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Neighbors brace for battle over Castilleja's growth plan

Original post made on Aug 9, 2019

As Palo Alto prepares to hold its first public hearing next week on Castilleja School's ambitious plan to rebuild its campus, opponents and supporters are both leaning on a new environmental analysis to back their positions.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, August 9, 2019, 6:54 AM

Comments (41)

51 people like this
Posted by JCP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2019 at 9:59 am

JCP is a registered user.

How can bicycle safety be improved by having cars converge on a single entrance to a garage on Bryant near Embarcadero? And cars would be exiting back onto Bryant, facing oncoming traffic to the garage and bicycles. A clear oversight in favor of the applicant. The planning department is supposed to look out for bicycle safety but they clearly have other motives.


54 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Optimist
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2019 at 10:24 am

For years now, Castilleja has been working hard to be a good neighbor. I find their plan to be thoughtful and I am encouraged by the spirit of compromise that this article speaks to. Strong schools benefit everyone, the entire community, city, and region. I believe in the city's process and I look forward to a positive resolute. Let's stay optimistic about our wonderful city.


62 people like this
Posted by ARB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2019 at 10:37 am

ARB is a registered user.

I've lived in Palo Alto all my life and am a close neighbor of the school (less than two blocks). Castilleja has been a wonderful community asset for longer than any of the neighbors opposing the project have. It is not fair for them to take out their frustration with incresed density all over the City on a single, non-profit institution. I purposely walk my dog by Castilleja to avoid the traffic from PALY during the school year and I have loved getting to know the traffic monitors - they really add friendliness to the neighborhood that I have not seen by those neighbors with the hostile "Stop Castilleja" signs.

I am also a trained planner and understand the language of an EIR more than most (including the writer of this article and most/all of the neighbors opposing the project) - the "unmitigatable impact" is being used to spin this article and narrative in favor of the views of PNQL or PLQN or PQQN or PNLQ- whatever their confusing acronym is. Do you think Apple Campus, the new Warriors Stadium, or most large developments have unmitigatable impacts? They do. But they bring other benefits to the community. It isn't just about property tax/sales tax benefits that those companies provide - Castilleja brings intrinsic and intangible value to our community by providing quality education for young women. If PALY were required to do an EIR they would surely have a similar result. The difference here is that Castilleja has demonstrated a commitment to mitigating neighborhood impacts. I trust them (and I know many will not agree with that because they are holding onto the past enrollment violation from the previous administration) but they have shown that they are capable and willing to invest in being part of the neighborhood.

I hope Castilleja gets everything they ask for in their development proposal and that those devoting significant time and energy to opposing this project think long and hard about which side of history they want to be on.


70 people like this
Posted by No upside for Palo Alto
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 9, 2019 at 10:54 am

No upside for Palo Alto is a registered user.

Casti is a great school and does an excellent job educating young women, but there is NO reason they need to expand at this site. Split the middle and high schools into two different campuses, just like most of the local private schools have done. There are plenty of wealthy alumni and alumni's parents who could easily help fund an additional campus.


33 people like this
Posted by JT
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 9, 2019 at 10:56 am

This is a well written article. I appreciated that it noted that this isn't a "battle" between Castilleja and ALL neighbors. In fact, I think that many neighbors are not on board with a few who really seem to have taken this project on as their full-time job. The draft EIR confirms that the Castilleja plan is in line with the City's sustainability goals, and the garage will take cars off the street. Even more importantly, Castilleja wants to adjust their plans to address the issues that the DEIR notes. Castilleja is not some evil empire. They want to modernize an iconic institution that is a city gem, offer opportunities to more future women leaders, and compromise to make sure that the neighborhood is not negatively impacted.


36 people like this
Posted by Michelle
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 9, 2019 at 11:05 am

I am happy to see all of the positive comments in favor of Castilleja's expansion. I have been a Castilleja parent for three years. We receive frequent emails asking us not to park in front of neighbor's houses and to use the field for events. They also encourage the girls to ride their bikes by providing treats and competitions. I can speak to the last three years and know that Castilleja is serious about reducing impact and being a good neighbor. I am in favor of the expansion so more girls can receive the amazing education that Castilleja provides.


32 people like this
Posted by BPK
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2019 at 11:09 am

[Post removed.]


21 people like this
Posted by Roy M
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2019 at 11:55 am

Roy M is a registered user.

@No upside for Palo Alto. A key part of the Castilleja experience is that the high school girls mentor the middle school girls in all the various activities during and after school. Splitting the school into two campuses is detrimental to that part of the program which is why the school is looking to expand in its current location.

Also, not every private school built a new campus to expand. When Pinewood expanded in the 1980's to add the high school, they did not build a new campus. The Los Altos Hills campus was already there as the middle school. They gradually added the high school one year at a time to the existing middle school campus. Basically, Pinewood had a larger expansion than Castilleja's current proposal and did it at an existing location.


42 people like this
Posted by Time to Find a New Middle School Campus
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 9, 2019 at 12:03 pm

THANK YOU to "No Upside for Palo Alto" for this:
"Casti is a great school and does an excellent job educating young women, but there is NO reason they need to expand at this site. Split the middle and high schools into two different campuses, just like most of the local private schools have done. There are plenty of wealthy alumni and alumni's parents who could easily help fund an additional campus."

You are absolutely right. Casti students come from MANY communities, not just Palo Alto, and I think that the best example for how to do this correctly is Crystal Springs/Uplands.
They faced the same problems concerning their neighborhood in Hillsborough, and so they BUILT A NEW CAMPUS FOR THE MIDDLE SCHOOL in Belmont.

The Castilleja campus has always been shoe-horned into a much-too-small-space for its needs. They should have created a new campus DECADES AGO. Increasing your student body by 25%---TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT---is no small matter.


49 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 9, 2019 at 12:43 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

" A key part of the Castilleja experience is that the high school girls mentor the middle school girls in all the various activities during and after school. Splitting the school into two campuses is detrimental to that part of the program which is why the school is looking to expand in its current location. "

How exactly are the issues of a private elite school, where most of the students are not P.A residents the problem of Palo Alto? Casti has always had the means to buy a large enough parcel of land elsewhere, land large enough to satisfy their growth ambitions, like many other private schools have done, instead of being in the midst of a residential neighborhood.


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2019 at 1:32 pm

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

>> Casti has always had the means to buy a large enough parcel of land elsewhere, land large enough to satisfy their growth ambitions, like many other private schools have done, instead of being in the midst of a residential neighborhood.

Sure. Unfortunately, that boat sailed. I doubt if there is a suitable parcel available that they can afford, -in Palo Alto-, and, a key part of the Castilleja experience is that the school is located in Palo Alto. I find it difficult to be uncynical about it.


26 people like this
Posted by Enlightened Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2019 at 2:39 pm

From the sound of your article, it appears that the school continues to bend over backwards to address everyone’s concerns, and it is a tiny handful of neighbors who remain intractable. And since when do we hold the very institutions that operate for the benefit of society to a higher standard of community care than our for-profit corporations?

The issues that the neighbors are raising should be applied to profitable business development projects, not a school. Imagine if we required every employer in town to do what Castilleja has done about transportation? We would be back in 1960’s Palo Alto. And aren’t most of our public schools situated in residential neighborhoods? From what I’m hearing, they have all grown by a greater percentage than what Castilleja is proposing, and we all know that traffic has worsened in those neighborhoods, and all over town. Meanwhile, Castilleja has decreased traffic and is committing to no new car trips even as the school grows.

I’m growing tired of the NIMBY attitudes. Actually, it should be NIMFY, because the school has been around, in everyone’s FRONT yard, for longer than all of us! It’s mission, in this era where diversity, inclusion and equity are more crucial than ever, is to educate the next generation of women leaders. At this moment in history, I can’t think of a more important organization. I’m grateful to share this town with Castilleja, and proud to call them my neighbor.


48 people like this
Posted by Another neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2019 at 3:07 pm

I attended a couple of their public meetings.
Everything is highly structured including the non-answers by many of their leaders and board.
Even the lights were automatically turned off at 8pm. Never experienced anything like that at a public meeting. Message was-go home. They can't adjust the timer?

I felt so manipulated and disrespected, I cant help but question their sincerity on various issues.


9 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 9, 2019 at 4:20 pm

It is about time for the hard-line neighbors to see the hand-writing on the wall and realize they will lose a city-wide vote. Stop being obstinate and make a reasonable compromise. You will have to do that before you have a ghost of a chance in a city -wide vote. Just owning a small piece of property does not give you the right to block any change, no matter how reasonable.


15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Posted by Another neighbor, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> I felt so manipulated and disrespected, I cant help but question their sincerity on various issues.

Are you saying that you are -against- "women's education"?


Posted by chris a resident of University South

>> It is about time for the hard-line neighbors to see the hand-writing on the wall and realize they will lose a city-wide vote.

Sure, forget principles and just give up and give in, because, the other side is bigger and more powerful, and, might makes right. Right?

>> Just owning a small piece of property does not give you the right to block any change, no matter how reasonable.

So, do you have an actual argument for why this expansion makes rational sense? Because, just owning a small but slightly larger property doesn't give you the right to build whatever you want no matter how big and traffic-y it is. If there are actual rational arguments in favor of the proposal, let's hear them.


6 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2019 at 6:59 pm

[Post removed.]


28 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2019 at 7:09 pm

Castilleja has no shame and no benefit to the community [portion removed.] They could have expanded 15 years ago but insist on dividing a community.


5 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 9, 2019 at 8:01 pm

Pinewood is referenced above.
I thought they have an athletic or activities center on W. Bayshore Rd. That most decidedly isn’t their main campus.


4 people like this
Posted by So Glad to Know
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2019 at 9:13 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


36 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2019 at 9:42 pm

It’s been 20 years [portion removec] and Castilleja is still violating their conditional use permit. If they truly cared about the community they could have complied with the law 10 years ago. Instead, they continue with their arrogance and disregard for neighbors.


36 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2019 at 12:03 am

Let's tell the truth - Casti can't compete at its current size because it can't offer the range of courses or diversity families want, like Paly or the larger private schools. So they grow or likely at some point go out of business. For some reason they are also dug in about their current location - probably snobbishness, but who knows. Until the city tells them "no" there is no reason for them to face reality and seriously look at moving, which is the obvious answer.

So please, city council, just give them a "fast no" so they can deal with it and start looking for a new location.


34 people like this
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2019 at 8:05 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

Castilleja's administrators did not miscount enrollment for so many years. They did not misunderstand the conditional use permit. They deliberately violated an agreement they made with the citizens of Palo Alto. Now they seek permission for major changes to the campus that will benefit only the school.

Castilleja's adult leadership uses a commitment to women's education as a rhetorical club during the debate. Given the school's past arrogant, devious behavior it seems part of that commitment is teaching women lying is OK if it gets what you want. The city's approval of Castilleja's proposal would send the same mnessage.


9 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2019 at 11:17 am

There are many inaccurate comments above. Castilleja has kids from all over many from Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. This is not a school that just serves Uber wealthy kids. Most of the financial aid awards are large and diversity exists both financially and racially. One commentator said that Castilleja can not compete at its current size. This is also untrue. In one private high school ranking (niche) - Castilleja was ranked #9 in the country for private high schools (the highest on the peninsula). I think they are “competing” just fine. Also, please go to that site and look at the high diversity score. Castilleja only ranked slightly low on athletics.
[Portion removed.]


15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2019 at 11:45 am

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Crescent Park

>> Castilleja was ranked #9 in the country for private high schools (the highest on the peninsula). I think they are “competing” just fine.

So, I guess that they don't need to greatly expand in order to compete after all.

In all seriousness-- there is no reason to think that the school and its students will benefit from this "Edifice Complex" proposed project. As you say it is "competing" just fine as a smaller school.


2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2019 at 12:11 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


29 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2019 at 2:07 pm

[Portion removed.] The idea that Casti wants to expand "so they can serve more" is, well, laughable. They are expanding because they have too. Kids and parents want more - more specialized facilities, more courses and programs, more activities - and without bigger numbers, Casti can't do it. They could just raise tuition more and cut back on financial aid, but those both have their challenges. So grow they must.

All of which makes sense - they just need to do it somewhere else. Just like Harker, just like Pinewood, they need to either find a bigger space or split their campus. And that's fine - they should just hurry up and face it.

As for the person above who wrote: "At this moment in history, I can’t think of a more important organization [than Casti]" - that one's over the top. If you thing a tiny, school for [portion removed] girls in Silicon Valley is critically important, you are not paying enough attention. You know who educates a lot of future women leaders? PAUSD and other public schools. Maybe you should support them instead.


15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Crescent Park

>> Castilleja wants to expand to give more kids (from a variety of backgrounds) the chance to go there. They receive many more applications than they have room for. Is that really a hard concept for you to understand.

I am curious if you really think that the above is a logical statement. Substitute -any and all- "exclusive" institutions for Castilleja. Must every one of them expand to give more [x] the chance to there? These institutions would not be "exclusive" if they accepted most/all applications. How large must Harvard grow because Harvard has many more applications than they have room for.

And another thing -- many posters are assuming or asserting "grow or die", but, no one has proven that Castilleja must grow or die. I see no reason why it can't continue to be a small, selective school for the next 100 years. You folks are just assuming what is to be proven-- "petitio principii" -- no doubt covered in sophomore math at Castilleja. Web Link


35 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 10, 2019 at 3:37 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Casti had numerous opportunities over the years to buy land elsewhere, land that would allow them to meet their expansion plans, yet they steadily refused to consider any other location, because even if they allow some unprivileged girls to attend the school, they are overwhelmingly an elite school catering to wealthy parents, and a Palo Alto address is more important to them than anything else.

Their issues should not concern Palo Alto even a little bit. They could have bought land, but didn't. They could have complied with their user permit but constantly violated it for years, while being dishonest about it. Their plan shouldn't even come up before the CC, it should have been DOA.


21 people like this
Posted by Concerned resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2019 at 4:31 pm

Curious how those who think Castilleja’s proposals are modest are overlooking the fact that they propose all traffic to come into Bryant Street and Embarcadero to a garage, a major Bike Safety Boulevard for many bicyclists, many of them school age children! The other fact that they overlook is that the school proposes 90 events, far above the 10-12 maximum that other private schools host! Their proposed increase also brings their school density to more than double that of any other, public or private!

So please tell me, what concessions have they made to lessen their impacts to the neighborhood in their proposal? Not only are they not reducing their scope, they are asking for multiple variances to over reach the boundaries of codes in Palo Alto!


19 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2019 at 5:12 pm

Thank you Concerned Resident. The ingress/egress of the proposed garage would have all cars converging to one entrance in the Bryant Bike Boulevard with most exiting back onto Bryant. The planning department should have never allowed this, as they are charged with the safety of cyclists.

Furthermore, alternative transportation is the future for all of us if we are going to build higher density housing. A concrete bunker for cars is a travesty.

Castilleja has asked for more parking than is necessary for their plans, and if you read between the lines, they hope to expand even further once the garage is built, as it will support the temporary school buildings during construction. It’s a Trojan Horse with a multitude of unmitigatable impacts to the neighborhood and community.


2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2019 at 5:15 pm

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Publicus
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 12, 2019 at 9:02 am

Classic example of a small core of elitist establishment types having more clout than the ordinary residents who are most affected.


13 people like this
Posted by GetOverIt
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 12, 2019 at 3:14 pm

This is turning into mass hysteria fueled by rumors, exaggerations and a few squeaky wheels who have elevated their opinions to a ridiculous level. Look around, you are not living in 1960s Palo Alto anymore. You live in an urbanized suburb now, not in the berry farmlands of yesteryear. This project is modest compared to the development going on around the city. What do the neighbors want that lot to be used for? High density housing? A multistoried apartment building? More McMansions that are constantly being built, sold, remodeled and resold?


19 people like this
Posted by Another neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Thanks for the advice, GetOverIt. Developers should rule! (they already do). Ask Liz Kniss, she never met a development she can't support.
We who live here should let the big money boys do whatever they want.

Traffic? just a minor inconvenience to the money boys. Deception by Castilleja about their plans and future plans? No problem.

Castilleja developers are running the show.Shame on them for using young girls to front for them.


3 people like this
Posted by Everyone has a backyard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2019 at 5:07 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Patrick
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 12, 2019 at 5:37 pm

[Portion removed.] Casti is a member of our community and should be able to thrive here.

As for the people who don’t want parking in legally available spaces in front of their homes. Seriously? [Portion removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2019 at 8:16 am

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Neighbor from 2 blks
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 13, 2019 at 10:20 am

I live two blocks from Casti on Bryant St. I'm tired of their expansion discussions. And I'm tired of seeing the traffic conductors during their pick up & drop off times. It's like getting out of a concert everyday. I believe Casti encourage the girls to bike. However majority of the girls don't live close by. Casti used to accept 1-2 girls from our local public schools and not that many of the local public school girls applied. I would say it's less than 40% of their girls can bike or walk to school.

Also, Casti's location is right near the populated hubs/facilities: Paly, Stanford University, Stanford hospital and Pamp hospital. The traffic is already congested now. Can't believe when it's expanded. Or any catastrophes happened...........

Casti is a wonderful school BUT it doesn't mean to damage the neighborhood.


15 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 13, 2019 at 5:06 pm

Castilleja was very important to the community 100 years ago, when wealthy locals wanted to both "finish" and prep their daughters. The school should not expand. The admin has proven that they'll ignore their agreed enrollment limits & violated the conditional use permit. Has the administration proven itself to be truthful & transparent about its plans? NO.

When do the rights of a private [portion removed] school dedicated to educating only females take precedence over the duties of Palo Alto to let local residents travel the streets without inundation of excess traffic? Never, imo. The City has a greater responsibility to all its residents & homeowners than it does to the whims of an [portion removed] agenda by a private school.

So Casti needs to grow to compete with public school course offerings? No. Either send the girls to public schools if the offerings are so crucial or accept what is available @ Casti. If the Casti students are so smart, they can take additional courses @the local community colleges to supplement the HS curriculum. That's what public school kids do. Raise tuition if they need to add more courses. Another 10% won't matter to many of the families & won't affect the financial aid kids.

The additional traffic will jeopardize the safety of small children living nearby pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers already trying to maneuver PA's pitifully narrow & overcrowded streets.


3 people like this
Posted by PA resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 15, 2019 at 8:21 am

Saying that Castilleja was only important to the community as a finishing school is both inaccurate and offensive.
First, Castilleja was founded to provide young women with the academic preparation they would need to succeed at Stanford, it was never a finishing school. From the beginning it's been about providing a top-notch education to prepare women as learners and leaders.
Second, I find offensive to imply that Castilleja was valuable to the community as the finishing school it never was, but not as a high quality educational institution dedicated to empowering women to lead. Educating women rather than "finishing" them seems far more valuable to me.


6 people like this
Posted by Wolfy
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 15, 2019 at 6:25 pm

Building underground at this site is akin to filling in the bay. Water will be at ten feet deep. The amount of water "extracted" (more on that later) will be in excess of 100 million gallons. An olympic swimming pool is 600,000. The reason so much water is "down there" - the water table is a river. You would be filling part of that in somewhat permanently

No underground garage!


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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