Atherton and Facebook are friends at last
It appears that all's well and friendly between the town of Atherton and its new neighbor, Facebook, after a period of disagreement over what should be done to lessen traffic impacts to the town as the social network giant expands its nearby campus in Menlo Park.
The town announced in a July 3 press release that the two parties have "agreed to mitigation efforts where anticipated Facebook traffic may impact Atherton's traffic."
The announcement didn't specify what mitigation measures would be put into place, mainly because the agreement itself doesn't specify. But according to Mayor Bill Widmer, Facebook will pay Atherton $350,000 to be used at the town's discretion and not restricted to traffic improvements.
The town had challenged mitigation measures identified in the Facebook expansion project's environmental impact report, certified several weeks ago by the city of Menlo Park. Those measures, focused on the already problematic intersection of Marsh and Middlefield roads, were inadequate because they were based on flawed data, the town maintained.
There are no plans at this point to change the intersection of Marsh and Middlefield roads identified in the expansion's environmental impact report as a potential area of congestion, the mayor said.
"The EIR was covering total growth, but that total growth won't happen immediately. We'll evaluate what's happening when it's happening," Mayor Widmer said.
In addition, Facebook will spend up to $5,000 on a consultant to work with Atherton's public works department on other transportation initiatives, and up to $10,000 to plan bike routes, according to the agreement. The social networking company also "agrees to make its transportation manager reasonably available from time to time to discuss bike improvements" for a period of two years.
A third benefit will be an influx of surplus equipment, including computers, to help upgrade the town's Internet resources. Mayor Widmer said he hopes to turn council meetings into a paperless exercise by using wireless networks and display screens to help residents review documents related to items on the agenda.
And, of course, Atherton wants to develop a Facebook page. The agreement includes Facebook lending social media consultants to the town to help. "A Facebook page will help us engage more with residents and run our own surveys very easily," Mayor Widmer noted.
The agreement closes what could have been a contentious chapter in Facebook's relocation to the area. In an April 26 letter to Menlo Park officials, Interim City Manager Theresa DellaSanta said that if the issues raised by the town aren't resolved, the town "must explore all options including legal challenges to the mitigation measures to effect a more reasonable and responsible position by Facebook and the City of Menlo Park."
The Atherton City Council met several times in closed session to discuss possible legal action. After one such session on June 29, Mayor Bill Widmer announced that the council had authorized him to "conclude discussions" with Facebook officials.
The newly approved agreement includes a clause stating that Atherton won't file a complaint or take any other action objecting to the campus expansion, and the benefits will kick in Sept. 6 as long as no challenges arise.
Mayor Widmer described the agreement as "very fair" for both the town and Facebook. "They're proving they want to be a good neighbor. I'm very, very impressed."