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Facebook gives green light to fire district

Social networking company pays $150,000 for traffic light override system

When Facebook came to town, the Menlo Park Fire Protection District started wondering how the influx of thousands of employees would impact its emergency response services.

In April, the social networking company reached an agreement with the district on how to mitigate the impact for the east campus at 1 Hacker Way, one of two properties Facebook owns in Menlo Park along the Bayfront Expressway. The contract calls for collaboration to address safety issues, and according to the fire district, benefits the entire community. The district serves Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, SLAC and portions of unincorporated San Mateo County.

Last week Facebook paid the district $150,000 toward an emergency traffic light preemption system on 25 traffic signals located on routes served by four of the district's fire stations, which are on Fair Oaks Avenue, Chilco Avenue, and Middlefield Road in Menlo Park, and on University Avenue in East Palo Alto.

Traffic pre-emption systems let emergency vehicles turn red lights into green as the vehicle approaches, decreasing response times, limiting delays, and creating a safer route of travel for fire personnel, according to the district.

Ten of the signals are currently equipped with older pre-emption devices that will be upgraded, and 15 additional signals will be plugged into the new system at a cost of about $7,000 each.

Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said in a press release that both Facebook and the district "worked hard together to established a very progressive approach to identifying safety enhancements -- the bottom line was, if it made practical sense for the Community, Facebook and the Fire District and it was to all three's best interests and benefit, then we agreed it a was a winner and it went on the list."

Any remaining funds will go toward community education enhancements and preparedness projects. Facebook has agreed to pay the district up to an additional $150,000 for its west campus on Constitution Drive, across the street from the main campus. The district said it will also collect between $100,000 and $200,000 annually in property tax revenues from the sites.

As for the newly announced unique design of the west campus, created by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, Chief Schapelhouman said the district is "working closely with Facebook on a number of major projects and issues, including the fire safety elements for what will be a very unique and signature design of the proposed new west campus -- those initiatives are only part of a broader positive relationship we have developed with Facebook working in partnership towards the overall well-being of this community, the Fire District and of course Facebook itself."

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