News

Atherton threatens to sue Menlo Park, Facebook

By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

Atherton has threatened to sue Menlo Park and Facebook to get Facebook to pay at least part of the cost of widening Marsh Road at Middlefield Road, but some Atherton residents say that if the town does that, they'll join the opposing side to fight their town to keep their street as it is.

The matter came to light at the May 16 Atherton City Council meeting, when former long-time council member Malcolm Dudley urged the council to leave Marsh Road as two lanes. Mr. Dudley said that widening Marsh Road would not only destroy its scenic qualities, but that "widening streets leads to increased volume and traffic speed. Atherton residents successfully fought the battle to preserve two-lane streets 35 years ago, and must remain vigilant," he said, reading from a several-page document he presented to the council.

"I agree with Malcolm that if you build it they will come," said Larry Sweeney, a member of the Atherton transportation committee. He said the widening of Marsh Road has never come before the committee, and that "I strongly support the idea of keeping as much of a rural atmosphere in Atherton as we can."

Instead of fighting with Facebook, Mr. Dudley suggested a partnership that could bring benefits to Atherton. "There is an opportunity to work with Facebook," he said, suggesting that Facebook could help the town reopen its train station by offering to shuttle employees from the station to its new Menlo Park headquarters.

The matter was on the agenda as "Status of Facebook project and city of Menlo Park response to issues and concerns raised by the town of Atherton." But Mayor Bill Widmer announced the update would take place in a closed session "because this may involve potential litigation."

A letter included in the background information on the item, from acting city manager Theresa DellaSanta, addressed to Menlo Park mayor Kirsten Keith and city manager Alex McIntyre and dated April 26, contains the lawsuit threat.

"The Town of Atherton ... must explore all options, including legal challenges ... to effect a more reasonable and responsible position by Facebook and the City of Menlo Park," the letter says. The letter identifies improvements sought by Atherton. "The Town of Atherton prepared schematic designs of transportation improvements we believe necessary to properly mitigate traffic impacts from Facebook and other significant developments. ... Identified improvement include the construction of an additional traffic lane approximately 600 feet in length on Marsh Road beginning at the intersection with Middlefield. Marsh Road will be widened to the south which will require the covering of the Atherton Channel," the letter says. It also says the project could involve "potentially significant tree removal."

After the council members returned to open session, Mayor Widmer said that there was "no reportable action associated with this item" from the closed session, which would indicate that no decision to sue had been made. He said that council members Jim Dobbie and Elizabeth Lewis will meet with Menlo Park officials on Tuesday, May 22, to discuss the issue.

Mr. Dudley warned the council members that if Atherton sues Menlo Park and Facebook to get Marsh Road widened, residents will fight the town on the opposing side of the lawsuit. "Everyone I've talked to is very concerned," he said. "We don't want to have this happening to our community."

Mr. Dudley's statement to the council included copies of a mailing from 1977 when Atherton residents previously fought the widening of Marsh Road. The flier included the signatures of 1,000 Atherton residents against a four-lane Marsh Road, which was part of a proposal which would have brought Highway 84 traffic through Atherton from the Dumbarton Bridge.

At least one of Facebook's attorneys was seen in the audience at the meeting.

Comments

Posted by JeffC, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on May 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm

This response is to the article posted online by Barbara Wood on May 18, 2012 regarding the widening of Marsh Road.
I apologize if there are backstories to this that I have not read, but I do not understand the connection of Facebook with Marsh Road.
Is not Facebook located at the end of Willow Road?
But, as to the concept of widening Marsh Road at/near/around Middlefield Road, I am in total support. It is a nightmare during the various rushhour periods trying to navigate ones way along those streets: traffic becomes clogged for quite lengthy distances, the left-turn lane from Middlefield to Marsh requires ignoring the bots-dots island on Middlefield or blocking Middlefield so that others cannot procede south without waiting for the left-turn lane to empty, and when Hwy 101 is by-passed, for whatever reasons, the whole area morphs into gridlock. Perhaps if those living in Atherton actually needed to use Marsh and Middlefield roads during the tumult they might be convinced to widen. Hard to believe that a matter confined to such a limited part of Atherton could affect the "scenic qualities of life" mentioned by a resident. Who are the "they" that will be using the widened road ... people trying to get to work, drop their kids off at school, get to Redwood City or Menlo Park ...?


Posted by Sybille, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on May 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I totally agree with JeffC. And a bike lane on both sides of Marsh Road would help very much too.


Posted by Ranch Gal, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Here we go again! Sue Sue Sue ! Old Atherton codgers who USE modern technology such as iPhones, Facebook websites, etc still live in the past wanting "their Atherton" to be buggy trails, horsey paths, and unicorns. I have resided here since 1955 (not yet an old codger) but see the value in "moving forward" as things change. HELLO?????? Get a life you old grumpy folks in Atherton...... Stop suing everything and everyone that whispers "change" .......We are B R O K E !!! What part of "no money" don't you people understand? I am totally in favor of widening Marsh Road! Have you people seen the back up in the morning and evening commute? Get real!


Posted by Charlie L, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on May 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Why would Facebook employees use Atherton Station? Menlo Park is closer, though it would lighten traffic to and from SF some.


Posted by Laura, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm

"scenic quality of Marsh Road" ? ? Yes, we certainly wouldnt want that compromised.


Posted by Clogged arteries, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on May 18, 2012 at 2:36 pm

OK, so we widen Marsh Road so more cars can get to.... Middlefield?
Then what?
Widen (and straighten) Atherton Avenue or Middlefield?
Then what?
Connect Atherton Avenue to 280? That was the original plan when the Dumbarton bridge was put in. The Town successfully fought that and the traffic was routed to Woodside Road, a commercial road, unlike any road in Atherton (except El Camino.)
Let's think this through and then decide who to sue, since that really is what we are good at.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 18, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Mr. Dudley's statement to the council included copies of a mailing from 1977"

You are not in Kansas anymore, nor it is still 1977. The traffic at this intersection is already intolerable and it will only get worse. Since Atherton cannot, much as some would like, ban though traffic it is only responsible to develop and implement well designed mitigation measures. Putting our heads in the sand will not work - and we will get run over while we are not looking.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on May 18, 2012 at 3:57 pm

It's a relief to read these sensible comments. Once again, Ranch Gal, your words made me laugh out loud!I have my own set of Secret Squirrel shortcuts that I use to avoid that area of Middlefield/Marsh.

Preserve the rural quality of Marsh? The gas station? The cement creek? Marsh Manor? The mini golf course that disappeared eons ago?

Maybe Zuckerberg can pay for the road widening out of his own pocket since he's screwing Uncle Sam on taxes.

Gotta go - I just saw a unicorn-drawn carriage owned by a new Facebook millionaire head north, toward Marsh Rd.


Posted by my city is gone, a resident of Atherton: other
on May 18, 2012 at 4:08 pm


Way to go Ohio

Web Link


Posted by my city is gone , a resident of Atherton: other
on May 18, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Lyrics to the above musicial interlude:


I WENT BACK TO OHIO
BUT MY CITY WAS GONE
THERE WAS NO TRAIN STATION
THERE WAS NO DOWNTOWN
SOUTH HOWARD HAD DISAPPEARED
ALL MY FAVORITE PLACES
MY CITY HAD BEEN PULLED DOWN
REDUCED TO PARKING SPACES
A, O, WAY TO GO OHIO

WELL I WENT BACK TO OHIO
BUT MY FAMILY WAS GONE
I STOOD ON THE BACK PORCH
THERE WAS NOBODY HOME
I WAS STUNNED AND AMAZED
MY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
SLOWLY SWIRLED PAST
LIKE THE WIND THROUGH THE TREES
A, O, OH WAY TO GO OHIO

I WENT BACK TO OHIO
BUT MY PRETTY COUNTRYSIDE
HAD BEEN PAVED DOWN THE MIDDLE
BY A GOVERNMENT THAT HAD NO PRIDE
THE FARMS OF OHIO
HAD BEEN REPLACED BY SHOPPING MALLS
AND MUZAK FILLED THE AIR
FROM SENECA TO CUYAHOGA FALLS
SAID, A, O, OH WAY TO GO OHIO


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 18, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As predicted:

Kudos to Facebook; Shame on Menlo Park
Around Town, posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Apr 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm
Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online


Kudos are due to Facebook for simultaneously negotiating with Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (which predates and serves Menlo Park, Atherton and East Palo Alto) on the impact of its planned expansion on each of these entities. Facebook has shown remarkable patience and understanding in this process.

Shame on the City of Menlo Park for its totally selfish behavior in this process. Under the law the City of Menlo Park was the designated lead agency for these negotiations. Unfortunately the City of Menlo Park so completely ignored the impacts of this project on other local jurisdictions that those jurisdictions were forced to negotiate directly with Facebook. One jurisdiction, Atherton, did not loose faith in the City of Menlo Park properly performing its legally obligated lead agency and, as a result, has ended up with nothing. I suspect that Atherton may well now attempt to block this project in court - a sad, but totally preventable outcome.

****
It seems that the ONLY way to get the attention of the City of Menlo Park is to threaten to sue. Fortunately paragraph 30 of the Menlo Park agreement with Facebook makes Facebook's obligations conditional on the absence of any legal challenge to the EIR.


Posted by mp downtown, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 20, 2012 at 8:07 am

I use that intersection 2-3-4 times a day and would support widening.

However the backups on Middlefield during commute times are much worse. Something needs to be done about that!

The population and traffic has grown 10 fold in the past 30 years and limiting lanes does not keep people out. Like it or not, this is a major thoroughfare.


Posted by my city is gone, a resident of Atherton: other
on May 21, 2012 at 5:59 am

mp downtown states "The population and traffic has grown 10 fold in the past 30 years and limiting lanes does not keep people out. Like it or not, this is a major thoroughfare"
While I would not argue that traffic has grown in the last 30 years (I have lived in Atherton for 45 years) the fact is that Atherton's population is about the same as it was 45 years ago. So this is not a home grown problem and while we cannot prevent you, mp downtown, from using Atherton's surface streets it is your usage that creates the problem. With the addition of Facebook's employees, Salt works, a huge new regional library building in Holbrook Palmer Park the traffic and congestion will only get worse. As noted in a post above the only way to fix this is to widen and expand Marsh , Middlefield, Atherton Avenue to give into your demands for major thoroughfares. I doubt if that will ever happen in Atherton because it a rural refuge in the center in the center of all this growth and Menlo Park's ambition of increased housing density, retail etc. So if you do come into Atherton just sit in your car and enjoy the trees as you go nowhere. Of course, perhaps if you wait long enough you can take High Speed Rail to Menlo Park.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on May 21, 2012 at 10:55 am

It's funny how people from Menlo Park are demanding that Atherton widen some of their sleepy back streets while ignoring the congestion on our ONE MAIN ARTERIAL ROAD - El Camino Real - that runs right down the middle of their city.

Ironic or just pathetic?


Posted by MP resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Atherton wants to sue Facebook and Menlo Park. Priceless!!


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Atherton wants to sue Facebook and Menlo Park."

Wrong, Atherton welcomes Facebook and Atherton is only concerned with Menlo Park's failure to properly fulfill its lead agency responsibility.


Posted by bob, a resident of Woodside: other
on May 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Given the large number of facebook investors that live in Atherton wouldn't that be like suing yourselves. Poor Atherton.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Since when does Peter Carpenter speak for the town of Atherton??? Atherton has a long record of law suits most of which they loose. So, now they want to sue Menlo Park. Rots of ruck.....


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Please note, Atherton is NOT threatening to sue Facebook. Atherton is only concerned with Menlo Park's failure to properly fulfill its lead agency responsibility.


Posted by my city is gone, a resident of Atherton: other
on May 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm

If one is truly interested in the status of and nature of questions that have been raised over the Facebook EIR it can be found in ITEM 25 in the following link to Atherton Town Council agenda. There is a series of letters attached that Atherton has sent Menlo Park, and it is an attempt to resolve the issues. It is rather a reach and sensational journalism to describe this correspondence as a threat of lawsuit for that it not mentioned. However the clock is ticking under CEQA and Atherton has deadlines under which they can legally protest Menlo's findings. All this is mandated under the CEQA timeline process and it is quite normal to dispute the Lead Agency (Menlo Park).

Web Link


Posted by Closed Session, a resident of Atherton: other
on May 21, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Peter,

How did the council justify a closed session to discuss the Facebook issue?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 21, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"How did the council justify a closed session to discuss the Facebook issue?"

Because they are considering litigation against the City of Menlo Park to force it to fulfill its Lead Agency responsibilities regarding the Facebook project.

This is clearly noted in the above article:

The matter was on the agenda as "Status of Facebook project and city of Menlo Park response to issues and concerns raised by the town of Atherton." But Mayor Bill Widmer announced the update would take place in a closed session "because this may involve potential litigation."

Reading an entire thread starting with the original article is always quite useful.


Posted by Closed Session, a resident of Atherton: other
on May 22, 2012 at 9:45 am

Peter,

At this point I think there are unknown possibilities. One possibility could be that the Menlo Park Council and Facebook do not agree with the Atherton Council regarding Marsh Road. The Menlo Park Council considers the deal done. Then who does the Atherton Council take legal action against?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 22, 2012 at 10:01 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Town has NO dispute with Facebook; the issue is that the City of Menlo Park intentionally ignored the requirement that the city, as the CEQA Lead Agency, put forth a suitable mitigation for the traffic impact of the Facebook project on the Marsh Road and Middlefield intersection. Unless this omission is corrected by Menlo Park the only course of action for Atherton would be to sue the City of Menlo Park to force it to comply with the requirements of CEQA.

Paragraph 30 of the Menlo Park-Facebook agreements effectively relieves Facebook of any obligations to the City of Menlo Park if there are any lawsuits regarding the project so Atherton has a very strong bargaining position.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 23, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

PRESS RELEASE
Town of Atherton
May 23, 2012
Atherton officials are concerned that the EIR from the Menlo Park Facebook expansion project is unsatisfactory and did not adequately address traffic impacts at the Marsh/Middlefield location. Furthermore, Menlo Park's proposed mitigations are not feasible at the existing site because the original proposal to widen Middlefield to add the new left turn lane does not fit within the existing right-of-way. Menlo Park proposes creating the new "receiving lane" on Marsh by narrowing existing lanes on an existing narrow roadway which requires the outside lanes to be reduced to 12 ft. and 13 ft. Standard widths for outside lanes are 16 ft. to allow enough width for trucks to turn safely. As suggested by Menlo Park, legal sized trucks cannot safely make turns. Therefore required reductions in existing lane widths are too narrow and will not be accepted by Atherton.
The Town wants to support Menlo Park's approval of this exciting project, but we must ensure that the safety and potential impacts to residents and users of Atherton roadways is respected.
If the mitigation measure proposed were satisfactory, then Atherton's Council would have the opportunity to determine if its citizens would want to accept that mitigation proposal. As it now stands, the Town cannot do so because the measure proposed does not fit within the existing right-of-way, is unsafe, and, therefore is unsatisfactory.
The Town certainly wants to remain good neighbors with Menlo Park, but also expects Menlo Park to reciprocate. In conclusion, the Town believes the mitigation measures put forth do not work and are not acceptable. Until Menlo Park can propose acceptable mitigation measures, the Town will continue to explore its options and the need to do further comprehensive studies to gain a better understanding on how the project will affect us.
Hopefully the Town and Menlo Park can find a solution that works for everyone so that this project can move forward and become something we can all be proud of.
For further information, interim City Manager Theresa DellaSanta can be contacted at
650-752-0504.


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