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Castilleja School returns to spotlight with revised plan to rebuild campus

Original post made on Dec 1, 2021

Castilleja School's polarizing bid to rebuild its Bryant Street campus and construct an underground garage will return to the spotlight this week, when the city's two main land-use bodies start reviewing the school's plans.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 1, 2021, 3:03 PM

Comments (23)

Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2021 at 7:39 pm

sfvalley is a registered user.

Thanks for the article on Castilleja's expansion.  Just a few important points:

There are currently 89 surface parking spaces on campus, see Fehr + Peers report, footnote 5 in the staff report.  Not 26 (although you might be referring to previous iterations). But just to be clear, the plans propose to move a pool to make room for one large building that replaces 5 older buildings, which takes away 60 currently existing surface parking spaces.  They are creating a need that is already satisfied with current conditions.  If they reduced the footprint of the new building, there would be no need for an underground garage or other adjustments.

The school's gross floor area is significantly in excess of what is allowable by code (81,385SF).  The school has been allowed to grow over the past many decades without going through the normal processes (some buildings were built pre-code, some built after code, but apparently not reviewed for GFA).  They applied for a variance to keep the same square footage,  but they base it on having a large lot.  However, they made their site large when they got the city to give them the 200 block of Melville in 1992, and merged 6 residential lots into the school, so they can't use size to qualify for a variance. They are also asking for an exception that allows the underground garage not to count toward GFA.  They are also increasing underground square footage by adding an additional 36,000 square feet underground.

Neighbors would love to support a less massive project and reasonable enrollment increase.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 1, 2021 at 8:53 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Not all neighbors are looking forward to the added congestion on Embarcadero that years of construction, the added enrollment and the garage would entail.

It's a shame the city never bothered to update the traffic numbers so they could really determine the amount of increased traffic. And they sure haven't bothered to consider the impact of a possible Churchill Ave. closure will do to an already-jammed street, one of only 3 direct access roads to/from 101.

Posted by Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 2, 2021 at 6:30 am

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

Amazing work from Castilleja. Once again, the school leaders have made significant changes in response to feedback. It sounds like this time they have given city boards different choices, and I have to believe that this time there must be one that will finally suffice. The school has changed the building designs, changed the garage, increased TDM measures beyond what anyone else is doing anywhere in the bay area, moved the pool, moved deliveries–and is NOT expanding. This plan is not “excessive” in any way. It is responsive and thoughtful. A smaller footprint. No new traffic. And more opportunity, This needs to be approved.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2021 at 9:02 am

Online Name is a registered user.

How can there be "no new traffic" when they're increasing enrollment and the number of parking spaces and building a garage??

Why can't the students park in the Baylands and shuttle in just like their teachers rather than inflicting all the construction disruption and what will be ongoing traffic problems on Palo Alto?

Stanford also used the same old "no new car trips, trust us" claim while dramatically growing its enrollment, the number of campuses, number of housing units, the whole Hospital / health care complex etc.

No objective person can buy the "no new car trips" and "no new traffic" claims.

Posted by Trisha Suvari
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 2, 2021 at 9:28 am

Trisha Suvari is a registered user.

I have been following Castilleja's modernization project for the past 4 years. Time and time again, Castilleja has revised their plans to meet the demands of the neighbors, yet the neighbors turn down every solution. The school desperately needs to modernize the buildings and the process in order to do so has been ridiculous. lt's a lot to ask teachers to park a distance away from school and that they can only drive to campus three days a week. Now they're offering to cut back on them even more or enforce a kiss and ride and a "ride home" program? Come on, the teachers deserve better than that. The opposition to this project keep referring it to a large scale expansion and that Castilleja wants bigger buildings. The fact remains that the footprint will be smaller than what it is now. No matter how many times Castilleja goes back to the drawing board and comes up with a new solution, the neighbors shut it down. Yes there will be construction inconveniences, but it's called progress. Short term inconveniences of construction for 100 plus more years of educating young women seems like a small price to pay. Castilleja has presented many solutions, it's time to let them move forward with this project.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2021 at 11:06 am

Online Name is a registered user.

I think you misunderstand my above post. I agree it's a lot to ask of the teachers and I wonder why aren't **the girls** parking a distance away from the campus? If they were, this whole long mess could have been avoided.

Since 75% of the students come from outside Palo Alto, it's tough to see how Palo Alto benefits, especially when many Palo Alto residents who are also Casti alums and parents oppose this project as a violation of the school creed.

Posted by Lorraine Brown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2021 at 11:17 am

Lorraine Brown is a registered user.

I am a former employee of Castilleja and an almost lifelong resident of Palo Alto, and continue to strongly support the school's plans to modernize the aging campus and offer enrollment to more high school students.

In response to the writer above who asks "how can there be 'no new traffic'?" - because the school WILL NOT BE ALLOWED to increase enrollment if their traffic increases, period. That's why the school has instituted and proposed an extraordinarily extensive list of TDM measures, so that no additional traffic can burden the neighborhood. Period. If traffic increases, they will not be allowed to increase enrollment.

What most disturbs me about this process is the ever shifting goalposts. In this article, Andie Reed states that she's most concerned about the enrollment proposal. In previous meetings, PNQL members have stated that they're fine with the enrollment increase as long as the garage isn't built. Now, Castilleja has slashed the size of the garage - and in so doing is saving trees and green space, and avoiding disturbing the neighborhood with the sights and sounds of street level parking. This project has been under consideration SINCE 2016 - likely the longest project in Palo Alto history - because the demands keep shifting. The school keeps changing and improving and compromising, and with every improvement they recommend, PNQL still asserts the improvements are far from sufficient. It's an injustice to the school.

Castilleja is a non-profit institution. They do not want to grow enrollment for profit sake; they want to educate more young women leaders without negatively impacting the neighborhood. Please, I implore readers to understand the facts, and give Castilleja the chance to educate more young women AND abide by the strict limits spelled out in the proposed new CUP.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 2, 2021 at 11:53 am

Annette is a registered user.

One reason this has taken so long is that the applicant has persisted with plans that include an enormous garage. At one point they even tried to have it classified as a basement. And Online Name is right to be skeptical about the “no new trips” claim. Since when does Palo Alto enforce (or even pay sufficient attention) to such things?

As uncomfortable as it might be to tell Castilleja NO to the garage, that is the only way to move forward in a way that aligns with the City’s S-CAP goals. Frankly, I am surprised that we aren’t hearing objections to the garage and tree removal from the smart young women who attend Castilleja. Surely environmental science is part of the curriculum.
I have participated in some of the S-CAP meetings. Students from Gunn and PALY are voicing their concerns. Eloquently. And for good reasons. The garage is the single biggest problem with the plan. I think if it was eliminated the project would be approved and the modernization of this terrific school could begin.

Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2021 at 12:19 pm

Hulkamania is a registered user.

"Scheme" sums everything up.

Posted by Roy M
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2021 at 12:20 pm

Roy M is a registered user.

And here we go again. I suggest that anyone wishing to comment start off by remembering the feedback from the council earlier this year Web Link as noted at the time on PA Online. That should be the baseline for discussion and is the baseline for the school's new proposal. The two major points were a scaled down garage and a plan to manage traffic. The school has come up with options to address both.

In all the years this has been on the table, we see the same cycle repeat. The school makes a proposal, objections are raised, and the school responds to the objections, then new objections are raised. Enough is enough. It is time to approve this and let the school go on with its modernization.

Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 2, 2021 at 12:20 pm

sfvalley is a registered user.

This is Andie Reed. I tried to change my name from sfvalley to my initials, azr, but I guess it isn't happening. Thank you, Lorraine, I appreciate your bringing that up. I remember the theoretical discussion about "if enrollment was increased to 1000 and there were no impacts or increase in traffic, would that be OK?" We may remember differently the outcome of that discussion. I don't agree that it doesn't matter the size of enrollment, because more student bodies means more parents and cars and staff, teachers, volunteers and event attendees. Density, drop-offs on the streets, events that are out of hand. Because we have lived with the current CUP and how that has been complied with historically, it is a huge leap that just because it will be written that there will be no new trips, that will in fact happen. It's not fair to put the risk of this not working out on the residents. I'm pretty sure no neighbor that's not a parent has ever agreed with proposed enrollment increase.

Posted by staying home
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 2, 2021 at 12:47 pm

staying home is a registered user.

did Castie ever comply with existing CUP and enrollment numbers? is the city committing to enforcement? Who is trustworthy in this process?

Posted by MidtownMadness
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2021 at 2:33 pm

MidtownMadness is a registered user.

Many of these community complaints would be solved if the community wasn't also so opposed to building more (and denser) housing in Palo Alto. Barring intergenerational wealth or a very high-earning spouse, I struggle to see how teachers (or most families in the bay area) could afford to live anywhere near Castilleja. But with enough housing to reduce these insane prices (or at least slow increases), many more staff/students could live close enough to walk or bike, and there'd be far less need for parking (and fewer complaints about traffic). Instead, new housing construction has consistently fallen short of local job growth for decades, then the people blocking housing have the gall to complain about teachers or students who need to live far away and drive here.

This is a wonderful neighborhood, but it simply isn't practical to block all new development in an attempt to pretend it's still 1990. The population has grown enormously, and blocking those new people from accessing nearby housing and education runs counter to the progressive/inclusive/climate-conscious values touted by everyone's yard signs. It's short-sighted, selfish, and embarrassing.

Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 2, 2021 at 3:26 pm

sfvalley is a registered user.

The school is currently enrolled at 426 students. Their enrollment cap since 2000 is 415 students, but they've exceeded that number since 2002. I just wanted to mention, regarding goal posts, that although all the neighbors don't speak with one voice, because we sit in different positions vis a vis the school and don't have a PR machine, I would say neighbors wish the school would rebuild and modernize, but reconsider the massing. We were glad to see city council land on a 450 max enrollment to start, which most neighbors would support, and then entertain further requests down the road. Additionally, my group feels strongly about saving trees (Coastal Oak #89, where Melville meets Emerson, is a beauty and was in danger). Not moving the pool and keeping the parking lots as-is saves a whole lot of the changes the school is going through. The city council landed on around 89 parking spaces required, which already exists on campus. So, no garage needed. Because current floor area is significantly in excess of what's allowed when you tear down 5 buildings to be replaced by 1 building, that's why they need a Variance. I think we've pretty much been saying the same thing for 5 years.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2021 at 4:06 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Barring intergenerational wealth or a very high-earning spouse, I struggle to see how teachers (or most families in the bay area) could afford to live anywhere near Castilleja. But with enough housing to reduce these insane prices (or at least slow increases), many more staff/students could live close enough to walk or bike, and there'd be far less need for parking (and fewer complaints about traffic)."

Have you checked out Casti's tuition lately? Web Link

2021–22 Tuition

6th to 12th Grade Tuition & Fees are $54,000.

Additional Expenses:

Books & Uniforms (new or used): $650 - 1,100
Laptop: $1,000 - $2,000
Tuition Insurance (optional): $325

Casti families are hardly impoverished; 75% come from wealthier communities than Palo Alto with more expensive housing -- Los Altos Hills, Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton, etc. -- on larger lots with 1-acre+ zoning

I doubt these families are rushing to downsize into cheaper homes on much smaller lots and give up their staff, cars and other amenities so their daughters can bike to school.

Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 2, 2021 at 5:25 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

Just so sad that the City has really allowed this to drag on. Not recognizing the impact to traffic, safety issues for bike boulevard, taking old trees out, and not even thinking about the impact of this project with the Churchill proposal. At least the Churchill proposal is to save lives. Castilleja has 75% of the students coming from outside of Palo Alto and I continue to be so confused as to why they cannot move somewhere where this is much more space for them to continue to expand. I have lost confidence in the Palo Alto Planning organization and the City Council members. This makes no sense in my opinion. Let Castilleja move to a new location like most of the other private schools have done - Keys, Pinewood, Harker are just a few. Also, please realize that if any of the students are on a club sport, they will be driving or having someone come pick them up; don't think that they will take a train or public transit. That is just absurd since they will not make it to their club sport practice and games.

Posted by MidtownMadness
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2021 at 6:50 pm

MidtownMadness is a registered user.

@Online Name - I get that this school targets higher income families who may be less responsive to housing prices, but fair to assume the teachers and support staff aren't paid enough to live in Palo Alto (at least at current prices). Many of the parking/traffic remediation plans are intended to reduce car use among staff, and these likely wouldn't be required if staff could actually find moderately priced housing nearby.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2021 at 10:47 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Isn't Palo Alto already funding and developing a teacher's housing project? It may be limited to public school teachers.

Are you suggesting that Palo Alto's 25K taxpaying household provide/ subsidize housing for a private school whose students are 75% commuters? Does Casti even pay PA taxes? And what's the obligation of the parents and their hometowns? Are they housing teachers and staff?

And isn't the staff already stuck parking in the Baylands and being shuttled onto campus while students will use the campus parking?

Posted by staying home
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 3, 2021 at 9:28 am

staying home is a registered user.

@midtownmadness: I call BS that this issue is due to Palo Alto housing problem. Maybe Casti should pay its staff more so they can live closer? You want to educate more women to be leaders? Move the school out of one of the most expensive neighborhoods in CA and lower tuition.

It is absolutely appropriate to block this expansion if it does nothing for community. Its on Casti to prove its case.

Posted by Nancy Tuck
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 3, 2021 at 11:58 am

Nancy Tuck is a registered user.

For me, the bottom line is education, accessible in our community, and respectful of the neighbors. Castilleja checks all of these boxes. I live within steps of people who have posted above and are persistently concerned about the "expansion". I challenge those folks to say that Castilleja's traffic and/or parking impact on the neighborhood right now is even measurable. Because it is not. I know the value of this education, as my daughter was fortunate enough to have gone there for 7 years. And I say BRING ON the improvements, the modernization, the garage and the carbon-footprint improvements. AND the additional enrollment. Castilleja has demonstrated that they are consistent and responsible with traffic management. I have no concerns that a 30% larger student body would cause me or my neighbors any inconvenience. You cannot convince me that Embarcadero traffic will be worse with a hundred more students using the transportation measures Castilleja has imposed. Stanford and Paly populations dwarf Castilleja and it is those commuters that impact Embarcadero. The naysayers are hopelessly dug into their negative position, but in my opinion really don't have a leg to stand on.

Posted by toransu
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 3, 2021 at 11:17 pm

toransu is a registered user.

It’s ridiculous that this is even being considered. Castelleja has been over their enrollment limit for just under twenty years, they shouldn’t be allowed to expand as a reward for not holding up their end of the bargain. But then again, the city council does like bending over for bad actors on the community, so maybe it’s on brand after all.

Posted by MidtownMadness
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2021 at 4:53 pm

MidtownMadness is a registered user.

@Staying Home - In PA, housing is effectively a finite resource. Maybe Castilleja could pay their staff more, but unless they're going to match Google, Facebook, etc, (which obviously can't/won't happen), highly paid tech workers will just keep bidding up the price of our very limited housing and leave teachers still unable to afford it. In theory the free market would solve this by building enough housing to meet their demand, but when you strictly enforce single family zoning (and make any possible exceptions go through a long and expensive bureaucratic maze), that isn't possible. There aren't endless acres of undeveloped, properly zoned/approved PA land, just waiting for more single family homes to be built - we need to build many more duplexes, triplexes, apartments, etc, on the finite amount of land we have. PA didn't just become "one of the most expensive neighborhoods in CA" by accident, residents MADE IT THIS WAY through decades of artificially constraining housing supply in an incredibly job-rich (and therefore high housing demand) area. It's a game of pay-to-play musical chairs, with more people constantly being added, but basically the same number of chairs... then only the wealthiest players can afford a seat and everyone acts surprised that prices keep skyrocketing.

@Online Name - It's worth noting that 21% of Castilleja students receive tuition assistance, so the students are clearly *not* all from wealthy families who you implied could easily afford to live in PA but choose not to. Based on the $3.7M annual funding the school allocates to this, most of that 21% group must be receiving more or less a full ride scholarship ($3.7M is enough to cover 16% of students at the full $54k each). It seems fair to assume any family in a position to receive significant tuition assistance probably can't afford to live near Castilleja at current prices.

Posted by ZPS
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2021 at 1:15 pm

ZPS is a registered user.


1. Approving Castilleja, which draws 75% of its students from out of town, for EXPANSION--more students, more sq. footage, more traffic, more harm to the environment
with Embarcadero and a part of Melville shutdown for months;
2. Going on record as accepting the lies and deceptions of Castilleja about their enrollment, which to this very day
they remain out of compliance with.
3. Currently Castilleja pays no property taxes on its prime real estate holdings where the school is located nor do they pay a penny for the public services they receive to this school,
4. Threatening the well-being of protected oaks and redwoods;
5. Continuing to ask for more give-aways from the City after they've already been granted the 200 Melville Ave. street,
and variances that the general public wouldn't receive;
6. Building an unnecessary underground garage that isn't needed, is a threat to the environment and sets a dangerous precedent for other neighborhoods.

This is all at a time when accommodations such as Castilleja is seeking need to be made for "overriding public needs" such as affordable housing, which the Castilleja property would be an excellent home for!

What do YOU think is in this community's best interests?

Why provide Castilleja

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