BY KYLE MARTIN
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.
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.”