Palo Alto approves revamp of former Facebook campus

City Council approves replacement of buildings, new landscaping at 1050 Page Mill Road

Blocks of concrete will make way for waves of glass at the former Facebook headquarters at Stanford Research Park under an ambitious and controversial redevelopment proposal that Palo Alto officials approved early Tuesday morning.

The City Council voted 7-1, with Tom DuBois abstaining, to approve a plan by Sand Hill Property Company to demolish four existing buildings, at 1050 Page Mill Road, which were built about half a century ago, and construct four glassy two-story structures at the periphery of the 13 1/2-acre site.

Originally used by Beckman Coulter Inc. for research and manufacturing of biomedical instruments, the site more recently served as the home of Facebook, which occupied the site between 2009 to 2011.

Today, the tenant is Machine Zone, a software company that sprung into existence in downtown Palo Alto before outgrowing its headquarters and moving to the Research Park. Best known for its conquest title, Game of War, Machine Zone would also occupy the new buildings, once they're built.

The council's vote, which followed more than three hours of deliberation, came despite some major reservations and complex questions. The council generally agreed that the new buildings, made of glass, topped by solar panels and outlined by a wavy aluminum fin, would be a huge improvement over the existing structures. Even Councilwoman Karen Holman, the only member who voted against the project, called the proposal "very beautiful."

They were far less enthusiastic about the project's potential traffic impacts and the site's dodgy zoning history. In 1999, the large parcel was split into two leaseholds and a new building was proposed on the smaller leasehold. But the splitting of the site also left the larger leasehold with more building density than the city's zoning laws would normally allow. Because the city was not notified about the lease split, it was unable to stop the zoning violation, an episode that planning staff characterized as an "oversight."

On Monday night, several residents pointed at this zoning indiscretion and urged the council to make amends by reducing the floor area of the newly proposed development by 31,000 square feet.

Doria Summa, who lives in College Terrace, argued that the city's planning staff should've required the developer, Sand Hill Property Company, to make the cut before the project went through the entire approval process.

"The idea that anyone can move a lease willy-nilly whenever they want to just to achieve a greater FAR (floor-area ratio) on one site is a lawless and chaotic idea that we never have proceeded with before in the Research Park and I don't see what advantage it would have for anybody to proceed with in the future," Summa said.

The council, however, didn't see it that way. The city's existing agreement with Stanford University, which owns Stanford Research Park, allows about 11.2 million square feet of development at the Research Park, around 1 million short of the current development level.

Much like planning staff and the Planning and Transportation Commission, the council supported Sand Hill's proposal with no significant modifications and no requests for reductions. Most members didn't see any issues with allowing Sand Hill to demolish 265,865 square feet of floor area and replacing it with an equal amount of development.

Allison Koo, project manager with Sand Hill, stressed that the project would not require any variances and is following the code "to a 'T.'" The team is not asking for a single additional square foot, Koo said. The four buildings would be built at the site's periphery, thus enabling a spacious courtyard.

"We believe this presents a smaller project than exists today," she said. "We have an architecturally stunning design that we're really proud of."

The council agreed that the new buildings would be a substantial improvement over the ones that stand there today. Members also requested as part of its approval that the new development accommodate a potential bike path that could be built in the future near the rear of the property, provided the city and Stanford can reach agreements with other tenants.

The council also specified that the landscaping at the campus should include indigenous trees and that the occupant adopt an aggressive "transportation demand management" plan for reducing solo drivers and encouraging alternative modes of transportation.

Traffic, in fact, was the biggest concern for the council. Councilman Greg Schmid questioned the data in Sand Hill's commissioned traffic study and suggested that the methodology used to calculate the new traffic levels is faulty. He noted that the methodology may work in some cities, but could prove problematic in Palo Alto, which has one of the highest jobs-housing imbalances in the nation.

Schmid noted that Sand Hill's own consultant had projected that six intersections will have the lowest level of service: F. Yet the environmental analysis for this project concluded that it would have no significant impacts on the famously clogged up area.

"If we're at the center and we have F intersections, how can we keep saying there's no significant impact?" Schmid asked.

Schmid joined Holman and Councilman Eric Filseth in voting against the certification of the project's Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Holman expressed strong reservations about the zoning oversight and wondered how the city had allowed the violation to occur.

Holman said she hasn't seen any project that had come in front of the council that's been "this much of a conundrum in many years." She struggled with the idea of "grandfathering" a development that was illegally established without the city's knowledge.

Their opposition proved moot, however, as their other five colleagues voted to certify the document. The 5-3 vote was followed by a 7-1 vote to approve the project.

Newly elected Mayor Pat Burt praised the project's ample parking and sustainable features, calling it a "very exemplary project." The project will include 887 parking spaces, 539 of them in a new garage. Burt also lauded the glassy design of the new buildings and indicated that he won't miss the existing structures.

"We may have to lose this fine example of Stalinist Revival architecture, but I'm willing to let it go," Burt said.

Related content:

Plans to revamp former Facebook campus advance

Plan to rebuild former Facebook headquarters draws concerns

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


30 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2016 at 7:54 am

Take down one office building, put up another one of exactly the same size, but nicer-looking. And this is controversial with residentialists?

We can't be a city stuck in the 1970s forever. It wasn't even that great a decade.

Thanks, City Council, for doing the right thing. But you have to wonder why it was even controversial in the first place.

20 people like this
Posted by Cynical ploy
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 12, 2016 at 8:05 am

Observer- as stated in the article they are following the code. So what makes it controversial is the fact that the weekly, under marching orders from PASZ, says so. Another attempt to stir the pot

25 people like this
Posted by DidYouWatch
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 12, 2016 at 8:11 am

There were several reasons this project required greater scrutiny then it got last night.
1. Density of use change from R&D labs to 100% office. There could be 3000 people working there. Even with the TDM and onsite parking there's a good chance it isn't enough. Greg Schmid gave an excellent analysis last night on the flaws in assumptions used for traffic analysis.

2. The new assertion that the Research park is one lot has created a terrible
Precedent that the city has no legal basis to assert zoning in individual buildings. Council agreed that an overage in a lot will come out of the total of 1M new sq ft. The logical conclusion is you could build a massive building on one lot in the research park and it's ok because the total won't exceed the amount allowed on 700 acres!. That's ludicrous! The argument has not been made in the over 100 years the situation has existed. Council needs to address this gentleman so agreement and turn it into an ordinance.

3. There were important questions about toxic materials in the ground that should not be ignored.

10 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2016 at 8:26 am

DidYoiWatch - Neither City Council or the PTC set a precedent that Stanford can concentrate all their FAR on one lot. If anything, they set a precedent that they won't require Stanford to tear down buildings to fix a decades-old oversight that Council signed off on way back when. This isn't going to affect any other part of SRP, and it's not going to increase the amount of buildable area Stanford has to work with.

I do agree with you that the city's agreement with Stanford would be better as an ordinance, if it's not one already.

2 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2016 at 10:53 am

This sort of reminds me of the main section of the Google campus. I like it.

9 people like this
Posted by Pants on fire
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 12, 2016 at 11:10 am

Machine Zone's famous game is 'Game of War' and we are supposed to admire them because they make money?
No thanks.

The city allowed Stanford to move lease lines so it can make money. Great university? Not its developers, they're just as greedy as other developers. And the city just as compliant.
No thanks.

Sand Hill Road Properties has not fulfilled its contract for a grocery store at Edgewood Plaza. Staff likes more of their projects. City Manager defends them.
No thanks.

Big project traffic study shows 'no traffic impacts'. Pants on fire.

13 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 12, 2016 at 11:35 am

I watched. No doubt the development will be an attractive improvement. Maybe someday the process will improve, too. Impossible to miss that once again Schmid was the most prepared to address a key impact: traffic. His comments were factual and deserving of Staff attention. Also (and I may have misheard this)it sounds like the 1999 "oversight" has resulted in the present-day creation of a new standard: Legally Non-Compliant. As oxymorons go, that one is pretty good.

13 people like this
Posted by Cynical ploy
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 12, 2016 at 11:43 am

Pants- maybe the grocery store issue says something about Palo Alto. You would think a store would run
To open in town. But most companies are aware of the Palo Alto BS-- the process, undersized location, dealing with clueless council, bureaurocracy , finicky customers etc. I am sure they feel that the headache is not worth it

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2016 at 11:48 am

Looked like most of the council wasn't paying much attention while Schmid was talking about traffic.

19 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 12, 2016 at 11:52 am

The whole game industry and even the idea of making GAMES about wars, killing, crime, horrors, etc. makes me sick.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Cynical ploy
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 12, 2016 at 12:05 pm

The whole idea of our city, our council and one of our newspapers being controlled by PASZ makes me sick.

12 people like this
Posted by to cynical ploy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 12, 2016 at 1:40 pm

I was under the impression that the PAO reporters (a number of whom are young SF residents) are typically far more sympathetic to PAF than PASZ.

12 people like this
Posted by Pants on fire
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 12, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Cynical ploy, you are dreaming about imaginary enemies. I have no connection with them but there are lots of us who don't approve of the development corruption.
If objecting to corruption is upsetting to you, please explain. Do you make money off of development?
In the City Manager's opening statement he said Sand Hill Properties is working with Andronico's for a grocery store. That is old news, but he was pre-defending a developer who is notorious for not fulfilling contracts. Not the kind of ethical behavior I expect from a City Manager.
Sand Hill managed to sell 10 houses for about 3 million dollars each on the same Edgewood Plaza. Getting a grocery store seems beyond their capabilities.

6 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2016 at 5:23 pm

What's a little gridlock and toxicity among friends?

3 people like this
Posted by Sun, Next, Commodore, Silicon Graphics, ...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2016 at 5:23 pm

"Best known for its conquest title, Game of War, Machine Zone would also occupy the new buildings, once they're built."

If, that is, Machine Zone still exists then.

23 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Pants on Fire - I think it's really important for residentialists to understand that nearly everyone who disagrees with them has no financial stake in development. We just prefer a city with more places for people to work and live. Not an unlimited amount of growth, necessarily, just an amount that allows the city to be a welcoming place rather than an exclusive one.

Think about it - you don't really think the thousands of Palo Altans who voted for Greg Scharff or Cory Wolbach, or the thousands in the prior cycle who voted for Berman or Kniss, all work for developers, do you?

Their politics were no secret. Wolbach repeatedly called for more housing, and when other candidates claimed membership or leadership in PASZ, he claimed sympathies with PAF. Scharff has a long track record. He said he would back limitations on office growth and he did ultimately vote for them, but if you thought he was going to call for a moratorium, you weren't paying attention. Probably, the several thousand vote margin of difference between Filseth and Holman was due to the many Palo Altans who needed a fifth choice and thought she was the least divisive of the residentialists. (She endorsed Measure D, after all.)

The constant residentialist refrain on Town Square that everyone who disagrees with them is a "developer shill" or "corrupt" or "makes money off development" has gotten old. Lots of people disagree with you. We are not shadowy bogeymen. We are your neighbors.

2 people like this
Posted by property owner
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2016 at 7:40 pm

Old offices for new offices? what happenned to the office moritorium? This should be converted to retail by law (the moritorium). It must not matter to the council members that passed the moritorium that they can be such two faced individuals. What do they want? They must be looking for votes - ridiculous!!!!!!

1 person likes this
Posted by jaa
a resident of University South
on Jan 13, 2016 at 12:46 am

Looks like a bowling alley. Might be more fun if it was!

4 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2016 at 7:19 am

@ property owner

You should read this article before making any additional accusations or frustration vents:

Web Link

1. It is a 50,000 sqft cap, not a moratorium.
2. Restricted zones are downtown, Cal Ave. and parts of ECR. This site is not in those zones.
3. There is no provision ("by law"), that retail space is built in the area where this site is located.

Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 13, 2016 at 2:34 pm

to cynical ploy:

you said…."Observer- as stated in the article they are following the code. So what makes it controversial is the fact that the weekly, under marching orders from PASZ, says so. Another attempt to stir the pot"

this is a bizarre statement . You actually believe the Weekly and it's writers are under "marching orders from PASZ?

just totally laughable comment …..where do you get your info?

1 person likes this
Posted by Cynical ploy
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 13, 2016 at 2:39 pm

Anon- it is my opinion that the weekly is doing PASZ bidding.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 14, 2016 at 11:34 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

headline: What role did super-model play in Palo Alto council approval of flawed redevelopment plan, 1050 Page Mill Road?
(photo screen capture of kate uptown in Machine Zone Superbowl ad; cutline: Supermodel Kate Upton as seen in famous Super Bowl ad for video game)

You heard of, if you are at all literary or cultured, "the face that launched a thousand ships"*, but what about the super-model goddess archetype that may or may not explain Palo Alto subsidizing developers to the tune of thousands of dollars worth of fudging in Monday's council meeting?

Council voted 7-1 to approve a deal that would re-build an office building at 1050 Page Mill Road in the former Stanford Industrial Park despite numerous residentialist objections to the deal for matters such as toxics and traffic gridlock. The land is owned by Stanford, but ground-leased to Peter Pau's Sand Hill Properties, who have a deal with Machine Zone, a video game unicorn whose main source of income is a flashy, violent and manipulative cash cow video game called "Game of War".

Forbes reporting says that the game was generating $1M per day and $600 M per year, fueled by a racy Super Bowl ad featuring supermodel Kate Upton. The ad campaign cost an estimated $40 million. Upton also appears in the game as a Vanna White-type character that seduces addicts into tapping their credit card for "patches" to the otherwise free game.

The building previously housed 200 engineers from Beckman (they make centrifuges and devices, founded here in 1954 but moved to Fullerton in 2009) and Facebook for two years, according to the Weekly.. With under-grounded parking (Alison Koo of Pau's office insists that the garage is above but not in the toxic plume) the facility will likely host more than 1,000 gamers and their ilk. Overall, Stanford Research Park comprises 700 acres, hosts 150 companies and 20,000 workers and recently has seen the selling of leaseholds for in excess of $5 million per acre. Pau bought the ground lease on this site in 2013 for $130 M, according to the Business Journal sources.Pau’s website actually lists four active projects within the Stanford micro-market, although they are best known here for Edgewood Plaza, where the City is, in contrast, threatening to fine them for not having a supermarket as part of the mixed-use deal.

[photo of Allison Koo: caption: SHP’s Allison Koo]

As a former ad agency intern and junior copywriter, whose first industry task was to analyze children's ads for their latent messages (and this shortly after getting an A+ from Dartmouth's Blanche Gelfant for a thesis tracing the use of the word "crack" in in Henry Roth's "Call it Sleep") I wonder if the Kate Upton ad even subconsciously and subtly explains how Greg Scharff, Marc Berman and Pat Burt could overlook all the problems with this deal.

Meanwhile the Palo Alto Weekly deleted (after three minutes) my first take on this:

How many of them voted for this cuz they thought they would get to meet Kate Upton?

[Photo of screen capture of previous post: caption: Cheeky yes, but why censored? How now, BJ Bill Johnson?]

I think someone should break down in strict Keynsian terms the pros and cons from Palo Alto's perspective what it means that Stanford Cleavage Park is so suck sex full?

Leland and Jane Stanford disapproved of drinking beer -- why would they approve the tenancy of video game pimps?

The semiotics are compelling. When Stanford's Tiffany Griego stands up and says "we are not the applicant here" they are still lending their imprimatur and influence to the case.

I'm not suggesting we condemn the whole damn 700 acres -- I'm just saying let's regulate not salivate.


I mean, yeah I could ask or text each of these guys if they were thinking of Kate Upton with their vote and log their various responses. But yes I think the above screen-capture of Miss Kate as a developer asset should be part of the record that explains this impressive new proposed erection. Or as George Carlin and not (*) Christopher Marlowe might say our thrust is to prick the bubble of the developers and restore our Democracy as one-person, one-vote and not two-tittie one-unicorn or to whatever this has de-evolved.

Tom Dubois (an ally) recused himself from this vote (because his wife works at Stanford), but I'm curious what he thinks about Machine Zone since he is a consultant in the video game field. Meanwhile, shouldn't Greg Scharff also have recused since he owns an office building nearby off California Avenue?

Activist and Palo Alto citizen Jeff Levinsky rightly compared this deal to the infamous and Grand Jury reported 27 University case wherein City staff and council (including the aforementioned Burt and Scharff) met secretly with developers and Stanford interests months before discussing it from the dias (and spending $250 K in taxpayers money to fluff it out).  The Research Park, the hospital, the shopping center are all unique cases wherein Stanford the rhinoceros and Palo Alto the oxpecker have a joint interest, but I think we tend to get the dubious end of the deal.

I'm just rhapsodizing here but given the context it is fair to ask if there is was anything more overt than the power of the media and sleazy sexploitation to explain council's action here, and their apparent dereliction in duty and abandonment of local interests.

edit to add: mainly I admit to being more pedantic than erudite and so as to ping my former professor James Shapiro, here is Christopher Marlowe (1604) on Faust and Helen of Troy:

"Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,And burnt the topless towers of Ilium--Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.--''[kisses her]''Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!--Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips, And all is dross that is not Helena."


[photo of Tiffany Griego: COME PLAY WITH ME: Since 2007, she has successfully negotiated and executed more than 40 transactions, yielding more than a half-billion dollars in income to Stanford University. She has executed leases covering more than 5,000,000 square feet of office and R&D space. (SVBJ, 2015) -- we should figure out how many of these involved dubious council rulings.]

Griego narrates this helpful but less titilating backgrounder:

Web Link

3. Here is a lift from Tiffany Griego's LinkedIn profile: Lead strategic planning, development and management of the world-renowned Stanford Research Park, Stanford’s preeminent real estate asset and Silicon Valley’s single largest real estate complex. This 700-acre, $7 Billion submarket is comprised of 10.3 Million square feet of improved R&D and office buildings, with Stanford’s direct holdings equaling $2 Billion AUM. Note that their declared assets under management roughly speaking is ten times Palo Alto's overall annual budget ($200 M). Stanford recently lobbied to be excluded from Palo Alto's office cap, which itself is a huge cave-in from the 1998-2010 downtown cap and moratorium.

4. Robert Kolker of Bloomsberg (link) Gabriel Leydon of Machine Zone.

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 14, 2016 at 11:47 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Regarding above comment, activists and engaged citizens Bill Ross, Doria Summa, Fred Balin and Jeff Levinsky claim that staff and council ruled generously toward allowing 31,000 square feet of new building beyond normal so when I directly above reference Christopher Marlowe and Helen of Troy (and Faust), a more accurate phrasing would be "thousands of thousands of dollars worth of fudging" which is to say we gave away 31 millions in subsidy to Stanford/Pau/Leydon, at least.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Monroe Park

on Sep 26, 2017 at 4:14 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

If you do nothing else, do These Three Things
By Sherry Listgarten | 43 comments | 2,320 views

Lentil Brownies
By Laura Stec | 7 comments | 842 views

Finding Balance
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 401 views

Reflections on Palo Alto's Centennial -- now it's the city's 125th birthday!
By Diana Diamond | 3 comments | 227 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.