City looks to scale back Castilleja's growth plan | May 27, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 27, 2022

City looks to scale back Castilleja's growth plan

Council majority votes against school's proposal, demands further revisions

by Gennady Sheyner

The Palo Alto City Council moved Monday to curtail Castilleja School's contentious plan to rebuild its campus and increase student enrollment, with most members indicating that they want a more modest cap on the enrollment increase and more measures to protect surrounding neighborhoods from traffic and noise.

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Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 24, 2022 at 5:58 am

Annette is a registered user.

What I heard repeatedly last night was support for modernization of the campus, within reason. Labels such as slow-growth, residentialist, and nimby need to be retired. Not only are they polarizing, they are tiresome and problematic b/c they are used in an accusatory way to strip away the validity of reasonable concerns. I am relieved that five members of City Council acknowledged that the intensity of the school's proposal is problematic and encouraged that a reasonable solution will emerge.

Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2022 at 7:00 am

Old Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

I am glad to see Mayor Burt, Vice Mayor Kou, Councilman DuBois, Filseth and Stone are standing up to Castilleja despite the threat from Castilleja attorneys and pressure from Castilleja with packed chamber of school parents. They finally say enough is enough. No more free giveaways to this “nonprofit”institution with millions of dollars endowment. It was funny to hear all these parents blindly following the marching order of the school complaining the school was being mistreated without looking at the facts. The fact is the City already gave the school land of an entire city block for free, the school’s proposal would be over the legal FAR limit by 58%, the city is willing to not counting the sq footage of an underground garage that is not even allowed for homeowners in an R1 zone, city has not enforced any penalty for Castilleja’s continue violation on events and only fined them $285k of 20+ years of over enrollment which the school pocketed millions of dollars profit. It is important to look at the facts.

Posted by Lorraine Brown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2022 at 7:06 am

Lorraine Brown is a registered user.

Thank you to Council members Cormack and Tanaka for listening to the huge majority who spoke in favor of Castilleja's proposal, as well as to the 600+ Palo Alto residents who've publicly supported the project. I hope that when Council reconvenes June 6, they remember that they represent the city at large, not just a "residentialist" faction. Palo Altans care deeply about education and the creation of opportunity, and our Council should listen to the hundreds and hundreds of voices supporting Castilleja.

Commenting specifically on events, it would be a travesty if the school's events are limited to 50. There are many important reasons for parents to come to campus at any middle or high school: parent meetings, parent education, performances, competitions, speakers. If Council votes to limit events to 50, they will be severely handicapping the school. They would limit their ability to serve their community and ultimately impact the viability of the school. No other school in the area, and possibly in the entire state, has such draconian limits on their events or operations.

Palo Altans will be paying close attention on June 6. I hope Council supports 70 events, which is still a dramatic reduction from current levels.

Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2022 at 7:22 am

Old Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

@Annette, I agree with you. I don't understand why Gennady is labeling the 5 councils who are doing their job by evaluating the facts and fighting for what is right for Palo Alto as slow-growth "residentialist"? Why didn't Gennady label Tanaka and Cormack who refused to look at the facts and want to give whatever Castilleja is asking for as the "free givingaway" wing?

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2022 at 8:24 am

felix is a registered user.

I think Cormack’s ill timed motion took everyone by surprise except her Council sidekick Tanaka. She surely knew it would fail and was just show boating.

At midnight, after 58 speakers, she alone voted against continuing the hearing to June 6th. Another surprise.

Did Cormack think Council should hold slumber party decision making in the wee small hours? A formula for bad decisions.

She didn’t explain her vote so we don’t know the basis for her poor judgment.

Some seem confused about how Council make decisions. They are not counting how many people sit in chambers or write emails, though they do listen to the concerns. They consider City zoning codes, the Casti CUP, listen to the City attorney, and the Casti proposal in this quasi-judicial hearing - a serious matter, not a popularity contest.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 24, 2022 at 8:38 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Thank you, Annette, for being the voice of reason. I couldn't believe that various supporters of Casti's expansion actually called opponents -- many of whom are Casti grads and/or parents -- "misogynists" and Nimby's. Shame on them for their indifference toward their neighbors and surroundings.

If this is the type of "logic" Casti's teaches at what they claim is a first-rate school, I despair. What's next? Chants of "stop the steal"??

Speaking of their surroundings, shame on PA "Planning" for never even considering the girls parking in the neighborhood, a known and major problem! What have they been considering for the last 6 years??

Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2022 at 8:49 am

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The council members who asked for more changes are simply posturing. Eventually they will throw up their hands and vote against the project saying, "We allowed them every chance to make it work but they couldn't come up with a reasonable plan."

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 24, 2022 at 9:25 am

Annette is a registered user.

I should also have referenced (and thanked) Councilmember Filseth for his comments about the rhetoric that has been percolating around this issue lately. He rightly noted that it has not been helpful. I thought his comments would have resulted in greater civility during the public comment portion of the meeting, but apparently a few people didn't hear him. Rank misogyny - did that really have to be said? And why call out people - especially neighbors with a differing point of view - by name?

Posted by Richard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2022 at 10:18 am

Richard is a registered user.

Thanks to Annette for debunking the easy labels that do nothing but avoid critical thinking; and thanks to the council members who saw through the weakness of measuring traffic only as a function of drop offs at the school. I live a few blocks from the school on Churchill Avenue near the Gamble Garden Center and have observed students and other visitors to the school park on Waverley St. Finally, it is patently absurd to base the extent of support or opposition to the plan on the number of speakers, pro and con, at a council meeting.

Posted by Ohio39
a resident of Stanford
on May 24, 2022 at 10:53 am

Ohio39 is a registered user.

Wish council would look at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, Washington.

Posted by cr
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2022 at 11:04 am

cr is a registered user.

Many people in support of ignoring all the city's zoning laws and pushing forward with the proposed expansion made the point that monitoring activities were too burdensome and expensive for this private school. If the school is so convinced they won't yet again violate the covenants (e.g., trip counts), why is it such a big deal to monitor this activity and ensure they do what they say they will do before automatically increasing enrollment to the max? Like a misbehaving child, bad behavior in the past means there needs to be a bit more of a gated approach with a bit more oversight ("trust but verify" approach).

To the extent proponents spent so much time balking at monitoring and the gated approach to enrollment increases, it makes me wonder if they have truly changed their colors and will be forthright.

Lastly, I think Pat Burt got it right. Trip counts, measured only at Cati driveways, are a spurious metric. Obviously traffic will dramatically increase but the trip count metric can be met by just parking a block or two away from the school and walking. Doing so still clogs the city streets and adds to pollution.

Posted by Old teacher
a resident of Community Center
on May 24, 2022 at 11:11 am

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I have lived in Palo Alto since 1965, and I live near the school. I think the past behavior or the school in breaking the rules and their present wish to expand are outrageous! 540 students coming to a school on busy Embarcadero ! Why can't they move to another area to expand, and not insist on impacting a dense residential area. This huge push is another sign of Palo Alto entitlement for the rich. A larger school population is both unnecessary and unsafe for the community. I support women's education, but this expansion is pure greed and entitlement. Do not allow it!

Posted by Megan Miller
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2022 at 11:17 am

Megan Miller is a registered user.

Thank you Council members Cormack and Tanaka for supporting Castilleja's plan. While listening to last night's meeting I wanted everyone to STOP, take a minute and think about what you are doing to our community? And what you are communicating to our children?
That there is no forgiveness for past wrongdoings?
That the noise of laughter, competition and learning are not a joy to hear?
That you do not have a few minutes in your day to sit in a bit more traffic?
That the inconvenience of a long construction project is not worth the years of education it will benefit students for generations to come?
That the experience of watching your child performing in a school play is too much to ask for?
That the gift of a Castilleja education for a student from an under-resourced neighboring public school is not worth the increased student enrollment?

If you truly care about education and children then please give a little. Put down your measuring tapes and car counters and rewrite your yard signs to say,
THANK YOU Castilleja for this gift that benefits the greater good for years to come.

Posted by Elain
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2022 at 12:25 pm

Elain is a registered user.

My daughter attended Castilleja and received a great education. The new gym wasn't even available to her back then and a new facility would not have improved her experience one iota!
I believe the true reasoning that Casti has spent a small fortune on attorneys, consultants etc is that the administration and board want a monument to their legacy. Casti has a huge endowment already (more than some colleges) and the desire to raise enrollment so drastically is financially motivated.
The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of the girls come from very elite families (Captains of Industry, celebrities, VC's). These girls would be "successful". no matter where they attended school! The financial resources of the families is a large consideration in the admissions process. They will never turn down a girl whose parent is the CEO of Google, Facebook, Apple etc.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 24, 2022 at 12:32 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

It is indeed absurd to measure only traffic into/out of Casti driveway while ignoring the traffic and parking in the neighborhood! What kind of illogical "planning" is that by the city and what kind of entitled nonsense for Casti/Kaufnman to be so unaware of their neighbors and their concerns! Do they think the girls levitate to school??

If that's the type of illogical, selfish, divisive arguments Casti's pushing, shame on them for what they're teaching their students and demand a tuition refund.

Still amazed that Casti and some of their proponents could actually call other Casti parents and grads misogynists!

Posted by eyeswideopen
a resident of Professorville
on May 24, 2022 at 12:38 pm

eyeswideopen is a registered user.

I completely agree with "old Teacher" (above) who writes...

"... I think the past behavior of the school in breaking the rules and their present wish to expand are outrageous! 540 students coming to a school on busy Embarcadero ! Why can't they move to another area to expand, and not insist on impacting a dense residential area. This huge push is another sign of Palo Alto entitlement for the rich. A larger school population is both unnecessary and unsafe for the community. I support women's education, but this expansion is pure greed and entitlement. Do not allow it! "

They want to be in Palo Alto because of the cache--bringing more wealthy students to a sought-after address. If they relocate to a bigger campus in a not-so-prestigious location they feel they'll
lose status. It isn't about education it's about money power and elite standing.

Posted by community member
a resident of University South
on May 24, 2022 at 2:03 pm

community member is a registered user.

I remain mystified at the meaning of "no net new traffic" phrase which they copy from Stanford. Google doesn't help.
It *sounds* like No New Traffic, but it is something different. NET of what?

Does anyone know? or is it a PR phrase to make it *sound* like there won't be more traffic. Because of course, there will be more traffic.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 24, 2022 at 2:44 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

The "no net new car trips" claim for Casti is as absurd as for Stanford where for years people have joked joke that it's another Sillycone Valley miracle. Casti using Stanford as a justification insults our intelligence.

Note Casti hedges even more with its phrase "no net new CONSECUTIVE car trips."

Huh? Are they saying that Sally's 8AM arrival trip wasn't "consecutive" to her 4PM departure and thus shouldn't count? Or that one trip didn't use the Casti driveway and thus shouldn't count because in some fantasy world neighborhood traffic would be ignored?

When's the City going to start challenging these obvious and laughable lies?

And when's PAO going to stop using "residentialist" as an insult?

Posted by Deborah
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 24, 2022 at 3:43 pm

Deborah is a registered user.

Pat Burt is all about the "we must defend our R-1 zoning!"? Does he not know that the state legislature abolished R-1? R-1 zoning no longer exists in the state of California. I know that a significant portion of Palo Alto residents feel that R-1 zoning is a hill they are willing to die one. Me? I've got better things to do like see about getting people who live south of Oregon Expressway elected to the council.

I know Greer Stone lives in Midtown, but his deal is he's thinking he's setting himself up for a state assembly run, which is why he's kowtowing to "Palo Alto Neighborhoods." But really, the council and most committees are run by residents of Old Palo Alto, Professorville and Crescent Park. That needs to change.

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 24, 2022 at 5:48 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@Deborah: Yes, Pat should have said simply "residential" rather than "R1", even though the R1 designation technically still exists. It's the residential characteristics that are at issue here.

If I remember correctly, none of the current Council members live in Old Palo Alto, Professorville, or Crescent Park.

Just for the record, Professorville hasn't been single-family-only in over a hundred years. Amusingly, one of the early non-SFR buildings was Casti's residences at 1121 Bryant, started in 1892. I believe it's apartments today.

Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 24, 2022 at 6:27 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

Well, I am not going to re-iterate what I have said in the past. The only interesting point I wish to share is that, having lived here since 1989 after living on the East coast, I wonder if the Castilleja group wearing blue tee shirts with "When women thrive, all of society benefits" think they live somewhere else. We all know, especially in California, that all people matter, independent of sex. Maybe they are trying to get the input of some other area. Not sure. Being a female myself, I will say, I had much much more opportunity here in CA than I did in Pennsylvania. So, females do thrive here as well as males. Please don't try to use the sex card. We all know there are more females attending and graduating college than men so please! Focus on finding a larger campus site to support more students if that is your objective. Ideally, you could offer education for females and males at a much larger campus that is not in a residential neighborhood. Look at the other private schools and how they moved their campuses to expand. If the issue is being able to say 'Palo Alto' then at least state that as a selling point for the over 75% of the students that are not Palo Alto residents.

Posted by Perspective
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2022 at 8:39 pm

Perspective is a registered user.

I've lived on Lowell Ave for more than a decade. My oldest is attending Walter Hays, where my younger daughter will go next year. We know every park like the back of our hands. Both girls play AYSO soccer. We go to the farmer's markets every weekend. Our summers are spent at the Rinconda pool and biking for ice cream. My wife and I both work in Palo Alto. The roots of my family's life runs deep in Palo Alto.

You'd think from the city council meeting last night that our Old Palo Alto community is beset with teenagers clogging our streets with parked cars, traffic jams grid locking the neighborhood, and an incessant noise streaming from loudspeakers and referee's whistles. In reality, none of this is true. The Old Palo Alto streets have ample street parking. Traffic is unremarkable morning and evening. And, the only community noise we hear in Old Palo Alto is from the Caltrain, the occasional Stanford football game, and concerts at Shoreline. The aforementioned concerns presented last night are vastly out of touch with the reality of living in Old Palo Alto.

The truth of the matter is most residents of Palo Alto know Castilleja as an excellent school, but they have no idea where the school is located. Nearly everyone is shocked when they learn there is a school off Embarcado. The community conversations at our parks, the farmer's market, the soccer games, the community pool, the Old Palo Alto block parties, and the drop-offs and pick-ups from school are about real issues (housing crisis, climate change, social justice, restoring the community with Covid, etc) and NEVER about the minutiae Castilleja's remodel or expansion.
After 6 years, the city council has lost perspective. Castilleja has time and again revised its plans to work in good faith with its neighbors and within the city's ordinances. Castilleja agreed to an extreme TDM (for a non-existent problem) in the name of compromise. The council needs to work in good faith and stop moving the goalposts. 

Posted by Castilleja Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2022 at 9:20 pm

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I support Castilleja. I live half a block away, and I'm so grateful for all they bring to the community. I've never heard Casti events, and the students are thoughtful and polite. Castilleja has spent six years responding and adapting the plan to neighbor demands, and the goalposts keep moving. It's time. A small, independent girls' school needs and deserves to modernize after over fifty years. The rhetoric about violating their CUP needs to end. Yes. They did. And how did the city find out? The new head, Nanci Kaufman, immediately alerted them when she became the head and found out what had happened. Traffic has been reduced. Allow this school to modernize. Stop wasting taxpayer money on more proceedings.

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2022 at 9:37 pm

rita vrhel is a registered user.

As a Castilleja parent, I am grateful for the Mayor, Vice-Mayor and 3 CC members stopping, listening and voting for additional time to consider the "facts" of this situation.

Hopefully on 6/6 they will NOT allow Castilleja to expand as they wish by not granting a text amendment, encroachment and variance. All of which are SPECIAL CONCESSIONS.

None of which Castilleja has a right to demand. All are gifts to the School.

Last night I found it fascinating how many speaking on behalf of Castilleja were actually rude to CC members and the public whose opposes their plans.

And how many were demanding more enrollment, no monitoring and continued special treatment even BEFORE their current expansion plan is settled!

Mr. Lait seemed shocked when the TRUTH came out about how easy it was to GAME Castilleja's air tight, world class, rock solid transportation demand management program (TDM). Just park or get dropped off a block away from school! Easy done! Wink; wink.

If a car does not come into the campus where the monitors are stationed, no count of the car trip is made. Who designed this system which will be used to determine Castilleja's future enrollment increases?

I think it explains why Castilleja repeatedly boasts of a 30% reduction in no new trips, while I see girls walking across Embacardero to school after parking on Melville.

It is ironic that the garage is touted as requested by neighbors to "end parking in the neighborhoods while the TDM is so flimsy that neighborhood parking will continue.

This has never been about girl's education. Castilleja can split their campus, move their campus or maximize their space WITHOUT special concessions.

Castilleja must work hard and long to regain the trust lost by 19+ years of CUP non-compliance and the submission of incorrect gross floor area in all of their expansion plans.

They are not an inexperienced, short of cash institution. How such an error was made for 5-1/2 years is astounding! Fascinating.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 24, 2022 at 9:58 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I loved it when Pat Burt called the TDM a Circumvention Management System because it's just plain gaming the system. What I don't get is why it took so long to do it.

It was also amusing watching Tom DuBois smile when asking why Casti was on its own "discipline" panel which will be monitoring violations and handing out penalties. Can we say "fox guarding the hen house"?

Watching Lait squirm and mumble would have been amusing if this fiasco hadn't taken so much tine and cost US the taxpayers so much money.

I don't get why Lait gets to insist there are no more public questions / comments next week when it seems like the CC is only now asking the key questions like A) why not a shuttle, B) why not bar the girls from driving into PA, C) Why have fundraisers etc off-campus, etc.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 25, 2022 at 11:00 am

Annette is a registered user.

Question to anyone with private school admissions experience: is there a legal way to designate a majority (or at least higher than 25) % of admissions to qualified Palo Alto girls so that Castilleja serves first and most the community in which it is located? That would have the added benefit of reducing car trips (assuming local girls walk, bike, or carpool to campus).

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 25, 2022 at 1:19 pm

rita vrhel is a registered user.

If, as described above by Perspective, there is no REAL parking problem associated with Castilleja students, then Castilleja does not need an underground, illegal in R-1 neighborhood garage.

Please advise the City Council there is no REAL parking problem associated with Castilleja. It may make their job easier.

The garage has been promoted by Castilleja as THE answer to neighbors' requests to unclog the streets around their homes.

The other issue as I have described, likely ad nauseam, are ALL the special concessions Castilleja REQUIRES to expand their campus and increase their enrollment.

Why can't Castilleja modernize their campus without such significant concessions? And build within PA's current Code?

HOW is it FAIR to justify reducing neighbors' quality of life and property values, both of which are PROTECTED by PA's Comprehensive Plan?

How does compromising neighbors' rights advance "girls' education"? Castilleja, a 123 million dollar non-profit, could easy split their campus or relocate to a large site?

And how can we TRUST Castilleja after they have lied for so many years about their enrollment? The Gross Floor area of their current campus? And constructed such a flimsy AKA self-identified robust Traffic Demand Management Program?

These "errors and omissions" are significant!

Finally, would you want this 4-5 year construction project, all the major/minor school events (and associated noise), and an illegal underground parking garage, likley used 7 days a week,> 12 hrs a day, in YOUR neighborhood?

As a Castilleja parent i know I would not. Do you?

Thank you

Posted by scott
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 25, 2022 at 1:59 pm

scott is a registered user.

"Children, you say?! Education!? Not In My Backyard!"

This affair reminds me of what happened in Berkeley. Bunch of rich homeowners convinced the California Supreme Court that students are a form of pollution under the law, forcing the university to cut admissions by thousands. State legislature came to the rescue with incredible speed, but I don't see that happening here, unfortunately.

It's a values thing. Everyone should look at what Palo Alto's Councilmembers did here, and ask if the votes cast and comments offered align with their values and priorities.

Posted by EYC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 25, 2022 at 2:20 pm

EYC is a registered user.

Tired of this Casti' expansion discussion. Just find another location for your expansion, you can afford it since charging $50k+ per year per student and loaded donations. Just don't waste our city's resources, wasting taxpayers $$. I live 2 blocks from Casti and I don't want packed Embarcadero at rush hours.

Mr. Tanaka, you lost my vote for your Congress race because I don't think you are doing right in this Casti expansion.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 26, 2022 at 6:39 am

Annette is a registered user.

Like Online Name, I appreciate that Burt drilled down on the TDM program. The school pretty much offered a primer on HOW they plan to get around the spirit of the program. So bogus - and a perfect example of why the trust issue persists. That is 100% on the school. Hopefully CC will close all loopholes on the plan because when given an inch, Castilleja takes a mile.

Posted by Neva
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2022 at 7:53 am

Neva is a registered user.

Thank you Annette for your comments.

Posted by [email protected]
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 26, 2022 at 8:43 am

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[Post removed.]

Posted by PST
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 7, 2022 at 2:12 pm

PST is a registered user.

Limiting enrollment based on the students address makes little sense if you value diversity in the student body. I’m fine with a regional school, far better than essentially an elitist “gated school”.

Limiting who can park where on public streets seems wrong.

Has anyone thought about how many homes with basements and/or multi residential units could be built in that space should the school sell and leave town as some have proposed?

Encouraging biking is great but structuring things that essentially result in mandating it or walking is not right. I hope the school removes its home made no Casti parking here signs so anyone can park on a public street like they should be able to.

People who mention facts as important should remember the fact that the school was there operating when they moved in. Don’t like it? Live somewhere else. This has taken so long to put it to rest wasting city resources and time because of opposition not because of Casti. Casti had consequences for their violations years ago. It seems some think once guilty you can never redeem your self, guilty forever in some minds I guess.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 7, 2022 at 3:00 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"People who mention facts as important should remember the fact that the school was there operating when they moved in."

Fact: It was a smaller BOARDING school, not one to which 75% of the student body commuted daily from other towns. HUGE difference.

EVERY public place has capacity limits: restaurants, the City Hall City Council chamber, concert halls, school auditoriums, bars, sports arenas, classrooms, etc etc etc. There are signs posted.

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