The school, they noted, remains above the 415-student threshold set out in the existing permit
Many alluded to the school’s failure to comply with the enrollment cap of 415 in the current conditional use permit, a violation that resulted in the city issuing a $285,000 fine in 2013 and demanding that Castilleja reduce its enrollment by about four students per year.
Resident Carolyn Schmarzo argued that the school’s modernization offers “zero benefit to residents of Palo Alto.” Rita Vrhel, who opposes Castilleja’s plan, pointed to inaccuracies in the school’s square footage calculations — numbers that were revised over the course of the approval process.
“Let Castilleja modernize their private campus by adhering to our existing code and plans without special concessions,” Vrhel said. “This has never been about Castilleja’s right to educate girls or to modernize their campus.”
Supporters of the project came out in full force to Monday’s hearing. Dozens sported light blue T-Shirts with the words “We Support Castilleja” on the front and the Kofi Annan quote, “When women thrive, all of society benefits” on the back. Others had T-Shirts with the words “More opportunity. Why Not?” – an allusion to the school’s ambitious transportation-demand-management plan that includes a “no net new trips requirement.” Many argued that Castilleja’s plan would benefit both the school and the neighborhood while also advancing the school’s mission of supporting the education of young women.
Palo Alto resident a, who attended Castilleja, credited the education she and her peers received there for creating the foundation for the work they’ve been doing in fields ranging from public policy and medicine to education.
Sulev Suvari, who supports the Castilleja modernization, complained about the “small and vocal group” that has consistently see the site opposed the project despite the various compromises made by Castilleja. Deborah Goldeen accused the council members and residents who have been opposing Castilleja’s plan of obstructionism.
“Everything that has diminished quality of life in the city has been from obstructionist decisions by the council,” Goldeen said. “Frankly, the way it’s treating Castilleja is no different.”
Mayor Pat Burt pushed back against this characterization and the suggestion from project supporters that opposing Castilleja’s plan amounts to a failure to support women’s education.
Burt also argued that the school’s transportation-demand-management program should extend well beyond the Castilleja campus and consider trips to the city in general. Students, he said, should be prohibited from driving to Palo Alto and parking their cars in surrounding neighborhoods before walking to the school. And parents, he argued, should be banned from dropping off their children outside designated satellite locations.
The real issue, he argued, is the intensity of development in a single-family (R1) zone
The goal of the transportation-demand management program should be to reduce trips to Palo Alto – not just to the Castilleja campus, he argued.
Most of his colleagues on the council’s slow-growth “residentialist” wing took a similarly skeptical stance toward Castilleja. Council member Greer Stone said he would support reducing the number of “special events” (those with 50 or more attendees) that Castilleja would be allowed to have from 70 per year to 50, along with five “major events” with more than 500 participants. Stone, a teacher, suggested that this could be done without sacrificing any student events such as plays, sporting events or science fairs. Rather, the school would only have to relocate all-adult events such as fundraisers off-campus.
Castilleja, which historically hosted more than 90 special events per year, has been hoping for the city’s permission to hold at least 70 under its new conditional use permits. After the Planning and Transportation Commission voted on April 20 to reduce the number to 55 (which includes the five “major events”), Castilleja attorney Mindie Romanowsky suggested in a letter that approving “anything lower than 70 would materially frustrate the educational and extracurricular experience, without any rational or legal justification.”