Cities, ACLU criticize findings of Facebook expansion studies

East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Atherton raises questions about the draft EIR for project

What do Menlo Park's neighbors think about Facebook's expansion plans? East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Atherton have all written letters to Menlo Park, raising questions about the draft environmental-impact report for the expansion project and asserting that the draft may not include sufficient analysis of how such changes could affect their cities.

Facebook plans to add 6,500 employees and build two office buildings totaling 962,400 square feet, plus a 200-room hotel in eastern Menlo Park.

East Palo Alto

East Palo Alto's letter to Menlo Park blasted the city for being part of the cause of the regionwide affordable-housing dearth.

"The regional housing crisis exists because cities like Menlo Park willfully and systematically develop more jobs than housing units," according to the letter, which was signed by East Palo Alto Mayor Donna Rutherford. "East Palo Alto and the region cannot afford to continue to bear the negative social, fiscal and environmental externalities of a project that assumes that other cities are going to house 95 percent of the employees of new development in Menlo Park."

A recent report on the potential displacement threat of Facebook's expansion says there are 1,380 housing units under construction or in planning in Menlo Park. Of those 1,182 are expected to be market-rate units, and 198 below market rate.

Rutherford also expressed concerns that increased traffic from Facebook's expansion could negatively affect local air quality. According to an analysis of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the portion of East Palo Alto bounded roughly by Willow Road, Cooley Avenue, U.S. Highway 101 and Bay Road is "disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution."

In her letter, the mayor also said Facebook's plan to curb solo-driver trips is "unrealistically optimistic." The company plans to add 6,500 employees to its Menlo Park campus, but allow only an additional 438 vehicle trips during the morning rush hour and 123 in the evening.


Atherton expressed concern about the traffic impacts on its residents. In a letter signed by City Manager George Rodericks, Atherton questioned the accuracy of Menlo Park's traffic projections, and criticized the omission from the study of some Atherton intersections on Middlefield Road and El Camino Real.

The letter came with a list of demands for numerous traffic-mitigation projects expected to cost a total of about $6.04 million. Those projects include the addition of bike lanes on El Camino on one side from Atherton Avenue to Encinal Avenue, and on the other side from Selby Lane to Watkins Avenue, along with a sidewalk on El Camino from Encinal to Valparaiso Avenue.

Rodericks also asked for 1.6 miles of pedestrian walkway along the entirety of Middlefield Road's west side within Atherton boundaries and a 10-foot-wide paved bike path on Middlefield from Marsh Road to Watkins Avenue.

"We believe that further studies and documentation are required before the draft can become a usable environmental document," Rodericks said.

Palo Alto

Palo Alto's four-page letter said the estimated job growth Facebook would generate is far above the job growth projected for Menlo Park by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

Palo Alto asked that Facebook be required to build the recycled-water system it has proposed, recommended Facebook cover its parking lots with solar panels, requested further study on the risks of placing 75-foot-tall buildings only 2.4 miles away from the Palo Alto Airport, and asked for further clarification on the traffic-analysis methodology in the report.


In addition to comments by neighboring cities, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU), with Public Advocates and a number of advocacy organizations, weighed in on the project, echoing some of the cities' concerns.

"It is ... implausible to conclude that adding an army of new employees amounting to one-fifth of the existing workforce (in Menlo Park) would have no growth-inducing impact," the letter stated.

The ACLU cited a displacement study by consultants that said that adding 6,550 employees translates to demand for an additional 3,638 households in the region. That number is likely an understatement, two professors of urban development said in a separate letter, since it assumes many of the new Facebook employees will move in together, without bringing households of their own to the region.

Still, the ACLU letter says, 3,638 households is a lot: It translates to roughly 45 percent of the total number of housing units that were built across San Mateo County between 2007 and 2014.

What's next

Following the July 11 deadline for such letters, the city of Menlo Park will release its responses to the issues raised when it releases its final environmental-impact report. That document is expected to be released around Sept. 15, according to a timeline by city staff.

Related content:

Editorial: Facebook's big expansion

Menlo Park City Council approves development agreement for Facebook expansion project

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

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

Study warns Facebook expansion would affect traffic

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14 people like this
Posted by Frugal
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2016 at 4:56 pm

Hey there Meno Park. Anybody listening?

36 people like this
Posted by Nutz
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2016 at 6:06 pm

The Facebook plans are just insane, and the amount of money they offered Menlo Park to ameliorate the problems is way, way, way too little.

They need to find another location to build more buildings! The location they have chosen is not practical. There is no room for more housing, unless landfill is used--NEVER a good idea. There is no room to widen roads or build more streets, and there just isn't enough water to support more businesses or residents.

Ironically, Zuckerberg does not want to commute or move to a new residential location!

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2016 at 6:13 pm

This was Sun Quentin. When Sun abandoned the building, Facebook was ready to take it over. If (however unlikely) Facebook decided to move elsewhere, there would soon be somebody else wanting to take over the facilities.

Remember, one of the reasons this was built here initially was the accessibility from the cheaper housing in Fremont and Newark.

13 people like this
Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2016 at 9:03 am

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

Atherton may be on to something in sending Menlo Park a $6M bill for impacts. Given an opportunity to do in this process (deadline for response to the EIR has passed), Palo Alto should evaluate the fiscal impacts of this decision and consider doing the same. In general, business growth is good for our communities. But unfettered business growth is causing serious impacts to the region, with no real discussion of how many jobs concentrated in one place is desirable, sustainable, and moral. This is ground zero of what is driving change in our communities.

8 people like this
Posted by Not cute enough
a resident of University South
on Aug 5, 2016 at 9:57 pm

@Tom Dubois - Can the people who would be living in Maybell send a bill to Palo Alto for the impact on them of the suppression of affordable housing?

Surely they need it more than the people of Atherton do.

Suppressing housing development is ground zero of what is driving _undesirable_ change in our communities.

3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 7, 2016 at 10:34 pm

"The company plans to add 6,500 employees to its Menlo Park campus, but allow only an additional 438 vehicle trips during the morning rush hour and 123 in the evening."

Give it to them for consistency. Nobody has ever accused Menlo Park of being anchored in the real world.

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

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