
Commissioners should refrain from attributing words or actions to people they don't know.
"This process has bitterly divided next-door neighbors" is touted by the school, presumably part of the drumbeat to push for approval. That is not an accurate assessment. Walk around the school! Of the 28 houses directly across the street or next to the school, 18 oppose the scope of the project and most have PNQL lawn signs (for 5 years and counting); 6 support anything the school wants to do (of which 3 are houses that the school owns), and 4 are neutral. Nobody's bitter.
Another school-playbook line repeated at the PTC meeting was that the neighbors didn't complain about traffic back in 2013 until they learned of the over-enrollment - when it was in fact at that public meeting that neighbors were complaining about the traffic! It was repeated by staff, but is inaccurate.
Also, I think I heard that half the neighbors approve the garage. There are many emails sent from people who aren't close-by neighbors and are affiliated with the school (but don't say so) who tout that line, but the actual neighbors, although split on the specifics of the plans, are united in wanting the school to modernize but lower the scope of the plans, stay within code, allow a reasonable increase in enrollment, and reduce traffic. We are not paid, we don't have a PR firm, we don't think in lockstep, but nobody's bitter and the actual neighbors are all neighborly.
Not a good practice for our boards and commissions to be assigning to the neighbors what they think. Best to ask the actual neighbors what the neighbors think, not the school.


Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 6:15 pm

Old Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

In last night's PTC meeting, it was very funny to see Commission Templeton tried to paint Castilleja as an honest player despite 20+ year of over enrollment violation by fishing from the staff Ms Amy French to say Castilleja came out to report the over enrollment in 2013 on their own. However, if anyone look at the enrollment history for each year between 2000 to 2013, you will see clearly that the enrollment was systemically increased by a few students year over year from the CUP allowed 415 to as high as 450 students. The Head of School Ms Nanci Kauffman tried to lay the blame on her predecessor by saying that she reported the over enrollment as soon as she found out on 2013. However, the school provided enrollment data will tell you that the biggest year over year enrollment increase was between 2011 and 2012 by 13 students to reach 450 which is after Ms Kauffman became the Head of School on 2010. When the neighbors found out about the over enrollment, Castilleja even tried to defend their violation by saying that for 13 years they thought the enrollment limit meant for daily average student attendance and the number of students registered for the school. Is this the right type of behavior you should expect from the leadership team of a highly reputable 100 old institution like Castilleja?


Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 20, 2022 at 6:48 pm

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Interesting how so many issues return to the, IMO, faulty 7/2019 Castilleja DEIR completed by Dudek.

If Dudek had correctly addressed ALL the issues and offered ALL reasonable alternatives, we would not be mired "in ill will" so many years later.

Why was a "No Garage Alternative" not included in the DEIR? Why was Castilleja's present sq. footage not measured and disclosed until 11/2021?

AND,

My review of Dudek's DEIR, Chapter 12: Geology, Soils, Seismicity and Paleontology and the 1/2107 Geotechnical Investigation Report by Silicon Valley Soil Engineering of San Jose (which expired 1/2020 per the authors) revealed eleven (11) detailed site-specific recommendations.

Ten of these recommendations detailed the need for additional expert Consultants, testing or analysis "which needed to be completed before the Project begins."

This portion of the DEIR was out of date and expired before it was approved. The core drilling samples for this report were taken on 12/16/2016.

To the best of my knowledge these detailed recommendations were never completed or, if they were, the findings were never made public.

I asked at the time "how can Dudek's DEIR be accepted without the additional recommendations being completed and the findings reviewed?" How can you approve what you don't know?

The DEIR also lacked a separate, specifically recommended contingency dewatering plan for the garage, any classroom basements or underground construction.

Castilleja's DEIR, IMO, should NEVER have been approved. Too many deficiencies. So many valid questions were ignored, minimized or never answered. Too bad these concerns were not addressed timely.

Honestly could have saved everyone a lot of trouble. Thank you.


Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 8:53 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Under the law, which Molly Stump either is ignorant to or else willfully ignores (or both), there was no reason for Keith Reckdahl to recuse himself. He has no personal or financial interest in Castilleja.

Michael Aleheck, meanwhile, has numerous financial and personal conflicts. As Rita Vhrel mentioned above, Alcheck's family has been a major donor to Castilleja for decades, because Alcheck's sister - and possibly mother - attended Castilleja. This can be confirmed by looking at Castilleja Annual Reports and cannot be in debate.

[Portion removed.]

Conflicts of interest are killing democracy in our town. This is not a political issue - it is an issue of fairness. It is the obligation of our elected leadership to set the tone of integrity, but they themselves come with dirty hands. Council members who work for Alphabet and/or own large amounts of GOOG stock [portion removed] never reveal the potential conflict when voting on matters that impact large Palo Alto-based employers like Google/Nest. They 100% of the time deny any *potential* conflict - a falsehood.

Fairness, transparency, and accountability matter. Palo Alto's Planning Commission have none, allowing big money interests like Castilleja to take control. We deserve better!


Posted by Sulev Suvari
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 20, 2022 at 10:05 pm

Sulev Suvari is a registered user.

No resident, business, or entity should have to wait 6 years plus for the City to make a decision. Every issue will have a portion of the citizenry for and against, this is expected. Regardless of position on an issue, all citizens expect their elected representatives to do their job and make decisions. Palo Alto City Council, Commissioners, and Board Members, no more waffling or pushing back down to lower groups for more information. There are more important issues at hand in Palo Alto and the commissioners are allowing this saga to continue. Let Castilleja modernize and grow along with the city.


Posted by Keith
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2022 at 10:56 pm

Keith is a registered user.

Palo Alto is trying to phase out the use of natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning it. This project is a greenhouse gas budget buster. Placing the pool underground requires using approximately 1,456 tons of concrete to counteract buoyancy from groundwater, emitting 524,000 lbs of CO2. The underground garage adds another 2,175 tons of concrete and 1,307,000 lbs. of CO2. The total CO2 emissions of 1,831,000 lbs. CO2 emitted by our family for water heating and cooking on a gas range is about 420 pounds. This single project results in CO2 emission equivalent to 3,110 years of our emissions for heating and cooking. If we assume a 10 year amortization, 311 residence would need to be retrofitted to electric ranges and water heating. Even at a low $10,000 per residence, this comes to $3.11 million in offsets. From the perspective of Palo Alto's S/CAP, removing the garage and underground pool would be a major improvement.

Incidentally, part of the garage is being built on City - property, Melville which was closed so Castilleja could expand their grounds. If I understand correctly, this project puts a permanent structure for private use on City owned property.


Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2022 at 9:49 am

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

My daughter graduated and I had left the Castilleja board before I joined the PTC. While on the Castilleja board I had expressed serious reservations about the campus plan.

When Castilleja was first scheduled to come to the PTC, I consulted a government law attorney. As commissioners we’re appointed to do a job on behalf of the public and we should stand down if we have conflicts. He advised I had no conflict. The City Attorney’s office concurred.

Castilleja is a local institution we should be proud of and want to remain. But the Embarcadero site is constrained. It’s too small for full-size playing fields and too close to residents for events. The Bryant bike boulevard and Embarcadero restrict circulation. Parking and drop off were longstanding conflicts with the neighbors, but many students have after-school activities that are only accessible by car.

Rather than struggling and suing, why can’t we work together to find a way for Castilleja to remain and grow in Palo Alto for the next 100 years?

My recommendation: let’s find some City land and coordinate a swap. One possibility: we can jump start development at Cubberley by swapping a piece of that parcel for Castilleja’s Embarcadero site. That could open 6 acres on Embarcadero for new housing development. I’d recommend an “Independent School” overlay zone, so Castilleja no longer needs a CUP.

Palo Alto is full of smart and creative people and it’s exhausting to watch the same fights drag on for years. Castilleja is a problem with a solution if we can just get the right people talking and leaders showing some leadership.


Posted by Old Engineer
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 21, 2022 at 10:25 am

Old Engineer is a registered user.

Perhaps Castilleja could show goodwill by implementing their proposed traffic reductions now with external monitors to see if it really works. I have problems with future self reporting of traffic. Kind of like leaving the wolves to guard the sheep. Dropping children off a few blocks from school and letting them walk the last bit would diffuse the traffic concentration rather than choking off traffic on local streets caused by drop off at the door.


Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 21, 2022 at 10:58 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Thank you Keith, Rebecca and Asher for your insightful posts.

Sulev: I think you are missing the point.

Our elected and appointed officials MUST ask questions and receive honest answers before making a decision which will affect all Palo Altans in so many ways.

If you have watched any of the almost 6 years of official meeting concerning Castilleja's expansion plans, you have seen Mr. Lait, and Ms. French repeatedly avoiding providing a direct answer to a question. Instead they have answered with "mumble jumble" causing listeners to say "What did they just say".

The best example, IMO, example of this "mumble jumble" is that the requested, illegal in a R-1 neighborhood underground garage becomes a now legal "basement which only holds cars". A basement is usually under a building (nope), and does not hold cars An underground garage is usually counted in the FAR (nope).

Brilliant! But no wonder listeners said "What" and strongly objected to this "far reaching and unusual" interpretation of our Codes. All of this is, of course, captured on tape. It can be reviewed at any time.

The problem, besides dishonesty and favoritism, is that these misinterpretations, if not challenged but allowed to stand, set precedents, which can be used in any neighborhood on any future project.

So this is really not about a "few neighbors fighting Castilleja"; it is about fairness and preserving PA's Codes, Ordinances and Regulations, which have been carefully constructed to provide legal and equal protection to us all.

Which is why, as a Castilleja parent, I have so strongly objected to the way Castilleja's expansion plans have been pushed forward.

Fair is fair; that is all residents have and continue to request.

I thank the 3 members of the PTC for asking and re-asking the hard questions.

Please do not let Staff limit your questions or curtail your discussions. So many questions were never answered, so they must now be asked again AND ANSWERED. Thank you.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 21, 2022 at 11:14 am

Online Name is a registered user.

I repeat my earlier question about what the SPECIFIC plans are traffic impact. How is it that after all 5+ years no one can answer simple questions like who's going to monitor traffic to ensure compliance and who's going to pay for it.

Shame on Lait, French and Casti for mot demanding and/or providing SPECIFIC answers.

Enough. It's interesting how many Casti PARENTS oppose the expansion.

Re Mr. Waldfogel's "My recommendation: let’s find some City land and coordinate a swap. One possibility: we can jump start development at Cubberley by swapping a piece of that parcel for Castilleja’s Embarcadero site. That could open 6 acres on Embarcadero for new housing development. I’d recommend an “Independent School” overlay zone, so Castilleja no longer needs a CUP."

Worth considering after deducting the value of the land the city / taxpayers already GAVE Casti.


Posted by Roy M
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 21, 2022 at 11:46 am

Roy M is a registered user.

As I read through the comments of this article and the last one, I am astounded at the continued new objections that people raise just to try to further delay the project with the goal of cancellation. Conflicts of interest because of a sibling's relationship with the school? Global warming because of the traffic, never mind that the school has repeatedly said it won't expand enrollment if the TDM goals are not met. To this one, does anyone really think that if the school was magically replaced tomorrow with housing that the traffic on Embarcadero would be any better? Paly and Stanford aren't going away. It really is ridiculous.


Posted by Resident11
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 21, 2022 at 11:56 am

Resident11 is a registered user.

What? Give city land to Castilleja, A PRIVATE SCHOOL? Of all the things to do with city land, that would be pretty near the very bottom of my list. How did we get to the point where someone would even suggest that?


Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2022 at 12:59 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Asher: Thank you for your comments! I forgot that you had mentioned that you consulted an outside attorney in addition to consulting Molly. And I always believed you when you said that Molly told you that there was no conflict. I strongly disagree with her finding, and am even more baffled that she would have said that you had no conflict while Keith Reckdahl -- who never had any legal or financial interest in Castilleja -- did have a conflict big enough that even disclosure alone was not sufficient - but which required recusal as well. Molly's advice to Keith was not supported by law, and it harmed the democratic process of providing fair and representative deliberation about Castilleja. We all lost.

I also respect and agree with your position that Palo Alto could be taking an active role in helping Castilleja find a more suitable campus. In fact, I said that often during my city council campaign and that position is available on my former campaign's website (which I won't link to per PAO rules). Let's work on that together.

I assume you saw the the three sentences in my previous post that PAW deleted, where I mentioned that a Trustee serves as a financial and legal fiduciary for an organization, which does create a direct conflict. I can see, however, if your fiduciary position had ended in entirely, the matter would be more of a gray area, and I apologize for my confusion on the timing.

Most of all, I *greatly* appreciate your reasonable and amicable response to my comments, and I hope I have given you the fairness and open-mindedness in turn that you deserve. I believe that we all are working towards shared goals of doing what is in the best interest for our community, including preserving our natural environment by reducing use of single-occupancy vehicles and protecting our tree canopy, as well as protecting our children & seniors from the risks created by traffic.

It's frustrating that we must keep advocating, but I appreciate your involvement!


Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2022 at 5:46 pm

Old Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

I am tired of seeing the same comments from Castilleja supporters that the City is not fair to Castilleja because their expansion project process has taken almost 6 years. The City should just approve the project regardless if it is a sensible plan that is good for the community and the environment. This is just like saying after a while, a teacher should just automatically promote a student to the next grade level even if a student cannot pass their tests or learn the subject. Otherwise, the teacher is not being fair.

The problem here is that Castilleja is located in a residential area surrounded by major traffic arteries. This is not an area that is the suitable for more expansion. I strongly agree with many Palo Altans who are concerned about the well being of the community and suggest Castilleja to expand elsewhere. On the other hand, Castilleja supporters mostly with direct association with the school are just blindly following the party line to push for Castilleja's unreasonable demands to expand this business at all cost.

If the Planning Department was doing its job in the beginning, this unworkable project should have been rejected immediately. This would have prevented the City and the residents(especially the immediate neighbors) from wasting 6 years of time and money on this project which does not benefit the City. Ms. Amy French was working on the Castilleja Expansion project from day one. In the beginning, she portrayed this project as ready for approval after it was submitted back in 2016. It was not until the neighbors questioned how a major expansion project can be approved without an environmental study, then the Planning Department required it for an EIR study. I am very disappointed to see how Ms. French has managed this project without much consideration of the immediate neighbors. The way she acted through the years, I wonder if she works for the City or the Applicant?


Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 21, 2022 at 7:22 pm

mjh is a registered user.

While I have no idea as to how Casti’s zone-busting development application has been supported and shepherded through Palo Alto’s Planning Department, previous planning commissions, and previous councils, there are real questions to be asked about the various uncritical assumptions and municipal code interpretations that the city was making to allow Casti’s plan to advance this far.

As well as the decisions made by Palo Alto’s legal representative as to what does or does not constitute a conflict when serving on the Planning Commission and the Council.











Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 21, 2022 at 9:05 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Roy M writes "Global warming because of the traffic, never mind that the school has repeatedly said it won't expand enrollment if the TDM goals are not met."

We've heard what "the school has repeatedly said" and we're still waiting for specifics -- who's monitoring, how often, who's paying for it, etc. Care to comment?

And how about people objecting "because of traffic," just plain traffic and the time wasted sitting in it because of dumb planning decisions and unsupportable growth??


"If the Planning Department was doing its job in the beginning, this unworkable project should have been rejected immediately. This would have prevented the City and the residents(especially the immediate neighbors) from wasting 6 years of time and money on this project which does not benefit the City. Ms. Amy French was working on the Castilleja Expansion project from day one. In the beginning, she portrayed this project as ready for approval after it was submitted back in 2016."

Absolutely! I really wish the Planning Dept and often the Transportation Dept were doing the job in the beginning. It would have saved us all a lot of time, money and frustration. I'm SO tired of them going into projects like this and the Town & Country conversion to medical/retail because business is tough when they never even defined medical/retail.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 22, 2022 at 8:53 am

Annette is a registered user.

This week’s Planning Commission meeting confirmed that Castilleja’s CUP application is about much more than expanding a school campus. It is a test of City values and integrity. As I watched I wondered:

Is Palo Alto’s Planning Department objective? How about the City Attorney’s office?

Does the City Attorney give consistent advice regarding recusal or are there differing guidelines for attorneys who are on a City commission?

Will the City compound the error made when it gave Castilleja the Melville right-of-way. If the CUP is approved and the described sewer line issue exists, will the CUP be conditioned on Castilleja being solely responsible for the maintenance and repair of that line and any problems tied to it?

Do we value our neighborhoods and codes or can money buy exceptions?

Is “the process has gone on too long” now a reason for approving a CUP?

Is Palo Alto really going to be a city that rewards the tactic of repeating something until it effectively becomes true?

Is the City genuinely dedicated to its S-CAP/GHG goals or does it need to conveniently postpone those in order to approve a massive garage for Castilleja?

It will be interesting to see how this plays out; will the City walk the walk or just talk it?


Posted by Pcha
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2022 at 11:58 am

Pcha is a registered user.

"Perhaps Castilleja could show goodwill by implementing their proposed traffic reductions now with external monitors to see if it really works. “

First, I’d like to highlight the fact that the school currently uses an impartial third party to monitor car trips and traffic patterns. This has been in place for quite some time.

Second, the school is already practicing traffic demand management (TDM) measures, all of which will ALSO be used in the event of adding more students. However, even MORE measures will go into effect if the school is granted a gradual increase in enrollment. For everyone who is asking for specifics, they’re available for review on the City website (Web Link

Furthermore, the school is amenable and open to including more specific TDM measures, but they are seeking input from the City on what would be best. They truly want to partner and understand which measures would be most helpful to ensure no new car trips.


Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2022 at 11:59 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Thank you Rebecca, Annette and so many other residents who are questioning the "role" of Planning Dept Staff and City Attorneys in "handling" Castilleja's expansion plan.

This "drama" could be a mini-series! With titles of: "The Powerful and Privileged"; or "What is a DEIR; do the rules really apply to us?"

OR: "Trees, what Trees?" or "You can trust us even though we have violated our CUP for 15 years!"(please add another year for passing each year).

OR: "Why is the City NOW demanding to know our current campus sq. footage (Weren't we given a pass?)" and latest but likely not last:

"Damn! Nothing has worked so we will have an attorney threaten to sue the City because we have a "Constitutional right" to a illegal in R-1 garage."

I believe if Castilleja has a "Constitutional right" to an illegal(per existing Ordinances and Codes(established to protect us all),then maybe I can "slipstream" this legal threat and demand MY right to establish a chicken and goat farm with 1 piglet on my small property!

I can establish a non-profit animal rescue and educational farm and educate near by school children in animal care and kindness.

Children can volunteer to care for and clean up after the animals. They can learn responsibility; that work and joy are related. They can sell organic eggs and goat milk/cheese at a curb side stand, discuss the nutritional values of the animal foods,learn to cook (making cheese),handle money,and mentor younger children. I think this equals a STEAM education if drawing of and singing to the animals is included.

We can also take field trips to other farms. I envision other farms, if my constitutional right is upheld, sprouting up over all over Palo Alto!

These small neighborhood farms will certainly bring "character" back to Palo Alto!

Hope a neighbor does not establish an outdoor macaw rescue farm! That would be awful! We might need some Ordinances and Regulations to prevent that.

Oh wait,we once had them before entitlement prevailed.


Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2022 at 2:27 pm

Old Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

@Pcha The current and proposed TDM do not truly address the real Castilleja traffic impact to the City and the neighborhood because it only counts cars that go into the Castilleja driveway. It is public knowledge for years that many students are being dropped off on city streets around the neighborhood. For example, you will see a steady stream of Castilleja students being dropped off in the cul-de-sac at the 300 block of Melville and then cross Embarcadero via the light on Bryant or around the Gamble Garden area. That is why Castilleja continue to push so hard for the underground garage because they know they will have problem to really solve this Significant and Unavoidable traffic impact as it was found in the original EIR. Until Castilleja really care about the neighborhood over their own expansion ambition, the neighbors will have to continue to define our quality of life.


Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2022 at 2:10 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Rita, brilliant analogy! And fantastic restatements of the Castilleja "arguments." I especially appreciated " "Why is the City NOW demanding to know our current campus sq. footage (Weren't we given a pass?)"

To Rita and others pointing out that the City Staff never should have accepted the application for review. I couldn't agree more, and I strongly believe that the Planning Dept was legally obligated to reject the Castilleja Amended CUP pursuant to the terms of the letter and oral agreement signed between the parties in late 2013.

In those letters, Nancy Kaufman agreed City Manager Jim Keene's demand that if Castilleja did not come into compliance with its enrollment limit of 415 and traffic limit of 387 by 2018, Castilleja would be subject to CUP revocation. CUP Revocation! [Portion removed.]

Come 2018, instead of going through CUP Revocation, as Kaufmann had agreed to previously, Castilleja acted as if nothing happened in 2013 and filed an amended CUP asking for a substantially increased enrollment cap that would put its 20 years of noncompliance into compliance. And the City allowed it.

I do not know what happened to make the 2013 letter exchange invalid, as the record does not make that clear. [Portion removed.]

Somehow Castilleja evaded the law and its previous promises. You tell me how.


Posted by Tvalenti7
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2022 at 8:42 am

Tvalenti7 is a registered user.

To allow the expansion of Castilleja would be a disaster. Their governing body won't abide by any requirements to keep their enrollment or traffic in check. It'll be a crazy busy area every school day. Although they are a very good at educating women, they are no longer a small, local school. Let them move to get the space they need.


Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2022 at 10:25 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

As much as I enjoy debates about carbon dioxide emissions and arcane conflict-of-interest rules, I agree it's time for city officials to end this entertaining but ridiculous six-year saga.

Besides, a final vote might spawn an insurrection by the losers replete with designer camouflage uniforms and custom bison-head hats. At least that would give us something new - and far more interesting - to gnaw on for a few years.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 28, 2022 at 9:37 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Serious question for Mr. Bucy: which way would you end it? Approve because it has been six years? That's hardly a reason and if the City did that it would signal to well-funded applicants that they can submit code-busting plans, launch a negative campaign discrediting those who have legitimate objections, hire a p.r. firm to create a public image, lawyer up, etc. etc. and wait until you get your way. What a play book.

Since all that would be fundamentally wrong and set a disastrous precedent, the only immediate answer to this plan is: NO.


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