By Barbara Wood
Special to the Almanac
Facebook is good at making friends -- that much was clear at a public hearing Monday night on the environmental report on Facebook's plans for its Menlo Park headquarters.
At the Menlo Park Planning Commission meeting, speaker after speaker talked about how the social networking giant has been networking with local schools and organizations since it first moved to Menlo Park less than a year ago.
"I'm here tonight attending the Facebook lovefest," said Sharon Williams, executive director of Job Train, a Menlo Park organization that retrains unemployed workers. "We've already benefited from our new neighbors," she said, adding that Facebook may soon offer internships to Job Train workers. "The way they've opened up to the broader community is impressive," Ms. Williams said.
Menlo Park resident Louise DeDera said a tour of the Facebook campus showed her "that the culture of Facebook is to live lightly," she said. The company is working to get their remodel of the former Sun Microsystems headquarters certified as environmentally sustainable by LEED.
Maggie Creighton, the cooordinator of Exploratory Experiences program for students, said Facebook employees have already volunteered in nearby schools, given tours to students and involved students in other activities. "I think we should support them in every way possible," she said.
The Facebook plans examined in the draft environmental impact report are two-phased. Phase one would lift the current 3,600 employee limit on Facebook's Willow Road and Bayfront Expressway location and replace it with a cap on the number of vehicle trips allowed to and from the campus. In phase two Facebook would build new offices and a parking garage on a site across the street on Constitution Drive.
The other topic that was mentioned by speaker after speaker at the meeting was improving local bikeways to allow easier access not only to the Facebook campus but to other businesses on the Peninsula.
A number of cyclists who work at Google's Mountain View headquarters spoke in favor of completion of a segment of the Bay Trail near the Facebook headquarters at the intersection of Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road. The Bay Trail is a bike trail that backers hope will some day circle the Bay, but it currently has many incomplete segments.
Adina Levin of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition said the new campus is "challenging to get to by bike." Making the bike commute easier would be continuous bike lanes on Willow Road, University Avenue, Bay Road and completion of a gap in the nearby Bay Trail, she said.
Harold Shapelhouman, chief of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, asked that the impact of Facebook on the fire district be thoroughly investigated.
"The district is overall in support of the project and Facebook," he said. "But there will be an impact."
New fire district employees will be needed to handle the additional employees on the campus, and when the planned new buildings are put in, some as tall as five stories, new equipment would also be needed, Chief Shapelhouman said.
Speakers also mentioned the impact on local housing of what is estimated to be as many as 9,400 employees when the project is fully built.
"I think we need to assure that we're going to create some housing in Menlo Park -- affordable housing," said Patricia Boyle, a former member of the Menlo Park Housing Commission.
Joshua Hugg, the program manager for the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, said that approximately 45 percent of Facebook employees make below the local median income, and the additional employees will just worsen the local jobs and housing imbalance.