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Fewer events, more enforcement: City proposes conditions for Castilleja's expansion

Original post made on Oct 29, 2020

Seeking to bridge the yawning gap between Castilleja School and a vocal group of neighbors who vehemently oppose the school's planned expansion, Palo Alto staff is proposing new limits on campus events and traffic volumes.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, October 29, 2020, 12:52 AM

Comments (31)

57 people like this
Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 29, 2020 at 8:10 am

sfvalley is a registered user.

Interestingly, after seemingly hours of discussion about TDMs and whether there should be 70 events or 74, the extremely problematic issue of an enrollment increase got little attention. Thanks to Lauing for bringing up "what is it based on"? The school said something about working backwards from the potential TDM, that's what they can control. Nonsense! Bringing more traffic into the neighborhood is thoughtless and against all the claims the school makes of being a wonderful neighbor. Ditch the underground garage (net new parking spaces is 22! why keep such a controversial and expensive facility on the table for 22 net new parking spaces?), rebuild the school and establish shuttling and get a reasonable enrollment increase. Moncharsh said the obvious; the school wants more students like any private school wants more students, more revenue, more prestige. Which the City appears to value more than the neighbors' interests. As though creating a satellite campus can't even be considered, the school demands 30% more students and 40% increase in building out the school - on the same six acres in an R-1 neighborhood surrounded by Embarcadero and Alma. Why is the City supporting this project after 4 years of neighbors appealing to them to reduce the size and scope of the re-build? The residents support girls education, they even support Castilleja, and support the school rebuilding its campus. The scripted speeches by parents, one after another, were all about the neighbors trying to stop girls from being educated. Can anyone take control of this project? Who is representing the neighbors?

63 people like this
Posted by What?
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2020 at 9:19 am

What? is a registered user.

This makes zero sense and doesn’t address traffic concerns in a residential area. Castelleja has shown bad faith in the past; what is to prevent them from doing it again? The city is just trying to shove this project that none of the neighbors want down our throats. I am disappointed in this sham “compromise” and wish the city had more backbone.

50 people like this
Posted by Old Palo Alto resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 29, 2020 at 9:26 am

Old Palo Alto resident is a registered user.

Very interesting how the number 8 years was brought up by a commissioner and supportive resident... Really? We only learned of plans to rebuild the school in 2016. So Castilleja was hiding their plans since 2012? Which is when they were found out of compliance? I was interested to hear about the letter that Nanci K, school headmistress about being compliantby 2018?

Very interesting how this project is being pushed so blatantly to come before PTC as quick as possible... Let's give the public more time to think about the submissions... Then all of a sudden, let's meet as soon as we can again! Seriously... we are deciding on conditions that the city will need to live with for the next 20 years!

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Downtown North

on Oct 29, 2020 at 9:57 am

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

55 people like this
Posted by Why Such Large Enrollment?
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 29, 2020 at 10:29 am

Why Such Large Enrollment? is a registered user.

Why is it so critical the enrollment be increased to 540? 75% of the students will be from out of town. Why not just cap it at 450 and no garage and be done. Any solution that centers on enforcement will be a constant problem. Is the city staff creating a jobs program for themselves?

49 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 29, 2020 at 10:43 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Shame on the city for caving to the law-breaker. Are they also planning on fining them until they reduce the enrollment back to where it should be? If not, why not?

55 people like this
Posted by BobH
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 29, 2020 at 10:45 am

BobH is a registered user.

Two comments on this. I have been riding my bike on the Bryant bike boulevard that goes right by Castilleja, I see a lot of signs against the proposed expansion.

The article says:

"In discussing the conditions, both the city and the project's critics pointed to the school's less-than-stellar history in following local regulations. In 2013, the city fined Castilleja $265,000 for exceeding its enrollment cap of 415 students. The school was also ordered to gradually reduce its enrollment from 448 students back to 415, which it has been doing since and has yet to achieve."

Did Castilleja actually pay the fine?

I don't think any expansion should be considered until Castilleja meets it's agreement with the City, that is, reduce it's enrollment to to 415 students. Otherwise we are just rewarding them for not following local regulations and there is little reason to think the will follow any new rules.

30 people like this
Posted by Duveneck
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 29, 2020 at 11:25 am

Duveneck is a registered user.

I understand that Castilleja pays no property taxes. Is that correct? If so, why not? The amount of city services used by the school is considerable.

19 people like this
Posted by jc
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2020 at 12:07 pm

jc is a registered user.

Does anyone know if there has been a calculation of what the school costs the city above that recovered from utilities and if Palo Alto residents are subsidising the school?

34 people like this
Posted by Just Sayin'
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2020 at 12:08 pm

Just Sayin' is a registered user.

Six days a week of construction noise, dirt, & traffic become irritating and tiring pretty quickly. Be prepared for the timeline to be extended and for construction hours to be transgressed often. By the time you reach someone in the City to report, it's too late. Even if construction "begins" @ 8am, trucks and workers arrive before that, and trust me, it's noisy. The disruption to people's lives is significant. Is there any remediation for that?

26 people like this
Posted by jc
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2020 at 12:12 pm

jc is a registered user.

"events that encourage bicycling."

That's rather cynical statement when 75% of their students reside outside Palo Alto. And of those that live in Palo Alto, is the school going to encourage them,
especially the younger ones, who don't live close to the school to bike home after night-time events?

35 people like this
Posted by jc
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2020 at 12:14 pm

jc is a registered user.

The city couldn't even enforce the enrollment cap, and has a dismal record of enforcing any codes, and the plan Amy French has negotiated is meaningless.

39 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 29, 2020 at 12:45 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

There are many problems with this, but let me discuss one.


The plan depends on Castilleja obeying the rules, and the city enforcing them. Since these things have not happened in the past and are not happening today, why should we believe they will happen in the future.

Castilleja will agree to anything then disobey, and the city will not enforce.

8 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 29, 2020 at 12:59 pm

chris is a registered user.

If this goes to court or to a citywide vote, who thinks the neighbors will win? If they are so confident in their position why not go to court or the ballot box?

21 people like this
Posted by Trust. Looking in from the outside.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2020 at 1:18 pm

Trust. Looking in from the outside. is a registered user.

If Castilleja had built trust by working with neighbors before they grew their enrollment, they might built a relationship founded on trust that would have enabled residents to receive their proposals with trust. If the city had a track record of enforcing CUPs, the neighborhood might be in a position to take a risk and trust the city to make sure an agreement is followed through. Sadly, neither is the case.

Another private school example: See the car trip reduction components of the Challenger School CUP that have never been enforced. This CUP was related to their expansion plan and 40-year lease (1999, I think)--negotiated with neighbors. This is a game the city and developers play when they are manipulating residents and Council Members through the decision-making process. It erodes trust, and that creates political problems for every project that comes after it.

What a shame. If these parties could trust each other, an entirely different outcome might have been possible. This is such an old human problem, every major religion speaks to it.

11 people like this
Posted by jc
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2020 at 2:49 pm

jc is a registered user.

Dear Chris,
You know those two alternatives are expensive, right?

22 people like this
Posted by eyeswideopen
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 29, 2020 at 3:33 pm

eyeswideopen is a registered user.

I feel the city council in most part doesn't care about people who live in this city and doesn't listen to the folks living near the school.
Why doesn't Castilleja want another campus? Because the address would not hold the prestige of a Palo Alto address. Plain and simple. These 75% out-of-town families pay big bucks for the address.
Castilleja has been untruthful (exceeding enrollment for so many years) and got only a slap on the wrist from city council. They expect everyone to cave. They are arrogant, self-serving and offer mix-messages in their so-called "superior" education: moral behavior --why bother ; math--fine. This doesn't "add up" to a good institution. I'd like to see them go. Now.

30 people like this
Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 29, 2020 at 3:40 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

"The school was also ordered to gradually reduce its enrollment from 448 students back to 415, which it has been doing since and has yet to achieve."

This is why there is no trust and there is no consequences at all. I cannot understand why this is even on the table. If 75% of the students are outside of Palo Alto, there is absolutely no reason this school needs to be in Palo Alto. If they want Palo Alto, why not look at the Fry's space. That is much larger and they would still have a Palo Alto address.

11 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 29, 2020 at 4:42 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Mar mur marrmur mur marrmur mur marrmur mur marrmur. Mar Mar mur marrmur mur marrmur mur Mar mur marrmur mur marrmur mur mar.
(I feel a little bit like the tinnman in the Wizard of Oz...)
Enforce the CUP thank you.
Aka Mar mur marrmur mur marrmur mur

18 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 29, 2020 at 4:46 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Microphone check one two what is:
I'd like some reporting on the veracity of the claim that the billionaire Stanford supporter whose illicit dealings with leadership and City Hall in 2012 triggered a Grand Jury Report is also the one pushing this expansion and major capital project here.
If so, why doesn't he less contentiously donate a parcel of land in San Jose -- that, according to another news source he is trying to donate and build for a firing range for San Jose Police -- for Casti to expand down there? And maybe that would also free up the residential Palo Alto parcel for development of homes, both market rate and BMR, like for teachers.

I see this deal as a pattern of leadership kowtowing to power and not being representative of Palo Altans.
My opposition to this is anti-elitist, not anti co-education.
These girls are being used seemingly to help this powerful man satisfy his colossal ego. What a man, what a man, as the song goes.
But not in my back yard, please.
It's ironic.
I would think Castilleja alumnae would be offended by this project, if my sense of it is true.
Thank you

22 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 29, 2020 at 10:39 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

The City, including both the City Council and the Planning Commission are acting irresponsibly and caving to the wealthiest few. This is unacceptable.

As a reminder, Castilleja has no legal right to exist on the 55 residential lots it occupies. Although a non-taxed entity, Castilleja is a *commercial* operation and has no place in a RH-1 neighborhood. The City made an exception for Castilleja decades ago by allowing it to operate its girls school in a residential neighborhood because Castilleja was a boarding school then. Now it is entirely a commuter school. Additionally, there was ample real estate available then. Now we are experiencing the biggest housing crisis in history, where virtually no first responders, teachers, or essential workers who save our lives and teach our children can afford to live here.

Because Castilleja does not pay tax (due to a loophole in the tax law that allows non-charitable but exclusionary schools to be exempt from taxes even though they are not charitable entities), every way that it uses our town costs taxpayers money. That means every car that uses our roads, each piece of mail it receives, utilities that are delivered to it, tree trimming, and the potentially limitless first responder calls that usually accompany huge commercial development projects like the one that Castilleja is demanding, all will be paid for by residents. All the resources that Castilleja drains from our budget -- during a climate where we already are $80 million under budget -- will result in further cuts to seniors, disabled children, and public education. This already has happened and will happen more if we continue to allow our city's budget to subsidize this private school.

The entire context of this analysis has been flawed from day one. The EIR never should have been approved - as it is legally flawed, egregiously so - and most importantly, the City had a legal obligation under an agreement it signed with Castilleja in 2012 to reject the amended CUP without allowing it to be filed.

That is because in 2012, the City started CUP Revocation Hearings, but Castilleja negotiated for a "One Last Chance" to get its act together and comply. In the 2012 Agreement, Nancy Kaufman agreed in writing that if Castilleja would not lower its enrollment to 415 and its traffic to the equivalent of 365 by 2018, Castilleja would LEAVE. In the letter agreement, Nancy Kaufman also promised not to file an amended CUP unless and until Castilleja came into compliance with the 2000 CUP.

(I tracked down the people who signed that letter agreement on behalf of Palo Alto, but most could not talk to me, because they now work for a firm that represents .... Castilleja.)

Now, confoundingly, the City concluded -- against all available evidence, including tax returns showing annual revenues of $140 million, and including estimates of the valuation of the land it owns ranging from $500 M to $1 billion -- that Castilleja cannot *afford* to move to a more suitable location. Cannot afford to move to a more suitable location, even though Castilleja allegedly has a billionaire commercial developer on standby to fund its new high tech campus once the city approves? Cannot afford to move even though Nancy Kaufman signed in writing that they WOULD move if they don't comply?

Castilleja's CUP should not be in "quasi-judicial status" (which BTW violates the Brown Act the way that the City handles these proceedings). Rather, according to its own municipal code and its own signed contracts, the only hearings that should be taking place regarding Castilleja are, as Nancy Kaufman agreed, Revocation Hearings.

Some of the background facts and analysis behind these statements can be found here:
Web Link

13 people like this
Posted by MB Parent
a resident of Ohlone School
on Oct 30, 2020 at 12:48 pm

MB Parent is a registered user.


I have a question on your math.

How did you calculate fitting 55 residential lots into the current school footprint and how did you calculate the value of that land at $500M-1000M?

Doing some back of the napkin calculations, when I look at google maps at the school's footprint and compare it to the house lots on adjacent blocks, I can't get to more than 30, maybe 32 houses to fit into this space (and would the neighbors near the school really want a developer to cram 55 houses into the same space?).

Also, looking at redfin, most of the houses near the school have values of $2-4M. That would mean the land is worth more like $60M-120M. Even using your 55 housing unit number, it's pretty far from your $500-1000M estimate. So, I'm curious how you got to your numbers.

What I also noticed looking at the map of the area, Gamble Garden is one block away and it takes up a very similar footprint. According to its website, it's a 501c3, so I assume they do not pay property taxes. Should GG be encouraged to sell so a) more housing could be created and b) increase the city's tax base? I'm trying to understand where you draw the line for what non-profit entities should be allowed to exist in residential areas and to be exempt from property taxes.

11 people like this
Posted by staying home
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 2, 2020 at 4:56 pm

staying home is a registered user.

@MB Parent: I like you raising Gamble Gardens as a comparison. I don't know that the neighbors have issues with the garden and the events held there. Does Casti have a direct benefit to the community (ie. I can visit and use facilities)? Is Gamble Gardens in violation of a CUP?

9 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2020 at 2:54 am

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

MB Parent -

My computation of lots was done based on filings made by Castilleja and available in the Palo Alto archives. I direct you to the original plan of the city and you may count for yourself.

As to valuation, that is impossible to know, and is, in fact, fairly irrelevant.

What is most important is the response given by staying home above. If Castilleja were to offer its grounds to the public to enjoy every day; if it were to allow its premises to be rented at low cost by community members for weddings; if it were to work with all of our local public schools in order to host field trips, provide educational outings, and provide volunteer opportunities for community members, then Castilleja would in fact be providing a public service... like the many public services offered by Gamble Gardens.

But Castilleja does none of those things. It locks its gates to the public. It continues to refuse to offer any full scholarships to needy children residing in East Palo Alto or Menlo Park - or even in Palo Alto. It refuses to share its proposed parking garage, open its proposed swimming pools, or allow the public to enter to marvel at any of its proposed beautiful, high tech amenities. Rather, Castilleja is reserved for the small number of people that Castilleja hand picks, and Castilleja closes its gates to all others.

That is why Castilleja, of course, is NOT a charitable organization, as is Gamble Gardens. Castilleja enjoys its tax exempt status due to a tax loophole created by lobbyists paid by wealthy private schools and religious organizations in order to escape taxation without providing charitable services. It's not really a status of which it should boast. It's far higher integrity to be a Gamble Gardens, and should Castilleja choose to act like its beloved neighbor, I believe we all would be glad.

15 people like this
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2020 at 7:05 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

The city is bending over backwards to make this project work rather than giving Castilleja a fair shot at addressing relevant issues and making a decision. Officials should keep in mind you can't put 10 pounds of something into a five pound bag.

7 people like this
Posted by MB Parent
a resident of Ohlone School
on Nov 3, 2020 at 1:15 pm

MB Parent is a registered user.

Staying home:

Thanks for clarifying points. I agree Gamble Gardens offers a ton of value to the community. The few times I've been there, I've been impressed. I was mainly trying to compare a lot of similar size. So both lots offer same amount of possible new housing and tax revenue.


Appreciate your clarifying points as well. Again trying to understand the standards you are trying apply here and how far to apply that standard. From your initial post, it appears your goal is a) help put a dent into the current housing crisis and b) increase the property tax base. Both very laudable goals!

I agree, if what you say is true about the school not adding any general public benefit, that they can and should do more. If Gamble Garden is a notable gold standard for acting as a good neighbor, would these conflicts with Castilleja end if they could offer an agreed upon list of public access? Seems quite possible to hammer out and reach a successful resolution.

More broadly, is your view that all Palo Alto based private schools and religious institutions (churches, synagogues, etc) who are not sufficiently open to the general public should lose their tax exempt status? Of course, such openness standard would have to be more crisply defined. Again, just trying to understand your logic here.

2 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 3, 2020 at 1:28 pm

Mike is a registered user.

this is a test comment

3 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 3, 2020 at 3:57 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

Too many comments to read, and I’m not located right near the school, so not in a position to fully appreciate all ramifications, but wish to mention I remain concerned about Embarcadero road traffic in the general, widespread sense of definite negative effects on this city.
In addition, I happen to have knowledge/experience on one point: if the school enrollment goes to 540, as I read, I assure you there WILL be effects on this city. I am familiar with private boarding high schools of that student body size (not in this state).

1 person likes this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2020 at 4:16 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

MB Parent - the law already provides for the concepts I state.

Because Castilleja runs a commercial operation (even though tax exempt, it is not residential and thus commercial) on 55 RH-1 lots, the city has no legal right to enable it to run its operation unless Castilleja provides public benefit to compensate for traffic, noise, safety issues, and other problems created when a commercial entity is located in a residentially-zoned space. That was the purpose behind the 2000 CUP.

But Castilleja NEVER complied with the 2000 CUP, which is why the City was set to evict them by pulling their permit (CUP) in 2013. Castilleja bought itself more time by repeating its promises, but it broke those promises too. (see above).

Even though Castilleja in 2013 promised that it would not request a new CUP until and unless it complied with its 2000 CUP. it filed for a new CUP anyway (without every complying with its existing CUP)_. And even though Nanci Kauffman signed a document in writing stating that she agreed to move the school if she did not bring it into compliance with the 2000 CUP, she now claims that she "cannot afford" to move the school. Her 2013 promise to agree to the revocation of the CUP if she did not comply by 2018 is exactly why the City gave her more time. Now she acts like this contract never existed.

You can read more about my research regarding Castilleja's long history of mistreatment of our community here:

So you know, there are a decent number of Palo Alto-based Castilleja families who strongly support my campaign. They recognize that I strongly value women's education (my campaign manager attends an all-women college!). But even while believing in women's education, I still think that all parties should be held accountable when they violate the law, especially when those legal violations have material negative impact on others -- and in Castilleja's case, they do.

I hope that helps. Feel free to reach out directly if you would like to speak live about it. If you email the address on my website, I'll respond with my phone number.


11 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 3, 2020 at 9:54 pm

Annette is a registered user.

"The school was also ordered to gradually reduce its enrollment from 448 students back to 415, which it has been doing since and has yet to achieve."

The clock started running on that in 2013. Seven years ago. And yet a compromise that includes an enrollment increase is on the table. Hello??

And shouldn't Castilleja should be negotiating with CC, not City Staff? Seems to me our CC needs to reassert itself as being in charge of the City Manager and City Staff so that our elected officials, not Staff, decide all land use-related issues.

6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 4, 2020 at 10:52 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Annette, excellent questions above. Let's hope the new City Council will address them.

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