City offers compromise in controversy over Castilleja expansion

Daily Post Staff Writer

Two top Palo Alto city planners are offering a compromise regarding the controversy over Castilleja School’s expansion proposal that would limit enrollment, traffic and special events.

The all-girls school hopes to boost its enrollment from 430 to 540 students, which would be a dramatic increase from its current 426-student population, though the school had previously caught backlash from neighbors for exceeding enrollment requirements and clogging streets with cars during numerous events. The planners are asking the school to take into consideration the neighbors’ request to keep the enrollment at current levels, though a new enrollment cap has not been proposed yet.

Also, the planners are suggesting the school agree to host just 70 events a year. The school had asked for permission to have 90.

The planners are also proposing that the school install vehicle counting devices at the school’s entrances and exits to measure car trips to ensure that Castilleja is obeying the terms of any permit it receives from the city.

Planning commissioner Ed Lauing, a candidate for city council, said if the commission and the school move forward with the compromise, “Castilleja would be signing up for a lot of self-regulation.”

“With the expansion of more students as requested, the scale gets higher, the number of cars gets higher,” Lauing said in an interview. “There’s more room for error basically, and that’s a risk that’s being tasked of the city.”

The city would review the school’s compliance with enrollment, events and parking regulations three times a year, but would be otherwise self-regulating.

Enrolling local girls?

Former mayor Pat Burt, who is also running for city council, said he would like to see the expansion mitigated in line with the concerns of nearby residents. He also wants the school to admit more students from Palo Alto if the expansion is allowed.

“If it’s going to benefit the community, I would hope more students come from the community in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto,” Burt said.

He said he wants to know, “How do we make the school become more integrated and benefit the community as a whole in addition to benefiting the women at the school?”

Rob Levitsky, who shares a property border with the school, is most concerned about saving several trees the school proposes to remove.

“I think between the Planning Department, which seems to be biased toward the project, and the EIR (environmental impact report) consultant who wrote this report (and) who interpreted the ordinance wrong, they’ve determined they can kill” the trees, Levitsky said. “Trees are also important for emitting oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide, so it’s important just on a chemistry basis. And trees are beautiful.”

Planning and Transportation commissioners, who heard about the proposed compromise on Wednesday night but didn’t take any action, decided to review city ordinances by the next hearing on the expansion to make sure the school is allowed to remove any trees on the property. Levitsky is also concerned about the construction of an underground parking garage that is expected to mitigate parking concerns in the neighborhood.

“We just want to keep our neighborhood quiet and beautiful and they want to disturb it,” Levitsky said.

Traffic concerns

Andie Reed, who lives just a house over from the more than a century-old school, said the city’s planning commission needs to be “more accommodating” to the school’s neighbors.

“Castilleja has a deep well of resources. They don’t hurt for resources,” Reed said. “So why would you build out on the same site and cause this enmity with your neighbors?”

Reed and several nearby residents of the area have regularly and publicly expressed disdain for the proposal, the planning commission and the traffic which could come with more students at the school.

She said she would rather see students shuttled in from satellite locations nearby than see more cars in her neighborhood.

“You shuttle them in. That’s much less traffic into the neighborhood. And it’s super doable. And it would be wise ecologically,” Reed said. “Like Facebook and Google, rent some space. And have your STEM classes and your robot labs over at Stanford Research Center or something.”


  1. Funny how the City changed its position on Casti. Five or six years ago, the city was ready to punish them for violating their CUP by knowingly enrolling more girls than allowed. Then that changed to, “Let us help you get your application approved to expand the campus” … no more talk about violating the CUP. What happened? Could it be the $35,000 in donations Council Member Lydia Kou got in the 2016 election? So why isn’t she talking about Castilleja? Maybe it’s because her donors want her to vote for the expansion while she wants her supporters to think she will protect neighborhoods from growth. Kou is too big of a risk to keep on City Council. Nobody knows how she’ll vote on a monster project like this.

  2. The compromise doesn’t deal with the car trips, the planners way of saying “traffic”. And that’s the prime objection to this expansion — how many cars will it inflict on the neighborhood.

  3. I have never understood the neighbors argument. There is nobody alive in Old Palo Alto that can claim to have bought their house before Castilleja was built on this site. This is what happens when you buy near a school, a church, a shopping center, the Winter Lodge, whatever. Sometimes these uses grow and produce more traffic and more noise. If you do not want to be near a school and deal with this potential impact, do not buy near a school. If you bought near a school, you need to accept the fact that you will deal with a school nearby and all that comes with it.

    The request for a satellite campus is utterly absurd and preposterous and if this was proposed for a PAUSD school people would be up in arms about it. The idea of bussing sixth graders around town from campus to campus is delusional at best.

    I can understand if Castilleja was proposing a new school at a new site and the neighbors were concerned about it. That’s not what is happening here.

    One would think in an era where we stress the importance of women having access to excellent education, the ability to offer admissions to more young women across a variety of socio-economic backgrounds to an institution and pillar of Palo Alto would be well received.

    And from the absolute frenzy of the neighbors, nothing will ever be good enough. This is not about reaching a compromise, this is about stalling so Castilleja will give up and nothing will ever change.

    I have no ties to Castilleja nor any ties to Old Palo Alto (I live elsewhere in North Palo Alto) so no dog in the race here – just bewilderment at the insanity going on. I live near a school and if that ever expands/has expanded, that was my choice. I knew what came with it. And I’d rather local children have access to better facilities and a better education and can deal with a couple extra cars.

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