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Castilleja School's new plan to rebuild campus gets mixed response

Original post made on Dec 9, 2021

Despite numerous revisions to its proposal to rebuild its campus, Castilleja continues to polarize the community, with some calling the plan an ambitious overreach and others urging the city to approve it.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, December 9, 2021, 9:43 AM

Comments (26)

Posted by Allan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2021 at 10:45 am

Allan is a registered user.

Castilleja was asked by City Council to suggest alternatives to the phasing of construction. One option they suggested was to find a temporary campus, although no location was now known. This suggestion would decrease construction time by 1.1 years from 34 months to 21 months. This option would be a gift to the greater neighborhood surrounding the school and to the health and safety of their students. Surely the large contingent of supporters of Castilleja could pitch in to help them find an alternate location for a temporary campus in existing buildings or in temporary mobile classrooms (ie as now planned on their athletic field) . Let's reduce the pain to all parties, to more quickly get their renovations completed!

Posted by Old teacher
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 9, 2021 at 10:59 am

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I fail to understand why Castilleja school advocates insist on keeping the location on a busy thoroughfare of Embarcadero when like other schools, they could relocate to another, safer location where they could expand. I hope that Palo Alto City Council will press for safety over the desires of the elites who want their cozy Palo Alto location. Castelleja has not keep faith with this community by expanding their student body over many years in violation of the rules.

Posted by PA Community Advocate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2021 at 11:02 am

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[Post removed.]

Posted by Castilleja Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2021 at 11:21 am

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This process has dragged on for ten years. Ten years. The goalposts keep moving [portion removed.] The neighbors asked for a garage. Castilleja proposed a garage. Now they don't want a garage. The only reason anyone knew that Castilleja had surpassed their enrollment is because Castilleja got a new head who reported it. [Portion removed.] There is no reason for this project not to move forward. Castilleja has been around before any of the neighbors. They knew they were moving into an area near a school when they moved in. Of course schools have to modernize. It's inevitable. Education changes. Science evolves. Technology evolves. Stop dragging this on, approve the project, and let the amazing accomplishments of these incredible young women continue to enhance the neighborhood and the surrounding area.

Posted by Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2021 at 11:27 am

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

Interesting that this report makes it seem like last night was a balanced showing from the public. Castilleja supporters far outnumbered the critics. Perhaps because the opposing group is such a small but very vocal minority? Even more important than numbers was the message. Castilleja’s supporters made sense, which is easy for them because the project makes sense. I also want to point out that there are underground garages in residential neighborhoods in Palo Alto. The one at Kol Emeth has improved quality of life just as Castilleja wants to do. Finally, one question about the massing on Kellogg. People who live on Kellogg have stated at open hearings that they don’t want a break in the building there because the building creates an effective barrier between life inside and life outside of campus. Why are people who don’t live on the street moving against the wishes of people who do?

Posted by Allan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2021 at 11:53 am

Allan is a registered user.

A related question to massing of the Kellogg building is Why did the ARB reverse its decision of early this year to approve the Kellogg building design, when NO changes had been made to the design since then? Now they propose that the building be 3 feet taller and even more massive than the previously approved design.

Posted by Broken Broker
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 9, 2021 at 11:55 am

Broken Broker is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 9, 2021 at 12:19 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"The planning commission, which had already reviewed and approved an earlier version of this plan, is expected to dive into the details of the current one at its upcoming meeting."

Funny how they could do that when, as Rita Vrhel noted in her speech, they were working with incomplete information since various critical reports were never forwarded to the decision-makers A shameful waste of taxpayers money!!

Why did the meeting drag on so late? Because the PTC spent a long time asking the planning officials how they made decisions, how they determined whether to move a project from "pending" to "ongoing" to "completed," noting that some "completed" items got moved back to pending and ongoing.

No one could answer the questions on managerial process. An unfortunate case of "Who's on First."

It also dragged because of the lengthy speeches on how Casti could end misogyny right here in our own times. Yes, misogyny and discrimination are blatant here in Silicon Valley. Maybe the Casti parents could start addressing it in their own companies, law firms and vc firms?? Just a thought!

As a bunch of us joked last night, the Palo Alto process is "Portlandia with extra whine."

Posted by Roy M
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 9, 2021 at 3:07 pm

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I am one of the Casti supporters who stayed up way too late to speak at the meeting last night. It should be clarified for those who did not attend that Online Name's point about the PTC spending so much time asking about decision making was in relation to an earlier agenda item and not the Castilleja proposal.

The Casti supporters who spoke about the benefits of having an all-girls education were addressing the value that Castilleja provides to the community. If some people thought those speeches are unnecessary, they are probably against having the school in Palo Alto in general or else they don't understand the point of the school's proposed modernization. I am sure Casti supporters are tired of speakers against the proposal coming up with new arguments (ground water?) to oppose something that they don't want to see even though the council indicated it will approve some version of this project.

I have a lot of empathy for the commission members who volunteer their time to go through hundreds of pages of documents and sit through hours long meetings only to go through it all over again because of an inflexible, vocal minority. The school has listened to the Council and incorporated their feedback. It is time to send this back to the Council for their final approval.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 9, 2021 at 3:33 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Roy, I'm well aware that the earlier discussion about PTC decision-making wasn't specifically related to Casti but to the "Planning" department's overall performance.

It still has bearing on the abilities and mindset of the "planners" who could appear to recommend proceeding on Casti without having a complete set of documents on which to base their decisions. That speaks to negligence; WHY they weren't given the complete set raises ethical questions and as well as the long-standing question about staff's seemingly consistent bias in favor of the big-money projects.

Posted by Leland J.
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 9, 2021 at 3:43 pm

Leland J. is a registered user.

Casti should sell the property to a developer and put in low income housing... then watch neighbors scream "NOOOO, We were only kidding! Please come back!"

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 9, 2021 at 4:19 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I also attended and LOL when Alcheck made his comments about the garage; that commissioner has garage history; I think he favors them!

What’s interesting is that when this goes to CC it will be reviewed by 5 council members who, in 2019, were part of a unanimous 7-0 vote to NOT build the promised downtown garage. In explaining her second, Kniss said the times have changed and noted that CC made climate change and sustainability a top Council Priority. Nielsen Buchanan opposed the garage due to its impact on climate change. Another member of the public said a garage would invite more traffic. Yet another said the EIR did not fully address GHG emissions.

That was then and a different garage, but in the interim the climate situation has only worsened. Large parking structures are not environmentally friendly. Nor is concrete. Neither can be avoided 100%, but why add what’s not really needed?

I am watching to see if PTC and CC are serious about climate change mitigation and sustainability. Will the decisions about Casti be consistent with the decision about the downtown garage? Will decisions align with S-CAP goals? Vice Mayor Burt co-chairs those meetings so he hears the community’s concerns. Will his actions on this reflect that? And if it is accurate that Casti added the garage to the plan only b/c neighbors requested it, why not remove it now so that the modernization can begin?

Also, just as Casti continues to conflate the school’s stellar ability to educate young women, which NO ONE disputes, with land use entitlements, neighbors continue to question the likelihood that terms of the CUP and TDM program will be enforced. The skepticism about that is valid; the City is weak in enforcement and the school has a history of exceeding enrollment. It would be great to somehow put both those issues to rest.

Posted by tal
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2021 at 6:21 pm

tal is a registered user.

"The review process has gone on for long enough" is perhaps the worst argument for approval I've ever seen. So, anyone with the resources to outlast the opposition should prevail?

Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2021 at 6:51 pm

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In response to Leland J.:
You must not be a neighbor. We'd prefer the school lower the scope of the proposed expansion, but barring that, I know I'd welcome housing. Low-income included.

Posted by Trisha Suvari
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2021 at 6:55 pm

Trisha Suvari is a registered user.

Plain and simple. Castilleja needs to modernize. They have revised their plans numerous times and the loud voices of only some of the neighbors are holding up the entire project. No matter what changes Castilleja makes, they are not happy and will find ANY reason to oppose it. While Castilleja has been here longer than the houses and I do not think they need to relocate, I like Leland's comment about selling the land to a developer! Be careful what you wish for neighbors!! You are complaining about construction for a year or two, but what about construction for affordable housing in your neighborhood with underground parking? I bet you wouldn't be able to fight that project! Schools deserve to be in neighborhoods. Let Castilleja modernize and let this project get underway.

Posted by Midtown Girl
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2021 at 7:22 pm

Midtown Girl is a registered user.

I firmly support Castilleja’s right to update its campus. The City Council, ARB & PTC members have had YEARS to consider the school’s many proposals, each of which has sought to compromise in ways that responded to neighbors’ concerns. This process has continued to devolve, as each time Castilleja changes its plan in deference to the naysayers, those [portion removed] pivot to some other minuscule detail to complain about. This has taken way too long to resolve, and has cost the school way too much money. Palo Alto’s government officials should make a decision ASAP so that a storied Palo Alto educational institution can finally start the process of bringing its campus into the 21st century.

Posted by PA Community Advocate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2021 at 7:50 pm

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[Post removed.]

Posted by Leland J.
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 9, 2021 at 9:55 pm

Leland J. is a registered user.

To sfvalley:

I absolutely am a neighbor. Living on Embarcadero about 3 blocks from campus. It speaks volumes that your tactic is to accuse someone who disagrees with you of not living here - rather than make a logical argument for your position.

I invite you to subdivide your lot and build a low income unit. That’s legal now. Don’t worry I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to take action.

Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2021 at 2:49 am

mjh is a registered user.

Why should Casti think it is entitled to continue to increase its impact in a residential neighborhood? Speakers forget that for most of its existence Casti was a boarding school with some local day girls, and very low impact on the neighborhood.

It was only a few decades ago that Casti switched to a day school model. Suddenly, from being a reasonably quiet residential neighborhood, 75% of its students are commuting daily into the neighborhood and the school begins its continual expansion creep with an increasing number of disruptive evening and weekend events.

If Casti were to apply today to locate in a residential neighborhood it wouldn’t be permitted. When is enough enough ?

I can’t but help think that if Casti truly feels it is so important to increase the number of young women benefiting from their education, Casti would want to move to a location where they can grow and not limit this wonderful opportunity to only 540 young women.

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2021 at 10:56 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Recently, 2 extremely important reports were released to the public: Fehr & Peers 7/23/21 Castilleja Parking Study commissioned by Castilleja School

and Dudek’s 11/17/21 report on Castilleja School Building Survey and Gross Floor Area Assessment.

The information contained in these 2 reports should cause the PTC to send Castilleja’s expansion plans back to the drawing board.

The 7/23/21 Fehr & Peers Castilleja Parking Study commissioned by Castilleja School indicates a parking garage of any size is NOT NECESSARY.

On page 1 this report indicated … “Alternative 4, the Disbursed Circulation/ No Garage Alternative-would meet the City’s Municipal Code requirements providing 104 parking spaces, which is based on the number of teaching stations.

Let me repeat their findings: “Alternative 4, the Disbursed Circulation/ No Garage Alternative-would meet the City’s Municipal Code requirements providing 104 parking spaces, which is based on the number of teaching stations.

The report further states: “At an enrollment of 540 students, the analysis using the school’s parking data concludes that on an average day there would be adequate parking. At peak demand, there would be a small shortage in parking (10 vehicles) that could be addressed through valet parking. Therefore, as discussed above, based on historical parking data, information from other institutions and available published industry standards, 104 parking spaces would be appropriate for an enrollment of 540 students.”

Fehr & Peers have “monitored the peak period generation, on- site parking, and on-street parking adjacent to the school since 2012.”

On page 5, the report details the location of all 330 on -street parking spaces comprised of 54 school- frontage parking spaces and 276 non -frontage parking spaces.

Very bad timing on this report. Likely that is why Planning chose not to include the actual report only a link ARB's or PTC's packet. OOPS!

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2021 at 11:11 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

[Post removed; successive comments by same poster are not permitted.]

Posted by Sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2021 at 1:26 pm

Sheri is a registered user.

Yup, that's how we got Alma Plaza.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 10, 2021 at 1:28 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Rita Vrhel,

Thanks for posting the specifics about the missing data.

It's much more relevant to the Casti discussion than the long-winded speeches about how only Casti can end sexism, misogyny and discrimination when all those conditions have been and continue to be so blatant in Silicon Valley, Just follow the news for all the lawsuits and multi-million-dollar discrimination.

If Casti supporters and parents really wanted to end the discrimination, sexism and misogyny their daughters -- and all women -- face here, they could eradicate it at the companies, law firms, vc firms etc. where they work and hold top positions.

Now back to the Casti specifics....

Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 11, 2021 at 1:18 pm

JR is a registered user.

Any proposal that has a garage entrance or exit on Bryant should be immediately discarded. Bryant is a bicycle boulevard and care has been taken over many years to create a street that is hospitable to bikers of all ages and genders. Now Castilleja wants to wreck it all with this proposal. This is not about education, it is about greed and hubris.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2021 at 11:46 am

Annette is a registered user.

It makes sense that it is time for Castilleja to modernize its campus. Why, then, doesn't the school submit plans that comply with existing code? Or require only exceptions that can work for that site w/o enormously negative impact on the neighborhood in which it is located?

The assertion that the neighbors are to blame for "holding up the entire project" is not credible. Just think about what that means. As has been pointed out, the plans have been reviewed by numerous City bodies (ARB, PTC, Planning Department, City Council). And one member of the PTC is going out of his way to help this along. If memory serves, that commissioner has a niece who attends Casti (she may have graduated by now) and a business relationship with the lawyer representing the school. Despite all that, deep pockets, and an army of experts, repeated trips to the drawing board are not resulting in a viable expansion plan. Even the Fehr & Peers report, which was commissioned by Castilleja concludes that the garage is not necessary,

The problem is not the neighbors.

Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 13, 2021 at 11:07 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

Sexism. Misogyny. Climate change. Downtown parking garage. Business relationships. Blah. Blah. Blah. Set aside the rhetoric and focus on the practical issues.

Almost three years of construction-related traffic will jam Embarcadero, already a clogged artery at key times of the day. If Churchill is closed, the situation will deteriorate. Everyone in Palo Alto will be affected, including emergency responders. The mess resulting from the expansions will represent a major hit to the city's quality of life, particularly for the several thousand residents living in the neighborhoods closest to the school.

And for what? To allow a private, tax-exempt educational institution to dramatically expand its enrollment, which largely consists of young women who live elsewhere and will likely contribute absolutely nothing to the community once they graduate.

Process, finger-pointing and arcane arguments should never be allowed to obsucre common sense.

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