BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
In the first of two hearings on a proposal to expand Castilleja School, neighbors last night argued that a proposed 78-car garage would drastically increase traffic while supporters say the all-girls school will increase property values.
Council will decide on the proposal next Monday.
Opponents focused on the proposed garage, which city planners and Castilleja call a “basement.” If council deems it to be a garage, its square footage would be included in the calculations for the project, making it too large by city zoning standards.
However, neighbor Jeff Levinsky pointed out that it’s not a basement because no part of the garage is under any building — and the school girls would reach the garage through a tunnel.
And if it is a garage, then the school should pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional fees.
Levinsky said there is inadequate precedent in the city’s zoning history that would allow for such a facility to be considered a basement.
Resident Lisa Van Dusen, who spoke in favor of the school’s expansion, said it was “abundantly clear” to her that “everyone is getting something, and no one party, including Castilleja, is getting everything” in the project.
“This is the nature of compromise,” Van Dusen said, adding that the underground parking garage is going to help the neighborhood by taking parked cars off the street.
She said she’s heard that some people don’t like it that Castilleja, as a nonprofit educational organization, doesn’t pay property taxes. But she pointed out that the parents of Castilleja students from Palo Alto still pay property taxes that in part go to the schools even though their daughters don’t attend public schools.
Dusen said the school’s expansion will increase property values.
But Mary Sylvester, who has been a neighbor of the school for 43 years, said “there will be long-term impacts to Palo Alto as to safety, traffic volume and congestion if this project is allowed to go through as defined, as well as the production of unhealthy greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.”
Sylvester said the Bryant Street Bicycle Boulevard runs in front of where cars would enter and exit the garage. The vehicle traffic would be dangerous to children and other bicyclists along the bike boulevard, she said.
Castilleja, which charges $52,000 a year in tuition, wants to expand so it can increase its enrollment from 426 to 540 students.
Several students said the school needs to expand in order to support the education of girls.
“The world needs more women leaders and engineers and soldiers and everything else that we’re capable of,” Castilleja junior Ashni Sheth told council.
Sheth said Castilleja alumni have found careers as Olympic gold medalists, nonprofit organization founders, executives for major tech companies, in government offices and more.
Areli Hernandez, also a Castilleja junior, shared similar sentiments when she said she wants the school to expand to allow more young women to get involved in the school’s all-girls robotics program.
None of the opponents have expressed a desire to hinder the education of girls. Their concerns have focused on traffic and the compatibility of the project in a neighborhood of single-family homes.
Neighbors have questioned why the project is moving through the city approval process since Castilleja didn’t comply with its current conditional use permit that limits enrollment. The city has said Castilleja has already paid a $265,000 fine and is following a plan to reduce enrollment. But residents are not satisfied with that.
“We live in a great town and are lovers of education for girls and boys, and support schools of all kinds. I can truly say I’ve never heard a neighbor reflect that Castilleja shouldn’t rebuild and modernize their school,” neighbor Andie Reed, a Palo Alto retiree, told council. “We wish they had rebuilt their school years ago and we could be done. The issue is, of course, the size and scope of the expansion. All of the benefits of this overly ambitious expansion accrue to the school, a non-tax paying private corporation, and none to the city of Palo Alto.”
She said “the steamroller of a private school” is trying to take over the neighborhood “by use of vast wealth and influence and gile.”
The expansion plan also calls for the removal of 18 trees, but 99 new trees would be planted.