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Menlo Park ‘likes’ Facebook, seeks local benefits from company

In December, Facebook relocated its headquarters from Stanford Research Park in Palo Alto to the former headquarters of Sun Microsystems at 1601 Willow Road in Menlo Park. In the coming year, the social networking company plans to expand its campus and seeks to amend the existing conditional development permit in Menlo Park by increasing the existing employee cap to roughly 6,600 employees, concerning neighbor East Palo Alto. This article presents Menlo Park’s concerns. Please see our separate article in today’s issue that deals with East Palo Alto’s responses to the proposed expansion here.

 

Menlo Park has been responding enthusiastically to Facebook’s proposed expansion of its headquarters, with citizens and officials expressing their support for the development. Supporters detailed a list of long-term and short-term benefits the city expects to receive from Facebook at a Menlo Park city council meeting last Tuesday.

 

While Menlo Park has largely been receptive to Facebook’s growth, its officials have acknowledged that residents and city representatives in neighboring East Palo Alto are worried about the transportation and health implications resulting from the expansion. Officials from both cities are set to meet today.

 

Facebook relocated to its current headquarters in Menlo Park, which is made up of two adjacent sites, in December. The first site, East Campus, is the former Sun Microsystems Campus located at 1601 Willow Road. The second site, West Campus, was formerly part of the Tyco Electronics campus, located at 312 and 313 Constitution Drive. According to the Facebook representatives who attended the council meeting, Facebook is currently only requesting to develop its East Campus.

 

As a trade-off for increasing in size and for the social and environmental impact of the expansion, Facebook said it would compensate Menlo Park. The city of Menlo Park held a council meeting earlier this week on Tuesday, Feb. 14, where officials discussed parameters the city would like to negotiate with Facebook as part of the development agreement.

 

According to a handout from the city’s Community Development Department, such items included, “providing a source of on-going revenue for as long as the land use entitlement to exceed 3,600 employees is in place, providing one-time items in the form of public improvements or studies that would benefit the surrounding area, providing a mechanism for funding programs and services that meet on-going community needs, pursuing a commitment to fund housing opportunities in the city and surrounding region and pursuing a trip cap penalty amount that is severe enough to ensure compliance with the project description.”

 

Menlo Park released a draft Environmental Impact Report for public review in Dec. 2011 to address the effect of Facebook’s expansion on Menlo Park’s surrounding natural ecosystems. According to the staff report given during the Feb. 14 meeting, the city’s consultants, “have begun the process of responding to comments and preparing the Final Environmental Report, which is anticipated to be released in mid- to late April 2012.”

 

Both councilmembers and Menlo Park residents mentioned that some immediate environmental benefits Facebook could provide include providing funding for bike improvements on Bay Road, University Avenue and Willow Road, as well as opening shuttles for the public to travel to local train stations.

 

According to an email from Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith, the city also hopes to request from Facebook a fee in-lieu of revenue from sales tax, the establishment of a community foundation and trip cap priorities.

 

“The discussion is all open and transparent,” Keith continued.

 

Many community members in attendance expressed support for Facebook, mentioning that Facebook has already been an “extremely positive presence.”

 

According to these members, who included students and representatives from businesses and organizations, Facebook has been active in the community, is considerate of the environment and has been an asset to the city’s economic marketability.

 

“Facebook is that good neighbor,” said Maggie Creighton, the creator of the Exploratory Experiences Program, during the council meeting. The Exploratory Experiences Program is a local mentoring program for Palo Alto and Menlo Park students.

 

Later during a separate interview, Creighton stated that Facebook not only benefits schools in Menlo Park, but also schools in East Palo Alto.

 

“The philosophy of Facebook is very different from other companies–more open and more interactive,” she added, mentioning that Facebook encourages its employees to go into schools and tutor students in different subjects.

 

Creighton also mentioned that Facebook is greener than the previous corporation on the same land entitlement.

 

The city councilmembers each expressed their own concerns during the council meeting.

 

Councilmember Andrew Cohen mentioned affordable housing as a priority.

 

“Housing is an important issue for several reasons–one of which is that East Palo Alto is concerned that Facebook coming to town is going to displace a lot of people,” Cohen said.

 

“Apparently there is already some relocation of people from Bell Haven to East Palo Alto,” he said later in an interview with The Daily.

 

“We should be working as partners to get what new housing we can, not trying to stop this project or any other project that already has received a welcome in the area,” Cohen added. “We all seem to agree that Facebook is a welcome addition to our local business community. The idea is to work collaboratively to come up with the best plan to increase our housing stock.”

 

Councilmember Kelly Fergusson described Facebook’s expansion as an “opportunity to pull all the threads together.”

 

Fergusson said she is particularly interested in levy shoreline restoration work, as well as transit station planning.

 

“We have a long list,” Fergusson said, referring to the list of potential areas that could be improved with the opportunities Facebook intends to open for Menlo Park. “But this is a catalyst for all of this to be brought together. We’re seeking a fair agreement. It’s not just about Menlo Park, but also East Palo Alto.”

 

“It’s a great opportunity,” Councilmember Richard Cline said, referring to the expansion of Facebook. “But it’s not going to save everyone’s life. It’s time to put a reality hat on–there’s a lot of pressure on Facebook. We can’t give everyone free housing, but there are programs that Facebook can create, ways that Facebook can benefit the community, and we should enter into negotiations like that.”

 

A Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email to The Daily that the company is “hopeful that the city finds the benefit of having Facebook in Menlo Park far outweighs the impact of our move.”

 

“We care about being a good neighbor to East Palo Alto residents and are meeting with city representatives Friday,” Keith said. “We are excited about having Facebook in Menlo Park and look forward to a long lasting relationship.”

 

The negotiation team plans to return with a draft term sheet on April 17.

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