City flip-flops, won’t allow public comment on Castilleja tonight

Castilleja School's revised site plan. Illustration is from plans submitted to the city by WRNS Studio.

By the Daily Post staff

Palo Alto City Council will take up Castilleja school’s expansion project again tonight (March 29), but the public won’t be allowed to comment before the item.

At the last meeting on Castilleja, City Attorney Molly Stump said that the council should reopen the public hearing on the project when it comes back tonight because City Planning Director Jonathan Lait was going to present additional information.

Go to 7:13:16 of the Council’s March 15 meeting to hear Stump say that the hearing should be reopened.

Now Stump and City Manager Ed Shikada are saying the council shouldn’t take public comments on the project.

“Upon further review, staff have determined that any materials provided to the council on March 29 (tonight) will be merely illustrative rather than providing any new substance for the council’s deliberations,” they wrote in the memo to council.

“Specifically, the council directed staff to provide examples of text amendments related to the proposed underground garage; these text amendments will require review by and a recommendation from the Planning and Transportation Commission before they can be presented to the council for action. Accordingly, the public comment will remain closed on March 29 and the proceedings will be limited to continued council deliberations,” Stump and Shikada wrote.

One opponent of the project, Jo Ann Mandinach, said she opposes closing off public comment.

“We desperately need more transparency and fewer ‘fingers on the scale,'” she said in an email to the Post.

Council did hold a public hearing on Castilleja on March 8.

Castilleja, an exclusive all-girls school that charges $52,000 a year in tuition, wants to expand so it can increase its enrollment from 426 to 540 students. The school at 1310 Bryant St. wants to demolish many of its existing buildings and replace them with modern structures. Castilleja also wants to build a 78-car underground parking garage beneath the playing field that faces Embarcadero Road.

Based on comments at previous meetings by council members, it’s likely that council will not give the project final approval tonight but instead send it back to the Planning and Transportation Commission, which would review changes and return it to council.

The meeting will be conducted via Zoom due to the pandemic. Here’s the agenda with instructions on how to participate, should council decide to have a public hearing anyway.

The meeting begins at 5 p.m., but the first 90 minutes will be a closed session during which council members give instructions to their labor negotiators. The Castilleja item is scheduled for 6:35 p.m., though the times on the agenda aren’t always accurate.

Tonight’s agenda does not give a time for “oral communications,” when the public can speak about any item not on the agenda.

The meeting will also be carried on Cable Channel 26 and KZSU-FM 90.1.

 

9 Comments

  1. I can see it now. They won’t let the neighbors talk but they’ll give head of school Nanci Kauffman as much time as she wants.

  2. Why the flip- flop by Molly Stump? Does the public not enjoy the same right to public comment as Castilleja/Castilleja’s representatives? Same old double standard for residents vs. special interests?

    And can someone please tell me why Ms. Stump, Mr. Shikada, or Mayor DuBois have not answered/addressed Mr. Fred Balin/Bill Ross’ 10/26/2020 questions of did Michael Alcheck,as a PTC Commissioner, have a legal or perceived obligation to recuse himself from Castilleja’s expansion plan deliberations since his firm Alcheck Properties, in 10/2017, hired Ms. Romanowski, Castilleja’s attorney of record since 2/2107?

    Mr. Price: there is a story here! Thank you

  3. Interesting questions, Rita.

    In addition to Casti, I wanted to hear from those planning to comment on the very ugly posters nailed to College Terrace phone poles by Peninsula For Everyone/YIMBY re those opposing the proposed apartment building.

    Now we find that next week’s public comments are being limited to 15 minutes TOTAL on all issues, hardly enough to address everyone’s concerns.

  4. If the Staff asks applicant Castilleja a question, any answer is essentially new information, at least in opportunity b/c they have the chance to speak and give any answer that suits their purpose with NO concern about a rebuttal. We learned from Trump’s two presidential campaigns that repeating a statement often enough can yield the desired result. In campaign #1, he consistently called HRC “Crooked Hilary”. That got traction. Since those with concerns about the project are now silenced, they must rely on CC being savvy enough to see through Castilleja’s clever conflations (we educate young women well so you should approve our plan) and questionable tactics (such as the audacious attempt to define the planned garage as a basement). Seems to me that one way or another, Staff does all that it can to favor certain Applicants (in this case Castilleja) at the expense of residents. This approach took flight during the Keene years and Shikada seems to be following suit.

  5. Not allowing public comment may come back to haunt the council. If this project is as much of a disaster as it looks, people are going to ask — “who approved that?” More public participation might have mitigated the more grotesque aspects of this development. If council says no to the public, then the council owns this disaster.

  6. It’s also interesting to note that Molly Stump changed her mind. That doesn’t happen often. I wonder if somebody BIG got to her and the city manager. Castilleja is backed by some of the most influential people in town.

  7. The smaller garage, which was introduced Monday, qualifies as new information that should have resulted in a public hearing. I’ve got to wonder what the *real* reason was for choking off public comment.

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