Editorial: Facebook's big expansion

Development agreement provides goody bag of money, mitigations, studies

A diverse parade of nonprofit, union and civic leaders turned out Tuesday night to a meeting of the Menlo Park City Council to give their enthusiastic support for a development proposal that would eventually almost double the number of employees working at Facebook's growing campus in east Menlo Park.

With the council's unanimous approval of the term sheet for a development agreement that had only been publicly available for a few days, it appears the company's much-praised involvement with the Belle Haven neighborhood and a package of community benefits valued at more than $15 million earned it "likes" from a solid majority of Menlo Park leaders.

Facebook is offering to give a lot, in part, because its project is going to impose substantial impacts.

At a time when the entire region is worried about the growing traffic and housing impacts of commercial development, Facebook is proposing to develop almost a million square feet of new office space and a 200-room hotel at a site it owns on the south side of the Bayfront Expressway located roughly between Constitution Drive and Chilco Street.

In two phases, Facebook wants to build two 75-foot office buildings totaling about 965,000 square feet and a 175,000 square foot hotel, also 75 feet tall. (Current zoning limits the height of buildings in that area to 35 feet.) Facebook says the expansion will add 6,500 employees to the current 7,500 at its Menlo Park campus.

The company has done a commendable job at proactively and creatively identifying ways it can address the impacts of the expansion. In negotiating the development agreement behind closed doors with a two-person subcommittee of the Menlo Park City Council, Facebook agreed to fund transportation studies and improvements, subsidize 22 units of rental housing for teachers for five years, improve bike and pedestrian access, support Belle Haven community projects, study housing impacts and guarantee a generous minimum payment of fees and taxes to the city.

It is not likely, however, that these measures will protect the heavily impacted Belle Haven neighborhood and the region from further degradation of the region's traffic and housing-affordability conditions.

A housing study funded by Facebook revealed that only 18 current Facebook employees live in Belle Haven and 28 live in East Palo Alto. It concluded that the addition of 6,500 employees would therefore have little "direct" impact on the local housing market, creating demand for only 175 new units.

But from a broader regional perspective, the Facebook expansion does what residents and planners are voicing alarm about all over the Bay Area -- create job growth without a corresponding increase in housing and the resulting upward pressure on home prices and rents and transportation gridlock.

The housing analysis said that Belle Haven and East Palo Alto home prices have already more than doubled in the last four years, rents have increased almost 90 percent, and traffic congestion can leave people feeling trapped in their homes or cars.

With virtually all of its employees living long distances from its campus, Facebook -- like other high tech companies in the region -- has a robust program to encourage alternative commute methods. While currently about half of Facebook's employees drive cars to work, Facebook is proposing to limit increases in trip generation relating to its expansion to 438 new morning in-bound commuter vehicles or face financial penalties.

The development agreement will financially benefit Menlo Park, but it nevertheless will result in the worsening of both the transportation and housing problems facing the region and points to the need for better regional coordination and cooperation on large projects. It is standard practice for the permitting jurisdiction to extract mitigation measures, including cash payments, while leaving neighboring communities like East Palo Alto with significant and uncompensated impacts.

Neither Facebook nor Menlo Park can be expected to solve that systemic planning unfairness, but the time for elected and planning officials in sub-regions like the Midpeninsula to pursue better and more cooperative practices is long overdue.

City officials everywhere are currently overwhelmed by the need to navigate the political landmines in their own communities over development issues, but no one is ultimately well-served by major proposals such as this one being evaluated through the lens of a single city looking out for its own interests. The environmental-review process, intended to perform this function, is too rigid and comes too late to proactively address regional concerns.

We hope that one of the outcomes of the Facebook project is the recognition that by working cooperatively in evaluating major development proposals, cities can move away from isolated decision-making that perpetuates rather than solves regional problems.

Related content:

Study warns Facebook expansion would affect traffic

East Palo Alto activists say Menlo Park omitted key letter from Facebook expansion study

Facebook willing to pay Menlo Park $15 million-plus for company's expansion


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6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2016 at 9:35 am

The light rail should be extended from Moffett all along the Peninsula Baylands to Redwood City.

Don't dare anyone tell me it is VTA, we can't expect them to do it. The county boundaries are not the Berlin Wall. We need public transportation to be useful not ridiculous.

8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2016 at 10:33 am

Running light rail through the baylands to provide service just for Facebook is wasteful. That would mean miles of track with no stations and no way for Facebook employees living in Palo Alto and Menlo Park to catch the trains. If you want to provide light rail to Facebook, a much more useful route is along El Camino or Alma or even Middlefield so commuters can walk from home to the stations. The light rail should also connect to Caltrain so longer-distance commuters can transfer.

47 people like this
Posted by sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2016 at 10:38 am

sheri is a registered user.

"Community benefits valued at more than $15 million" is nothing compared to the cost of the impacts from this expansion. Proposed mitigation is often ignored. Instead of a hotel, at least build housing! We really do need regional planning.

14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2016 at 10:44 am

What makes you think lightrail would be just for Facebook. All along the Baylands borders are big office developments. LinkedIn, Google, Facebook are but three.

The lightrail with shuttles could really be a useful addition to public transit to these sites if it was done right.

1 person likes this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jul 22, 2016 at 11:14 am

Light rail is not an effective solution for Facebook.

Beef up Caltrain and add bus shuttles to Caltrain and neighborhoods.

29 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2016 at 11:35 am

Question: if Facebook, Google, HP, and other major employers were to set up a free shuttle bus system that was open to anyone and served all of these companies and the surrounding communities (EPA, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View), would city residents be supportive or opposed? The shuttle busses would have schedules, route maps, and marked shuttle stops. Seems to me that something like this would be very cheap to implement and take a lot of cars off the roads.

57 people like this
Posted by Insufficient Compensation
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Insufficient Compensation is a registered user.

I agree with Sheri, above. The compensation Facebook offers is drastically insufficient to cover all the needs and costs that the FB expansion will inflict on the local communities. Barely a drop in the bucket.

I would personally prefer to see FB move to somewhere their employees can afford to live. It would be so much less expensive to build and expand somewhere else.

But, of course, then Zuckerberg would have to either leave his "walled compound", or commute.

41 people like this
Posted by Please, Please
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2016 at 3:55 pm

If Linkedin can give MidPen Housing Corp. $41M for affordable housing units, Facebook can do so much more to offset the addition of 6,500 new employees that this expansion of 1.38 million sq ft will bring into a small neighborhood Belle Haven in Meno Park. The Term Sheet the MP Council approved is shameful.
There are two new multi family apartments being built near Facebook, one in Belle Haven and the other near Bayfront Park. The rush will be on once these are available for rent. Facebook employees will be thrilled at this new housing stock and the demand will increase.
Does Facebook want to be known for the displacement of families who will struggle to hang on to their very modest living arrangements in Belle Haven? Surely Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife understand what a large company will do to the last barely affordable areas on the Peninsula. East Palo and Belle Haven and Fair Oaks will lose an entire demographic of residents as Facebook continues its growth as an international giant.
It's time for Menlo Park and Facebook to dig deep and act like leaders with hearts.

16 people like this
Posted by Rwilson
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2016 at 8:31 pm

Your excellent article begins,'A diverse parade of nonprofit, union and civic leaders turned out ... to give their enthusiastic support ...'
These are all special interests which stand in one way or another to profit from the project.
At no time has the Menlo Park council or City Manager taken the trouble to inform residents of the extremely adverse implications of these mammoth projects on traffic and school crowding in our city.
Residents are too busy with their personal lives to wade through voluminous EIRs or to attend interminable council meetings in which final negotiations are left to two-person subcommittees.

The City needs to publish and mail to residents, perhaps on a quarterly basis -- or variably when certain thresholds are met -- a straightforward digest of the CUMULATIVE effect of projects under consideration. A levy on developers could defray the cost, however the report should be authored by a neutral party. The effect of additional housing mandated by regional authorities should be included.
Metrics reported should include,
I. Traffic increases not only on major thoroughfares, but predicted neighborhood cut-through trips. Developer-sponsored EIRs conveniently omit the latter.
II. Effect on school student/teacher ratios under the assumption that residents are not taxed to support additional student population due to the developments.
III. Effect on regional highway congestion.
IV. Effect on city natural resource consumption.
V. Some sort of 'gentrification' measure, perhaps ratio of mean housing price to mean salary.

The council should defer project decisions till adequate time for public assimilation and comment on the digests has elapsed.
I suspect that if the public is adequately informed, council and city staff obfuscation on project impact would no longer be tolerated

43 people like this
Posted by not astonished any more
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2016 at 8:35 pm

Apologies to Wimpy...."I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today"

Facebook, whose impact will PERMANENTLY adversely affect the surrounding community, is TEMPORARILY subsidizing a few teachers' rents for five exactly does this mitigate the permanent impact? What are those teachers supposed to do for housing once the prices have been driven up by the presence of ever more high tech workers wanting to live near work?

14 million .... let's see what that will be used for......a few paved roads maybe? It's such a paltry sum compared to what the rest of the taxpayers will bear...this creates suspicion of corruption or starsticken insanity in the city council.

41 people like this
Posted by Mpresident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2016 at 9:01 pm

Facebook and similar outsized projects so cavalierly approved by the Menlo Park city council profoundly and negatively affect adjacent communities.

Perhaps there's an opportunity here to crowd-fund a thorough legal investigation of the Menlo Park city staff and council approval process?

39 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2016 at 1:57 am

Anyone who goes by the Marsh/Willow/University exits off of Highway 101 knows that adding offices for another 6500 workers at the Facebook corporate campus at Bayfront & Willow is a disaster in the making. Traffic already backs up all the way from Middlefield to Highway 101 during commute hours.

Facebook needs to make a 2nd campus somewhere else, or they should fund a mass transit system to the tune of billions of dollars, otherwise it's going be one massive traffic jam.

14 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 23, 2016 at 2:28 am

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Saturday morning


Regional planning seems imperative; I agree. We'll need to work together on this.

So Facebook "concluded that the addition of 6,500 employees would therefore have little 'direct' impact on the local housing market..."?

That sounds implausible! And I'd imagine that many of those new employees will be newly-wealthy and young, buying homes and raising children in Palo Alto.

With class sizes already groaning, how will they look in times to come—how will our high-schoolers find "connectedness" with their teachers, and with each other, in rooms routinely thronged with 30, 33, 36, 38 teenagers, and with teachers whose overall student loads are 120, 140, 160 young people at a time?

How do you get your hand called on in a class discussion with 30 students? How do you get your essay back in a timely way, with personalized feedback? How do you get a glance from your favorite teacher that says, "I can see you're having a rough day?" How do you form a student-teacher tie that can be a lifeline?

We need to be anticipating the future, and we need to be planning for it as neighbors, in our mid-Peninsula cities. And I hope Facebook will share its world-class success with our schools.

Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008 — creating hope for Palo Alto's high-schoolers

33 people like this
Posted by The Logistics Suck!
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 23, 2016 at 5:20 pm

There is no room to widen roads, there is little room to build anything, unless it is built on landfill, there is no room for more cars on the narrow roads....what in the world is Zuckerberg thinking?

Why not simply build another Facebook building in the East Bay, or Livermore, or one of the places where houses are still being built, such as San Ramon, Danville, Dublin, Castro Valley, Morgan Hill, Hayward, Gilroy, Hollister, Coyote Valley, Monterey, Hollister, etc

Any where but on the peninsula--it has geographical and physical limitations: mountains, bay other city say nothing of high costs...

21 people like this
Posted by Ornery
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Ornery is a registered user.

I hope Zuckerberg reads PAO!

6 people like this
Posted by Ornery
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2016 at 10:06 pm

Ornery is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 25, 2016 at 11:01 pm

This could put Menlo Park on the map. No other city can say it has Facebook HQ.

12 people like this
Posted by Hahahahahahahahaha
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jul 26, 2016 at 5:48 pm

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
Mark--Another city or cities can say it if they wisely expand ELSEWHERE--where there is actual room to do so!

6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 26, 2016 at 6:26 pm

How wonderful that not a single one of the new 6500 or their families will all be riding bikes and will never increase our gridlock or air pollution, or drain our already scarce water resources.

Please ignore the fact that East Palo Alto had to stop development because it ran out of water. Nothing to see. It's a totally separate municipality and has absolutely no bearing on far-away Menlo Park.

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

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