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Castilleja School forced to revise its redevelopment plan

Original post made on Mar 30, 2021

Castilleja School suffered a setback Monday to its plan to rebuild and modernize its Bryant Street campus when a skeptical City Council demanded major revisions to the school's application, including a redesign of its parking garage.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, March 30, 2021, 1:13 AM

Comments (32)

Posted by Rhodoreae
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 30, 2021 at 8:41 am

Rhodoreae is a registered user.

Other private schools such as Keys, Bowman and Pinewood have purchased new sites in Palo Alto to accommodate expanded students and uses. Maybe Castilleja can consider doing the same?
They could run an electric shuttle bus between campuses for shared facility usage.

Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Fletcher Middle School
on Mar 30, 2021 at 9:02 am

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Watched this meeting on Zoom. Seems like City Council is failing here.. just kicking the can down the road.

Writing up new rules on the fly during the meeting is not an effective way to govern. Years and years of work/debate on this topic has already transpired. Please accept the work and recommendations done by your town staff and city commissions or kill the project. Now you are initiating even more meetings and new study, all of which will land right back on your desks.

Seems like the City Council has far bigger issues to address with its scarce time/energy. This topic has been debated for years now. Please, make a decision and move on. There are so many more pressing matters to address.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 30, 2021 at 10:41 am

Online Name is a registered user.

I couldn't believe our highly paid city staff was citing 1999 traffic studies in 2021. Some perspective that it might be time to update their numbers when considering Casti's application. The following took me 10 minutes to pull together. Note the number of contractors now outnumber full-time employees at both Google and Facebook so the numbers/traffic are even higher than indicated below.

Google went public in 2004 with 3000 employees.

1998 (total) employees 1,907
2004 3,000
2011 32;000
2019 118,890
2020 135,000

Facebook 2012 IPO with 4,619 employees
Interactive chart of Facebook (FB) annual worldwide employee count from 2009 to 2020.
Web Link

Facebook total number of employees in 2020 was 58,604, a 30.4% increase from 2019.
Facebook total number of employees in 2019 was 44,942, a 26.29% increase from 2018.
Facebook total number of employees in 2018 was 35,587, a 41.75% increase from 2017.
Facebook total number of employees in 2017 was 25,105, a 47.26% increase from 2016.

Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2021 at 10:50 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

If the PTC and ARB more accurately reflected the will of the residents then this project would have never gotten to city council. Also, staff letting the garage remain in when it was clearly not within code and pretending it as within code show Mr. Lait is not upholding zoning. I wish the council had agreed to vote to lower the maximum proposed enrollment.

Posted by Nancy Tuck
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:00 am

Nancy Tuck is a registered user.

The City Council's third marathon meeting over the Castilleja project proposal unveiled a complete lack of acknowledgment for the massive amount of factual data surrounding the school's reduction in traffic. Some members posed questions about whether traffic caps could be achieved, monitored or enforced when there is undeniable evidence that Castilleja has reduced traffic by 30% by instituting a wide range of shuttle, remote parking, carpooling, and incentives to walk/bike to school. They have made clear that they have further TDM measures that will mitigate traffic when enrollment increases. A few Council members are unabashedly deaf to the mitigations that have been made to make the building modernization and enrollment increase compatible with City guidelines and neighborhood demands. There is a clear lack of desire by those few to hear how Castilleja's proposal would enhance the community and too ready to fall back on trust issues that are more than 8 years behind us. Seems to me your energies are embarrassingly misplaced.

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:14 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Dear PA parent and others who think the CC should just move on....

As a Castilleja parent, I must say IF Castilleja had presented an expansion project which did not require variances, a stretching of the imagination to incorporate an underground parking structure where it was not allowed ( R-1 neighborhood), had not asked for excessive tree removals, requested a 30% enrollment increase after 18+ years of breaking their current CUP and had not abused the number of "events" allowed on campus, their project could have likely been approved years ago. After all, we ALL support girl's education but not the ruination of the adjacent neighborhood.

City Staff and the PTC majority did Castilleja a disservice by fawning over their expansion plans, winking at illogical interpretations of our Codes and Ordinances and by certifying a defective DEIR.

So the City Council HAD to ask the hard questions, call out the errors of the plan and send all back to the PTC and ARB. ALL of this could have been avoided years ago if a HONEST process had been followed. Greed, greed, greed.

The City Council must also consider the traffic impacts of a possible Churchill Ave. closure second to Cal-trans expansion.

THANK you City Council for doing the necessary work to protect residents against special interests. This is why you were elected.

Posted by Local
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:20 am

Local is a registered user.

City Council is being a disservice to everyone: not listening to its own PTC & ARB, not absorbing the studies & facts, and then kicking the can down the road. If you hang out in that neighborhood, there is almost no traffic during the vast majority of the day. Yes, there is traffic during pickup and dropoff times, but its not loud or slowing anyone down. Just using some common sense:
- The City approved the school location 100 years ago (when there wasn't a residential zone), so it doesn't need to go anywhere
- Cars parked underground are better than above ground, especially when many/most are electric anyway
- More trees after the project than before
- Enrollment does not increase without good TDM, which has already reduced traffic by 30%

City Council needs to just spend time in the neighborhood and see for themselves. It is not anywhere near close to the traffic jam & parking congestion we see during Stanford football games. Different universe.

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:23 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Ms. Stump: please answer Bill Ross' and Fred Balin's 10/26/20 letter which questions whether Michael Alcheck has a legal or perceived conflict of interest because, in 10/2017 Alcheck Properties hired Ms. Romanowsky, Castilleja's counsel of record since 2/2107.

An answer is LONG overdue and now more important than ever with Castilleja's expansion plans referred back to the PTC.

Should Mr. Alcheck be advised to recuse himself or not? Seems like a simple question. Please provide an answer. Thank you.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:26 am

Annette is a registered user.

Filseth is right: you can't cheat physics. There are myriad reasons why this project has gone round and round, including that Castilleja, like Cinderella's ugly stepsisters, is trying very hard to shove a size 10 foot into a size 7 shoe.

As for the garage, underground probably would be more visually appealing than surface parking, but this is not a beauty pageant. This is about variances and impacts and traffic flow. A big elephant, the possible closing of Churchill and the potential impacts of that on Embarcadero traffic, wasn't mentioned. Huh? Also, the lawyer's assertion that an underground garage is better for the environment is as ridiculous (and insulting) as calling the garage a basement.

Listening to the discussion, it seems the garage is the main obstacle standing between Castilleja and approval. Casti's lawyer says they have to park the project. Okay - quickest, surest way to achieve that is to shrink the project so that it fits the location.

As for referencing 1999 traffic studies: how can such old information be at all relevant? C'mon Staff, you can do better than that.

Posted by Barbara
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:32 am

Barbara is a registered user.

The Castilleja application has been thoroughly vetted and finally approved by the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission, the Architectural Review Board and the Historic Resources Board before advancing to Council. So what does the Palo Alto City Council do last night? It ignored the collective work of its Commission and Boards, years of work and review, writing up new rules off the cuff, then tried to pass motions that were blatantly illegal. Council had to pause the meeting, at the urging of its own attorney, retiring to a closed session, during which time the city attorney tried to reign them in. What a laughable, absurd process. I would be furious if I sat on one of the City's commissions or boards and had my thoughtful and deliberative process thrown out the window. Why serve?

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:51 am

ALB is a registered user.

I commend the city council for asking the right questions and staying the course regarding the proposed expansion of Castilleja school. The PR team for the school has always insisted that if the variances are not granted, the garage is not permitted as well as the allowance for an increase in enrollment to over five hundred students then girls' education will suffer and is therefore not supported. This is conflating a land use decision with the improper insistence that if the school is not allowed to expand then the city council and the neighbors are against girls' education. That argument is fatuous and wrong. I applaud the city council for their careful examination of the ramifications on traffic and on the community in general should this project be approved.

Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:52 am

Palo Alto native is a registered user.

City council did their job. Unfortunately the PTC and ARB passed on Castillrja’s plans with one PTC Commissioner who should have been recused. Supporters of Castilleja should take Eric Filseth’s advice!! Just grow and make your athletic program similar to other nationally ranked private girl schools. Lots of large parcels in Woodside, Portila Valley, Atherton.....

Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:01 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

I do hope that Castilleja looks for a new site. Knowing of some students who drive to Castilleja, realize that if anyone is in a team sport, they cannot commit to public transportation; they drive to school and park in the streets. It is not even reasonable to think that competitive sports people could abide by the rule of not driving to school.
So, please realize, the students need to be able to drive to school in order to pursue their sport. Trying to say that they all follow the rules is closing eyes to what is really happening.
I do hope that new fresh Palo Alto Planning eyes look at the plans. I am not convinced that there is not something unique happening with the lenient decisions from the planning board - just my personal perception.
Finally, the plans for Churchill Road need to be taken into account. That will indeed add lots more traffic on Embarcadero if that is implemented. And, that is for safety versus for increasing the capacity for a school.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Barbara, are you suggesting that the PTC and ARB are unbiased? Or that Ms. Stump, city attorney, is unbiased and treats residents fairly? (Note her track record on, among other things, stalling giving RESIDENTS/Taxpayers our entitled settlements from the $12,000,000 judgement against the city for "overcharging" utilities users and her consistent failure to inform us what hoops we have to jump through to claim those refunds.)

Note Rita's point about PTC commissioner Mr. Alcheck's conflict of interest.

If Casti HAD cut traffic, then why does it need such a big garage? If they'd simply required all students to take shuttles, this whole costly mess could have been avoided.

Posted by Carol Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:17 pm

Carol Scott is a registered user.

Dear Barbara,
Now you can see why the Ventura Working Group was so upset about the City swooping in with a consultant to provide three new plans after the Working Group had deliberated for years and came up with its own vision. None of the consultant's plans took the Working Group's deliberations into account.

Posted by Carol Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:20 pm

Carol Scott is a registered user.

I think it is very appropriate for the City Council to allow further development of Castilleja as long as it does not infringe on nearby residents' quality of life. I wish the City Council would take the same view toward expansion of business and approval of massive office buildings that are under-parked in the California Ave area. In that case, adjacent residential neighborhoods are treated as overflow parking lots.

Posted by Nancy Tuck
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:29 pm

Nancy Tuck is a registered user.

Crescent Park - "Ruination of the adjacent neighborhood"?? You are of course welcome to your opinion, but I actually do live in the adjacent neighborhood and enthusiastically support the renovations. The buildings are a dramatic improvement, and moving parking underground would add to the landscaped and park-like setting.

Posted by Pcha
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:38 pm

Pcha is a registered user.

We were keys parent and love the school but we were one of the first batch that had split and i can tell the experience for the kids is not the same. There is something to say when the young ones look up to the older ones and gain confidence and inspiration. I would hate for the school to split.

As for the TDM, the school already enforces strict TDM requirements, resulting in a reduction in traffic of > 30%. The first things parents who get enrolled is rules of where to park and how to turn and they are very strict about it. All the parents, Staff and students all understand and abide by it. Have you all seen other school during pick up what a nightmare it is. Not at Castilleja they really really make sure that things never get backed up into any streets. Give them a chance to prove and they have proved until now and show how to effectively manage the traffic.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:46 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Pcha, then why have the neighbors been complaining? Why is an RPP zone being proposed?

A reduction from 30% from what and what happens to that number if enrollment is increased? If Casti's lawyer is to believed, why does the city require on-site parking and why hasn't that been changed to force the students to take shuttles?

Posted by Roy M
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:56 pm

Roy M is a registered user.

I did listen to most of the City Council meeting. This was supposed to be a quasi judicial hearing, but the bias of some members of the council against Castilleja's proposal was so obvious in their refusal to note any of the work done over the past many months as reflected in the EIR, the City Staff reports, the ARB review, and the PTC review. One example that the article doesn't mention was the discussion to recommend implementing an RPP to the area, something which had never come up in any previous public discussion of the proposal including the past two council meetings.

For those wondering how a potential Churchill closure would affect this project, I think you all have it backwards. The Paly expansion, Stanford's expansion, and Town & Country's revitalization have all increased the traffic in the area during a timeframe that Castilleja has demonstrably reduced car trips. A Churchill closure will make it worse. The school has repeatedly committed that it will not increase enrollment if net trips increase.

Those of us who have lived here a long time know how much worse traffic has gotten throughout Palo Alto and the area as a whole. Blaming the school for any increase in traffic in the area now or going forward is just lashing out at the one factor that people think they can control.

Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:59 pm

sfvalley is a registered user.

There are, of course, differing opinions about an underground garage, and who it benefits and who it harms, but it's always good to know which neighbors are parents and which are not, as disclosure to the reader helps them filter the purpose of the statements. The entrance would be on the bike blvd, and the exit onto narrow streets of old houses. Regarding the mistake 8 years ago, it isn't like a one-time error and gosh, why can't the neighbors just forgive and forget? The over enrollment went on for years and years, and when it became public, the school was supposed to reduce enrollment by 4 students per year to get back down to 415. They just stopped reducing after 2 years, daring the city to do anything (any other private school would get their use permit revoked for such hubris). Eventually, neighbors had to pay an attorney to write a letter to get City Mgr Keene to require the school go back to reducing. The correspondence is clear that the city told the school in 2013 to get back to 415 before they could ask for more students. Did they do so? No. They are still at 426. They have zero respect for their agreements with the city. The school has fought every step of the way, ignoring anything they agreed to if it benefits them to do so. All "undeniable evidence" of traffic reductions are studies paid for by the school. An underground garage invites traffic by its nature, and is a permanent cement bunker to store cars. How is that environmentally superior? Also pls. note that the Planning Commission vote tied on the garage; it wasn't a blanket approval despite the school promoting that misinformation.

Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Hulkamania is a registered user.

Tanaka said requiring a smaller garage constitutes "a total reset of this whole project."

"It's not like we're changing a window. It's an entirely different project," he said.

Thinking three dimensional chess, is this a way that some CC members are telling the school it's time to move?

Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2021 at 2:58 pm

mjh is a registered user.

Unfortunately, the council are having to do the work inadequately undertaken by the council's representatives on the Planning and Transportation Commission. When Castilleja's application last came before the Commission I watched the entire meeting, as I have many commission meetings over the last twenty years. The discussion and analysis of this proposal fell far short of the standard we should expect from members of the P&TC. One member contributed little of substance, if anything, which gave the impression of either not having the time, or maybe the interest, in preparing for the meeting. Another member could be thought not to have the level of knowledge or experience expected of a commissioner in order to have the ability to ask the hard questions or contribute more than a shallow analysis of the data. Two, while going through the motions, seemed to gloss over the issues and appear to be acting more as advocates for the applicant than members of an impartial commission. The resulting majority vote, with a few minor tweaks, was to rubber stamp of staff's recommendations.

Posted by Marie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2021 at 3:12 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I wonder why traffic reduction is always given in % (ie 30%) with no definition of how that traffic is measured. 30% of what? What will be the absolute number of trips that will be allowed? What is the base for no new trips? How many people will be attending the events? After all this time, there is still a lot of ambiguity about this proposal. Enforcement is a huge issue. I'm glad the PACC is concerned with that. I am always suspicious when the penalty for violating the agreement is unclear. Once enrollment has increased, rollbacks, as we have discovered, are nearly impossible. Castilleja still hasn't complied with its current GUP.

Posted by PA Community Advocate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2021 at 9:08 pm

PA Community Advocate is a registered user.

What value does an absurdly expensive private institution with a closed campus provide to the young women in our great Palo Alto community?

Let’s focus our energy on education, activities, and physical space that is accessible to ALL of Palo Alto’s daughters.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 30, 2021 at 9:28 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Or at least MORE Palo Alto daughters since 75% of the current crop of Casti's students are from out of town and hence real commuters.

It's interesting that quite a few posters above are either Casti parents, Casti grads or both and they oppose the expansion and, as important, the change in Casti values.

Posted by Castilleja Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2021 at 8:09 am

Castilleja Parent is a registered user.

We're a local, current Castilleja family. One of the many who love our school but do *not* support the current expansion plan, are frankly embarassed by NK & Board's conduct for several years, and are fed up with resources being diverted from our kids' education & toward this misguided, bull-headed, scorched earth campaign--but feel we cannot speak out for fear of retribution. Thankful for the few CC members who actually do their job: representing Palo Altans' interests based on accurate/timely facts rather than spin. Speaking of facts, wish the PAWeekly would dig deeper and do some investigative journalism about Castilleja. So many outstanding teaches/curriculum--unfortunately coupled with a top-down culture of gaslighting, lack of transparency, history of obfuscation (eg pro-expansion parents being advised to identify themselves as "neighbors" as long as they live in town; families who inquired 10-12 years ago about the over-enrollment were advised to remain silent since "neighbors seem oblivious"), a leadership that has lost its way as measured by the "5 Cs" values. See, as one example, the disturbing accounts posted at Instagram account BIPOCAtCasti. Those who are doing backbends to enact Castilleja's facially unlawful & unprecedented plan should know that this is not the noble, ethical, community-serving institution it perhaps once was.

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2021 at 11:23 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Thank you Castilleja Parent for your accurate post.

I am also a Castilleja parent who mourns the loss of the Castilleja of yesteryear; a unique school and community treasure. Long gone are the days of Castilleja teaching their students to give back to their community; now the lesson seems to be you can have want you want if you spend enough money and have rich sponsors. A very sad concept to model.

I also want to thank the City Council, for just saying “NO” to Castilleja’s expansion plans requiring an underground, illegal in R-1 neighborhood, garage.

What I do not understand is, if Castilleja promises “no new trips” why do they need more parking in the form of a highly polluting, noise producing garage? Still unanswered is how the “garage” will warn of an exciting car? Buzzers sounding 24/7?

It was interesting learning that residents on Churchill and streets several blocks from Castilleja’s proposed garage requested a garage so as to reduce parking on THEIR streets! This seems similar to putting a toxic dump in someone else’s back yard.

Instead of the highly contested garage, I propose that dedicated “Castilleja” parking spots be located in a wide area, say within a 10-minute walk, of Castilleja.

This street parking, equally dispersed, could easily negate the need for a garage and not burden any one street. Traffic flow would also be dispersed rather than centralized.

Castilleja would pay the City a “rental fee” for the parking spots (and signage), marked with a C and restricted to student or staff parking between 7:30 am to 6 pm, M-F. These would be the only places Castilleja staff or students could park; parking in other locations would be a ticked offense.

All students and staff cars would be required to display a Castilleja sticker. An online reservation program requiring mandatory parking location monthly reservations would eliminate driving around searching for a designated parking spot.

Seems like a reasonable suggestion. Thank you.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2021 at 11:40 am

Richard is a registered user.

rita vrhel: We live on the 300 block of churchill and are opposed to the garage. Parking is rarely an issue on our block. It fills up when the Garden Center has an event, occasionally for a Stanford football game otherwise parking on our block is at the moment not an issue and certainly does not warrant a need for a garage on that basis. Of course I don't speak for other Churchill residents as to a need for a garage but based on what I see it's not warranted. I do know that when traffic was being monitored around Casti I noticed people parking on Waverley and walking, possibly to avoid detection right around the school.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 6, 2021 at 1:44 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Reply to Rita Vrhel: good suggestion about the dispersed street parking. Perhaps the designated "C" spots could be in front of houses owned/rented by those who favor the expansion. Such homes can be easily identified by the "We Support Women's Education" lawn signs. As though anyone who does not support the full expansion plan must therefore be ignorantly opposed to educating women. Please, Castilleja, that is absurd!

Another idea: should the garage be eliminated from the plan, maybe Casti's Plan B can be to ask all those neighbors who favored it to designate a parking spot in their driveway for a Casti student. If I lived closer, I'd consider offering up a space in my driveway.

Posted by community member
a resident of University South
on Apr 6, 2021 at 10:54 pm

community member is a registered user.

Thanks to Rita Vrhel for reminding the City Attorney about Alcheck's conflict of interest in thhis matter. He has hired the same attorney as Castilleja.

This is not Alcheck's first conflict that has been ignored by the Attorney. His change of Zoning to benefit his own property which he subsequently sold for Eight Million dollars was pretty obvious too.

Why does this commissioner (real estate attorney) have these privileges/conflicts and nothing is done?

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:56 am

Annette is a registered user.

In response to a current article about parking, a poster (@Bystander) included a link to a site, Neighbor, for renting out space in one's driveway. I opened the link and immediately saw that the going rate is $50 - $150. Castilleja should explore this b/c it would eliminate the vexing garage issue and be a win for the school, those who commute to the school, the neighborhood, and those who rent out space in their driveway.

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