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To get OK for school expansion, Castilleja proposes plan with lesser traffic impacts

Original post made on Jul 30, 2020

A new alternative that seeks to reduce traffic impacts of Castilleja School's proposed expansion is included in a much-anticipated final environmental impact report released Wednesday evening.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, July 30, 2020, 5:04 PM

Comments (32)

51 people like this
Posted by Just Follow the Law
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:41 pm

Doesn't the school need a conditional use permit to operate in a residential area? And don't such permits require there that be no impact on others, both immediate neighbors and others further away?

It sounds like the latest EIR says there still will be impacts. If so, Castilleja needs to come up with a different plan with no impacts so as to comply the law. It's not whether one likes the school or not. It must follow the law.

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North

on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:41 pm

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73 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 6:36 pm

Castilleja violated a previous to the agreement to limit the number of students. When they were caught exceeding the agreed-upon number they decided that they weren't going to honor their agreement and they weren't going to reduce the number of students to the number they had agreed to.

A school that doesn't abide by at agreements should not be allowed to expand and impact its neighbors. If they need more room they should find another campus that they can grow onto, but the city should not reward their dishonest past Behavior.

60 people like this
Posted by Old Palo Alto, New Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 7:11 pm

Congratulations to Castilleja on submitting an excellent new plan. It is great to see that the EIR recognizes the positive changes made to the proposal in the spirit of compromise--such an accomplishment and benefit to the city of Palo Alto. As recent circumstances make crystal clear, educational opportunity is more important every day. As the world continues to evolve around us, let us keep sight of the importance of education and Castilleja's century-old positive contributions to our community. Moving forward together.

4 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:15 pm

It would be helpful if you could specify the ways in which the new proposed plan is worse than the status quo?

46 people like this
Posted by Roy M
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:19 pm

This is great news. The demand for what Castilleja offers will only increase given current circumstances, so this plan will only increase the value of what the school offers and allow it to continue to be an asset to the community as it has been for over a century.

69 people like this
Posted by Jennifer F
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:38 pm

We need an enlarged fancy private school in our midst like we need a hole in the head. I can't even begin to say why this is a bad idea. Why can't we just say no to this kind of expansion and find ways to make this a more useful and equitable town?

51 people like this
Posted by Eduardo F Llach
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:50 pm

My Grandmother went to Castilleja over 100 years ago, and the great education she received continues to this day. My kids needed different help at different times, and benefited from options available to them. They graduated from Paly but went to the German American school for the first 7 years which helped them get a perspective they wouldn't have been able to get. My kids benefited from scholarships, similar to the ones available from Castilleja. Options and variety are key to the success of our children. Palo Alto is proud of its history, Castilleja has been part of it for over 100 years. I'm proud of my Grandmother and I'm proud to support Castilleja.

56 people like this
Posted by Trisha Suvari
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 30, 2020 at 9:44 pm

Thank you Castilleja for thoughtfully adjusting the remodeling plan in response to the neighbors desires. A smaller garage, a traffic pattern that will not impact the neighborhood, saving two houses to keep the neighborhood feel, seems like a win for both sides. Castilleja should be able to update its buildings to meet the needs of a 21st century learning environment. Schools belong in neighborhoods and we are fortunate that Castilleja calls Palo Alto home.

55 people like this
Posted by Casti Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 9:46 pm

Kudos to Castilleja on putting a great plan together. We support you and your mission. The school enriches our community and we are thrilled to see this project continue to move forward. Now here’s hoping the NIMBY naysayers will finally take those ugly signs down. Imagine what this community could accomplish if they put that time and energy toward a good cause. And no, opposing the growth of a school because construction is annoying is not a good cause.

63 people like this
Posted by Misuse of the word NIMBY
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:19 pm

You’re seriously calling people opposed to the ruthless expansion of an extraordinarily expensive private school NIMBYs? I’m not arguing that Castilleja is a wonderful school. I’m arguing that the size should remain unchanged; there is no reason to expand this school. Instead, put those dollars into improving more of the public schools while reducing the unbelievable pressure on kids in Palo Alto, and the Peninsula in general.

12 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2020 at 12:07 am

I think Casti, Cubberley and Fry's are the three most important issues facing voters, so I hope some good ideas get generated during the campaign ("good ideas" in my book does not include paying millions to consultants to stifle not encourage debate).
Do average Palo Altans have any say in their self-governance?
Do aspiring leaders care about their neighbors or the powers that be?
Do we self-govern locally any better than we do nationally?

Palo Alto needs parks more than we need housing, but we could use housing (for tax purposes) more than we need private schools.

2 people like this
Posted by Enough is Enough
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 31, 2020 at 7:13 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names.]

41 people like this
Posted by Long time Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 31, 2020 at 7:19 am

Congratulations to Casti! And thank you for being so responsive to the community. A smaller garage, a traffic pattern that will not impact the neighborhood, saving two houses and several trees all seem like fantastic solutions. I can't wait to see the updated campus!

30 people like this
Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 31, 2020 at 8:44 am

Nice job summarizing where this project stands. One issue that is confusing in this article is about Events. Please note that nowhere in the Current Conditions of Approval does it say the City allows Castilleja an "undetermined" number of events. That is a school misinterpretation that they continue to propagate and is factually inaccurate. The CUP reads "5 major" and "several other" events are allowed. The school determines that "several" means undetermined, and undetermined means 100, which is the current number of events the school sponsors during the school year. Any other private school in a residential zone is allowed zero to 10 weeknight and weekend events.

66 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:19 am

How long has this dragged on and how much of TAXPAYERS;' money has been spent on this nonsense.

Casti's deceptive attempt to smear anyone opposed to their expansion as against education and women's education is ridiculous, illogical and an insult to our intelligence

If that's the type of spin they teach, shame on them and their supporters. Just say no.

44 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:44 am

Time for Casti to open a Middle School campus on some closed or closing elementary school in the area. As other such private schools have done.

27 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 31, 2020 at 12:02 pm

Once again Castilleja has listened to its neighbors to come up with a new plan. This new school will have very little impact. They should be commended for the time and energy that has been put forward to address the concerns voiced by the surrounding community. It is my hope that neighbors can actually read the new plan (or a summary) instead of a knee-jerk rejection. I am also hoping that some of the signs asking Castilleja to listen to its neighbors can be taken down. This new plan is reasonable.

4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2020 at 12:52 pm

>> "because they were determined to be infeasible and/or incapable of reducing the project's environmental effects," the document states. Those alternatives were relocating the entire campus, relocating some Castilleja students to another site,

Since they obviously -would- reduce environmental effects, those alternatives must have been "determined to be infeasible". Why?

16 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 31, 2020 at 1:02 pm

Neutral on the school, but believe 1)rules/agreements must be honestly followed and 2) pkease do not excessively negatively impact our thoroughfare, Embarcadero Road.

51 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 31, 2020 at 1:30 pm

Every developer waves a "transportation demand management program" in front of the Planning Commission and Council who then fall over themselves to use this as an excuse to approve the development application.

What a joke. In reality the city doesn't have the resources to monitor these transportation demand management programs so they are meaningless. Just another way around getting approval for oversized developments that clog up our main arteries and bring traffic and parking to residential areas.

54 people like this
Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:02 pm

It is ridiculous to call this a Final EIR when there are still many unanswered questions to the impact on the neighborhood. How can significant and unavoidable impacts to the surrounding residents be acceptable? Why is impact to Embarcadero not even studied? This rich privileged private school continues to use its deep pockets to push their ambition of expansion with no regard to what is right for the residents of the city. Please read the Final EIR. It is full of inaccurate information and many unanswered questions many residents have of the EIR. To the city staff in Planning, please do your due diligence to review the accuracy of the report before publishing it. And stop trying to push this project through during the current pandemic by scheduling back-to-back ARB and PTC meetings in August and September without allow ample public response time.

65 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:29 pm

Given the level of community opposition and past self-admitted breaches of contracts by the school itself, is there really much downside to just saying "no" to further enrollment expansion?

This following is not in dispute and there has been no remedies made: "Castilleja violated a previous to the agreement to limit the number of students."

51 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2020 at 2:28 am

We need to end this. Castilleja is one of the best schools in the world - certainly. Single-sex education for girls is essential and life-changing-true. Castilleja changes lives:yes.

But: Castilleja has been in violation of its conditional use permit for 20 years. It has outgrown its current location. It resides on 55 residentially zoned lots during the biggest housing crisis in the state's history, at a time when Palo Alto risks state intervention because it is last on the list of cities in terms of cities' success in legally-mandated housing goals. While Castilleja insists to continue to over-build on 55 RH-1 lots, other residents have genuine reasons to fear that the state is going to mandate multi-familly high-rises on their blocks due to the lack of housing in our city.

As part of my campaign, I have spoken with a number of Castilleja families, and I truly believe that they want to do the right thing. They are good people who seek the best possible education for their daughters, and I support them in that goal.

But even they agree that it likely is time that Castilleja seek a more appropriate campus that can serve the exceptional school's expansion needs. What I understand is that Castilleja has a strong relationship with Stanford (my own undergrad alma mater) and they want to be close to Stanford. In that regard, the City of Palo Alto could and should be helping Castilleja negotiate with existing landowners (including Stanford itself) for a more appropriate parcel for its school. There are a lot of underutilized parcels even closer to Stanford than Castilleja's current location, just south of Stanford near Stanford Research Park. To me, helping Castilleja move to a more appropriate location and freeing those 55 lots for their zoned purposes of single family homes strikes me as a real win-win.

Can we talk about moving in that direction instead? Hey Castilleja, call me :)

41 people like this
Posted by Concerned citizen of Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2020 at 2:31 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

64 people like this
Posted by No upside for Palo Alto
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 1, 2020 at 5:37 pm

Casti is a great school and should either reduce its enrollment to its CUP, move or split into to two campuses. Please stop wasting our City's time and money.

40 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 4, 2020 at 8:47 am

Online Name is a registered user.

It really takes nerve to violate the enrollment cap for years and then to demand another "legal" increase in enrollment. Curious about how much they've paid in fines over the years.

40 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 5, 2020 at 1:23 am

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Online name, I actually made a Public Records Request to find out how much Castilleja paid in fines over the past 20 or so years that they have been in violation of their Conditional Use Permit.

The answer is $265,000, in 2013.

In calculating that fee, the City made reference to the Palo Alto Municipal Code, which provides for fines of $500 *per violation* per day. $265,000 clearly is a lot less than what fines would be generated with a full enforcement of the Municipal Code. Rather, the $265,000 number amounted to *2 years* of violations if Castilleja had only one violation a day.

Castilleja had far more than one violation a day. Over the 2 decades of violations, it generally ranged from 10 to 25 students over the CUP maximum of 415. These are the Castilleja enrollment numbers, also from a Public Records Request:

2014-2015: 444
2015-2016: 438
2016-2017: 438
2017-2018: 438
2018-2019: 434
2019-2020: 430

These are the numbers that Castilleja promised in its 2013 Settlement Agreement - per email from Nanci Kauffman to Steve Turner, City of Palo Alto Planning Dept, dated October 25, 2013:

2014-2015: Casti warranted 448; Casti enrolled 444
2015-2016: Casti warranted 440; Casti enrolled 438
2016-2017: Casti warranted 432; Casti enrolled 438
2017-2018: Casti warranted 424; Casti enrolled 438
2018-2019: Casti warranted 415; Casti enrolled 434
2019-2020: Casti warranted 415; Casti enrolled 430

I use the word "warranted" above, because the letter agreement from Palo Alto public records made clear that if Castilleja were to violate this new compromise, the consequence would be far more severe than the municipal code fines. Rather, Castilleja agreed that if it broke this new settlement agreement, it would agree TO LEAVE its location.

Here is the exact language from the 2013 response from Palo Alto to Castilleja (dated December 30, 2013):

Conditional Use Permit Revocation
If the School is not able to meet the TDM goals and enrollment reduction by the dates set forth in the City-approved TOM Plan and Attendance Reduction Plan, the City reserves its right to initiate CUP
revocation proceedings.

That letter was signed by Steven Turner, Planning Manager, with cc's to Jim Keene, Hillary Geitelman, Cara Silver, and Mindie Romanowski. None of these individuals, as far as I could determine, work for the City of Palo Alto anymore. When I tracked down the lawyers, the one I could reach would not speak with me because she now is an attorney for Castilleja.

I wanted to ask the City employees two questions, and I still do not know the answers.

First, I wanted to know why the City agreed to such a HUGE discount on violation penalties. Under law, according to City Manager Steven Turner, Palo Alto can reach back only 3 years for collection of penalties. The code language "per violation per day" per all normal interpretation methods would require that more violations would generate a larger penalty, as makes sense and is fair. That means that normally, Palo Alto would interpret the fines for the 3 years prior to the 2013 settlement agreement as follows:

2011-12: enrollment was 450, which is 35 violations a day
2012-13: enrollment was 448, which is 33 violations a day
2013-2014 (the year Castilleja was caught for violation its CUP): enrollment was 446, which is 31 violations a day.

33 violations/day at $500/violation amounts to $16,500/day in fines.

Assuming 260 days/year (the calculation apparently used by Palo Alto), that should amount to $4,290,000 a year for THREE YEARS

That sum of 3 years of Castilleja violations totals $12,870,000

I want to be very clear: the Palo Alto Municipal Code, cited by the City Staff themselves, in their Settlement Agreement with Castilleja, quoted the law correctly as providing for $500 per violation per day.

Which for three years adds up to 13 MILLION DOLLARS.

This was not a law created to punish Castilleja. This is the law as drafted by our City Council, and it is identical to the laws of most other cities. This is the same law enforced regularly against homeowners, whose code violations are always much smaller than Castilleja's. A similar law in San Francisco is said to generate more than a billion dollars a year in penalties due to all of the code violations in that City. I don't know how many Code violations we have in sum here, but I do know that Castilleja's code violations amount to several million dollars a year if anyone in the City were to enforce the Code against Castilleja.

This lack of enforcement has impacted our residents. With the several million dollars of fees we could have been collecting for violations this year, instead we cut the budget of the incredible Palo Alto Children's Theater, evicted a dozen nonprofit organizations and day cares from Cubberley, and cancelled a contract with the School District that the PAUSD relied on for almost $4 million dollars a year.

Looking at it that way, Castilleja's uncollected fines amount to almost exactly the amount of money that the City of Palo Alto would have paid the public schools but this year did not, claiming lack of funds. I point this out for anyone who does not understand the many ways that the existence of private schools in a public school district almost always negatively impacts the public schools in the district.

So that was my first question: Why not actually enforce the Code as written?

My second question is: Why did the City not enforce the 2013 Settlement Agreement? In every piece of correspondence between the City of Palo Alto and Castilleja, Palo Alto Stated, and Castilleja agreed, that if it continued to violate the CUP, as amended by this extremely generous compromise, that the City would begin CUP Revocation Hearings. Here is the exact language, from the City's "NOTICE OF NONCOMPLIANCE AND REQUEST TO ABATE":

Further Enforcement Proceedings
Pursuant to Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 18.77.110 (b)(l) if the noncompliance Is not abated, corrected or rectified within the time specified in the notice of noncompliance, the Director of Planning may issue an order to show cause why such a permit or approval shall not be revoked, suspended or modified. An order to show cause shall be set for a public hearing before the Director.

Even though Castilleja did not comply even ONE year, there was no enforcement. And, none of the Palo Alto employees still work for the City of Palo Alto.

FYI in these letters, Castilleja also agreed that it would not file for an amended CUP until and unless it could show compliance with the first CUP, limiting enrollment to 415, and limiting traffic to the equivalent of 365 students enrolled.

Why would Castilleja sign something promising that if it did not comply, it would move, if it now states that "moving is impossible?"

To clarify: in 2013 Castilleja agreed to pay a grossly reduced fine, in exchange for promising that it agreed that its CUP would be revoked if it did not reduce its enrollment to 415. It never reduced its enrollment, and it did not even come close to meeting the schedule that Castilleja itself proposed.

I have all 3 of the letters referenced in this post, as well as the enrollment numbers as confirmed by the City of Palo Alto. I have many other files regarding this matter as well, none of which made it to the official Palo Alto website.

This entire interaction does not demonstrate the integrity and values that one would associate with a exceptionally well-regarded private school like Castilleja.

I wonder if any of these letters were shown to the families of Castilleja students? As I said before and I continue to insist, I do not blame the parents of Castilleja students for this ordeal. I fully believe they are well-intentioned, and I support their interest in sending their daughters to a single sex school, which has been shown to be extremely helpful in raising female leaders.

I just wonder, perhaps, if Nanci Kauffman had the experience of attending an all-female upper school herself. I do not think that these actions reflect the values that Castilleja teachers (I know some of them too. they are great!) teach Castilleja students.

We really need to end this. As I said before, I am entirely committed to helping Castilleja find a more appropriate campus that can serve its expansion needs, equally geographically close to Stanford - but not located on 55 residentially-zoned lots desperately needed for housing.

I was hoping that Castilleja's leadership would reach this conclusion themselves rather than continue to drag out their demands, during a time when our local government and residents are under so much financial strain, and our city services already are overstretched.

At the end of the day, Castilleja signed an agreement in 2013 promising us that if it did not reduce its enrollment to 415 students, Castilleja would move locations.

No one wants to sue Castilleja to enforce that contract. Please, Castilleja, keep your word and reduce your enrollment or find a better location.

It simply is NOT unreasonable to expect that a party comply with a contract that it signed voluntarily. Castilleja is legally obligated to reduce to 415 or to move. We don't have time or money to keep giving this private school privileges that no other owner of residential property in a million years would receive, much less - demand.

32 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 5, 2020 at 8:46 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Rebecca Eisenberg, thanks for trying. I had no idea it would be so tough to find out what it would seem would be a matter of public record.

Maybe the city manager and/or city attorney could tell you -- and us?

We certainly deserve answers before anything's approved.

9 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2020 at 9:01 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Online Name: I certainly hope. We will see how the Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board address the matter, before it ultimately goes back to City Council.

I think it is very unlikely that our city manager, who is still new, has a sufficient understanding of the historical context to this matter, especially given all going on with the continued crisis caused by the unsuccessful attempts to control the coronavirus pandemic.

Also, given the amount of emails regularly generated by Castilleja's lawyers and consultants to City Staff, as well as City Staff's meetings with and discussions with Castilleja's representatives in turn, I wonder if our city staff is aware of Castilleja's past practices.

Finally, the fact that none of the individuals who apparently were involved with the 2103 Castilleja settlement agreement still work for the city (and some may work for a firm that serves Castilleja), there is not much reason to be confident that all perspectives and even, all facts, regarding the CUP will be known or considered.

What this may leave the community with is the tactic many of us have tried in the past, yet found to be wholly unsuccessful - reaching out to City Council asking them to value the data and perspectives their opinions omit.

As futile as that process has proven -- and until we have city council members who will be more responsive to community voices (!) -- it's our only option.

So I will call in to the meetings. I hope you will join me.

11 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 7, 2020 at 10:03 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

If Stanford grad, Harvard-law trained attorney Rebecca Eisenberg is correct in her summary of Castilleja’s Conditional Use Permit, she is a shoo-in for City Council.

28 people like this
Posted by Facts and Figures
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2020 at 9:31 am

Facts and Figures is a registered user.

Women's schools are incredibly important. Castilleja is an amazing school. But that is not the issue.

Palo Alto has too much traffic congestion and its city coffers are stretched.

Castilleja's quality of education does not give it an entitlement to increase congestion or use public services without paying for them. Castilleja is fiscally solid and has sufficient funds to pay the full fines set forth by Ms. Eisenberg. See Web Link

Castilleja should pay its full fines and then work to be compliant and move or make real concessions like Crystal Springs did for its new middle school site (no student drop off / parking at all).

Castilleja, please stop asking without giving back. That is not the role model you want to be.

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