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Around Town: seeing red, reinventing the commute

 

Tidbits collected by the Weekly staff on Palo Alto people, events and other happenings.

SEEING RED ... By a sheer coincidence, the public hearing on Castilleja School's ambitious expansion project fell on International Women's Day. Needless to say, there were many red shirts in the standing-room-only crowd on March 8, when the Planning and Transportation Commission convened to discuss the project. The all-girls school is seeking to demolish two Bryant Street homes on two adjacent properties (which it owns), to construct a below-grade garage under the merged parcels and to add 26,700 square feet of space below grade. Castilleja also is seeking to gradually boost enrollment by 27 students per year, so that it would go from the current cap of 415 (which the school exceeds by 23) to a maximum of 540. Opponents of the project, who have attended recent City Council meetings in red "Stop Castilleja Expansion" T-shirts, came out in full force to the Wednesday meeting, which focused on the forthcoming environmental analysis of the proposed expansion. And they brought no shortage of ideas for what the analysis should consider. Kimberly Wong, who lives near Castilleja, requested that the consultants performing the study, along with the city's Architectural Review Board and Historic Resources Board, evaluate the impact of losing the two homes. Others neighbors called for a more detailed parking study (which includes blocks beyond those in immediate proximity to the school), better tree protection, more stringent geotechnical studies before the excavation begins and analysis of sites elsewhere in the city that the school can use for its expansion. The project had plenty of supporters as well, including school officials, past trustees and parents whose daughters are enrolled in Castilleja. Tolulope Akinola, who has two daughters attending Castilleja, touted the school's positive impact on girls' lives and said it's fitting that the project is being considered on this particular date. "Castilleja, in my daughters' experience, has been really great on trying to build up these young women and trying to give them education that allows them to have impact not only in their city, but they take the impact for the rest of their lives, everywhere they touch." Despite the large number of neighbors who turned out to oppose the project, architect Rob Steinberg said he was optimistic about the project. "I think everybody is here because we love Palo Alto and we love the community that's developed around us," Steinberg said. "I think that shared value is a good place -- a good common thread to have as we move forward and explore these different ideas."

REINVENTING THE COMMUTE ... They have developed the microwave tube, the computer mouse and the first scientific calculator that can fit in a shirt pocket. Now, the brightest luminaries of Stanford Research Park are putting their minds together to solve a common problem: traffic congestion. Last year, some of the largest companies at the research park banded to come up with new ways to get employees to switch from cars to other modes of transportation. Gradually, the coalition of 12 companies grew into 18, which includes tech giants VMWare, SAP, Ford, Lockheed Martin, Varian Medical Systems, HP and -- ironically enough -- Tesla. Some of these initiatives are tried-and-true measures: subsidized Caltrain and VTA passes; free shuttle services to Caltrain stations; and an expanded push to get people to carpool. Jamie Jarvis, the research park's full-time "transportation-demand manager" (a position that didn't exist a year ago), told the Palo Alto City Council on Monday that use of the Scoop app, which arranges carpools, has been growing by 15 percent a month and noted that February showed the greatest use to date (the park reported 4,503 Scoop carpool registration). Stanford also has expanded the San Francisco commuter buses that began shuttling employees in August and began developing a similar service for the South Bay, which is home to about half of the park's workforce.

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