Castilleja calls committee votes limiting registrations, events ‘shocking’ | News
While Castilleja School’s plans to increase student enrollment were rejected this week by the Planning and Transportation Commission, school principal Nanci Kauffman on Thursday criticized the panel’s decision, which, according to it was based on insinuations and anecdotes rather than facts and data.
In a written statement and interview on Thursday, Kauffman said she was surprised by the tenor of the committee’s discussion on Wednesday, which culminated in a series of 3-2 votes in which the majority of three members reduced enrollment figures offered in the school’s conditional use. permits from 540 to 450 (current enrollment is 418) and reduced the number of special events the school would be allowed to hold from 70 to 50.
In both cases, Chair Ed Lauing and Vice Chair Doria Summa voted in favor of the changes while Commissioners Barton Hechtman and Cari Templeton voted against. Commissioner Giselle Roohparvar was absent, and Commissioner Keith Reckdahl recused himself due to his involvement with Palo Alto Neighborhoods, an umbrella organization that published a letter criticizing Castilleja’s plan prior to Reckdahl’s appointment to the commission.
The three-member majority decisions marked a change for the commission, which had already approved the Castilleja plan in 2020. The initial proposal called for a gradual increase in enrollment, which would be based on the school’s ability to establish transport comprehensive -a demand management program and to follow a “no net new travel” policy, which would be confirmed several times a year. Any addition of car journeys would have required Castilleja to add additional traffic reduction measures and, if these were not successful, to reduce registrations.
City Council reviewed the proposal in March 2021 and referred it to the Commission and Architectural Review Board for further consideration. This involved reviewing the “conditional use license” and registration figures.
After the commission released its new recommendations on Wednesday, Kauffman told this news agency that she was particularly surprised by the tenor of the discussion. The three commissioners’ decisions, she said in a statement, appeared “to be based on a handful of public comments that were unfounded in fact, but instead spread misinformation, innuendo and personal bias.”
“Once again, the high quality of education we provide is at risk based on intangible and immeasurable factors,” Kauffman said, “This is no way to govern a city, let alone where to birth of Stanford and the heart of the global tech industry.”
In a follow-up interview, Kauffman said what particularly stood out to her were the many instances in which Commissioner Bryna Chang cited a public comment from an opponent of Castilleja’s plan to justify her decisions to speak out against Castilleja. At one point, Chang spoke about the lack of trust between Castilleja and the neighborhood and quoted a comment from a parent, Susie Hwang, who spoke on March 30 and suggested that over-enrollment in school was “commonly discussed among Castilleja parents and staff” even before the city found out in 2013. Palo Alto fined Castilleja $285,000 that year for exceeding enrollment restrictions in its license and forced it to gradually reduce enrollment figures.
Chang also cited anecdotal evidence from neighbors who complained about noise impacts from special events in Castilleja. She used this as part of her rationale for asking to limit the number of special events (those with 50 or more attendees) to 50 per year.
Both Templeton and Hechtman pushed back on the three-member majority, with Templeton calling the new number of events “arbitrary”. And while Chang spoke of the need to take neighborhood concerns seriously, Hechtman argued that neither the registration numbers nor the number of events proposed by the three commissioners are based on evidence or studies.
“What I haven’t heard is evidence of impacts that would be generated by 540 (students) not attending beyond 450,” Hechtman said immediately after voting against the motion.
Kauffman told this news agency that she had similar concerns after hearing three commissioners rely more on anecdotes from opponents of the project than on the school’s environmental analysis for the project.
“It’s surprising how many times there have been instances where a few public comments have been quoted multiple times,” Kauffman said in an interview Thursday. “But I haven’t heard anyone talk about the EIR.”
The question of the commission’s discretion to refuse Castilleja’s request was raised at the start of the meeting, when Lauing led the way by suggesting that the commission has wide latitude to modify or reject the school’s plans. . He called the process “a negotiation between the request and their wishes against the city” and argued that a conditional use permit is a “privilege and not a right”. As such, the city’s actions on whether or not to approve the school’s application are “completely discretionary,” Lauing said.
Hechtman pushed back and suggested that the commission’s findings, whether for or against Castilleja, must be backed by established facts, a view Deputy City Attorney Albert Yang agreed with. .
“There must be a clear logical connection between the facts in our records and the conclusions required by our code, as well as the ultimate recommendations for pass or deny,” Yang said. “In that sense, there is no total discretion. We are always bound by what is in the file before the commission.”
Kauffman also said she was surprised the three commissioners were using alleged “lack of trust” to justify their votes. The need to gain the neighborhood’s trust has been at the heart of Castilleja’s decisions to roll out an extensive transportation demand management plan and include even more traffic reduction measures in its plans to rebuild its campus at 1310 Bryant St., she said.
“When you consider how much we’ve reduced our impact on the neighborhood dramatically over the past 10 years in terms of trip reduction, event reduction, noise reduction, parking reduction – we think we’ve won our right to trust at this point,” Kauffman said in an interview.
Kauffman said the school is confident its plan to increase enrollment, construct new academic buildings and add an underground garage “will have a positive impact on the neighborhood and on future generations of female leaders.” She also said in a statement that the plan submitted by the school in 2016 already represented years of compromise with neighbours.
She called “shocking” the committee’s decision on Wednesday to cut student enrollment and the number of special events.
“For many teenagers and their families, schools are now a central source of deep bonds and lasting friendships,” she said in a statement. “Increasing our enrollment and maintaining our on-campus gatherings allows Castilleja to fulfill its mission and expand opportunities for adolescent well-being at a time when it has never been more critical. Palo Alto should not let go of its leadership position as a city that makes choices and decisions that reflect our community’s commitment to ensuring that all young people, in any school, in any neighborhood , remain our top priority.”
Council is due to consider the commission’s recommendation on May 23.