News

Menlo Park: Residents skeptical Facebook expansion will have 'less than significant' housing impact

 

Hey, Facebook. We like you. We like your new building designs. But we find it odd that a draft environmental impact report says that adding about 6,550 employees and no housing will have a "less than significant" impact on the city's population and housing situation.

That was the message that some of the people who gave their two cents' in public comment seemed to collectively say to Facebook during a four-hour study session and public hearing Monday on a draft environmental impact report on Facebook's expansion plans.

Those plans include building almost a million square feet of office and a hotel at its TE Connectivity site, bounded roughly by Constitution Drive, Chilco Street and Bayfront Expressway.

The Menlo Park Planning Commission's feedback was, in the words of acting commission chair, Henry Riggs, overall "positive, with virtually no qualifications." The environmental impact report was required to conduct a "housing needs assessment," and by its metrics, the impact did not hit the required threshold to be considered a "significant impact."

A separate "displacement analysis," looking at the project's potential impact on rising housing prices, is expected to be released later this week for discussion by the Housing Commission.

Facebook's expansion would come in two phases. In phase one, which would start as soon as Facebook can get the proper permits from the city, Facebook would build a 512,900 square-foot, 75-foot-tall office building it's calling "Building 21." Several existing buildings would be demolished.

In phase two, Facebook would build two buildings: another large office building – Building 22, at 449,500 square feet – and a 174,800-square-foot, 200-room hotel. Both would be 75 feet tall. The plans also include the addition of 3,533 parking spots.

Housing

Numerous speakers said they didn't see how the project would have a "less than significant" impact on the jobs/housing balance in Menlo Park, or on the displacement of current residents.

Patti Fry, Menlo Park resident and former planning commissioner, said she was surprised by the finding, since adding more than 6,500 jobs with no housing would further skew the city's already poor record of putting housing where jobs are.

"We're a little perplexed by the assertion that the project will have no impact on the displacement of people," said Daniel Saver, an attorney at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. The methodology for the analysis, he said, seemed to claim that because Facebook is "not actually bulldozing a house," it's not displacing people.

"That type of analysis is missing the point," he said. It fails to acknowledge that the project could increase land values, lead to increased rents and add jobs to the region without a concomitant increase in housing supply, he said.

"The Facebook and General Plan EIR don't recognize that diversity in Menlo Park is on the verge of extinction," said Beechwood School Principal David Laurance.

In the last year, Beechwood School, a private K-8 school in Belle Haven that subsidizes tuition for underserved families in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park, has lost four teachers, who have become "victims of an economy that leaves them with very few options," Mr. Laurance said.

Finding good teacher candidates is becoming increasingly difficult. Families "of modest means": gardeners, nurses, cooks, teachers and those in elder care, he said, are being pressed into intolerable commutes or unsafe or substandard living conditions by financial constraints.

Designs

Members of the Planning Commission expressed positive reactions to Facebook's proposed designs, which were demonstrated with a large 3-D model. The offices are designed by Gehry Partners, the architecture firm of Frank Gehry. Architect Craig Webb said the designs melded an intentional use of the industrial aesthetic of Menlo Park's M-2 area with the natural landscape.

One of the distinguishing aspects of the designs is a bike/pedestrian bridge that Facebook plans to build that would provide public access across Bayfront Expressway and into Bedwell Bayfront Park at the end of Marsh Road.

Between the two buildings, Facebook would put a public-access plaza and lawn space for outdoor events, and this could be the new location for its weekly farmers' market and a venue for performances.

The roof would be sloped, with the lower side, the entrance, facing toward Belle Haven, while the taller side would be more imposing and bold, along Bayfront Expressway.

Heritage trees have no small body count related to the project: about 274 are slated for demolition. Facebook said it would replace those with at least 423 new trees. Projection drawings show trees would be part of the aesthetic for work and public spaces.

The Environmental Quality Commission will review the tree-related parts of the project proposal on Wednesday, June 22 at its meeting starting at 6:30 p.m. at the City Hall/administration building at 701 Laurel St. in Menlo Park.

Burdens on Belle Haven

Sigurd Schelstraete, a Belle Haven resident, said that the report fails to mention that the impact of the project will likely be disproportionately felt in Belle Haven.

Harry Bims, also a Belle Haven resident, said he was concerned about the potential impacts the new employees could have on local school districts. According to the draft environmental impact report, Facebook's new offices would generate demand for roughly 175 new households in Menlo Park.

That's based on the assumption that only 5 percent of new employees would live in Menlo Park, which is the percent of current Facebook employees who live there.

Based on enrollment statistics of where current Facebook employees send their kids to school, the analysis estimates that 82 percent of those new families would send their children to schools in the Menlo Park City School District rather than the Ravenswood City School District or the Redwood City School District, resulting in an increase of about 68 kids to the Menlo Park district.

Promoting parity in educational quality among the districts might reduce the impact on the Menlo Park City School District and mitigate cross-town traffic, Mr. Bims suggested.

Good neighbor

Representatives of many nonprofit groups – including JobTrain, Rebuilding Together and the Rotary Club – said that Facebook has provided funding and other support to enable them to serve people in need.

Representatives of construction unions said they support the project because it would give high-paying union jobs to workers.

Eileen McLaughlin of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, which promotes wetland preservation at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, said she appreciated that Facebook talked to her organization during planning for the bike and pedestrian bridge to Bedwell Bayfront Park.

Regional solutions?

Mr. Riggs, the acting chair of the Planning Commission, asked whether agencies that act regionally, such as Caltrans, ever become part of the environmental mitigations for specific construction projects? Mark Simon, who works with of Samtrans, Caltrain, and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, said not usually.

Facebook is not responsible for fixing the region-wide traffic problem, he said, though the company seems to be making a big effort to promote alternative transit modes, and has contributed $1 million to a study on the Dumbarton rail corridor. Facebook has offered to create a trip cap that would curtail the number of vehicles that can enter and leave the west part of campus.

Mr. Bims suggested the city take a more creative "global" approach to building affordable housing. For instance, Menlo Park's neighbor, East Palo Alto, has land to build affordable housing, but has reached the limits of its citywide water allocation. He asked: Could Menlo Park cooperate with East Palo Alto on some kind of water for affordable housing partnership or trade?

General plan update

The Planning Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, July 11, to begin its review of the draft environmental impact report on the city's general plan update, which was originally scheduled for the June 20 meeting.

Next steps, comments

The Facebook project is expected to return to the Planning Commission with the finalized environmental impact report on Aug. 22 before moving to the City Council for final approval in September.

The deadline to submit written comments on the draft environmental impact report is 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 11. Comments can be emailed to ktperata@menlopark.org or mailed to: City of Menlo Park, Community Development Department, Planning Division, 701 Laurel St., Menlo Park, CA 94025.

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Mper
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 22, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Kate,

As a journalist, shouldn't be objective rather than inserting your own opinion into this article. This article is NOT marked as an editorial, yet the first two sentences biased are biased to lead the reader to feel that the DIER is incorrect and should be challenged.

Next time label this an editorial.

Thanks


Like this comment
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 22, 2016 at 1:00 pm

The comments regarding lack of housing impact in the DEIR did, however form the bulk of real comments on the night (aside from traffic), so I think her piece is fair enough.

I'm just amazed that the largest single building project in Menlo Park's history gets no more than a few supportive comments


Like this comment
Posted by Lindenwood resident
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 22, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Actually, Mper, the reporter was quoting the sentiment expressed at the meeting, not her own opinion. Therefore, it is straight reporting, not edtorial.

"That was the message that some of the people who gave their two cents' in public comment seemed to collectively say to Facebook during a four-hour study session and public hearing Monday on a draft environmental impact report on Facebook's expansion plans."


14 people like this
Posted by Christin Evans
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 22, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Although I wasn't able to attend this meeting, I shared the same view and my disbelief at Facebook's assertion that its campus expansion plans won't have an impact on Menlo Park residents when I attended the Belle Haven open house earlier this month. This campus expansion will only create financial pressure for more evictions and displacement.

The Menlo Park City Council should not approve any Facebook campus expansion until sufficient housing is built to house those new workers. To do so would only further exacerbate traffic and the housing crisis.

I've started to collect the personal stories of hardship felt by the community given Menlo Park's failure to address housing. I invite you to share your story of hardship, eviction and displacement -- whether its yourself or your neighbor. Please visit "Housing Crisis Stories" on this page and share your story: Web Link
Or, email me at christin@keplers.com

Every story we collect will be sent to all Menlo Park city councilmembers. We also plan to invite folks to share their story at an upcoming Kepler's event. Councilmembers need to hear these stories, please share yours!


4 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm

I'm surprised there isn't more mention of the traffic impact in this article. The bulk of the traffic is not Facebook's fault, but rather drivers coming across the bridge. However, the EIR makes it clear that this problem will exacerbate the traffic issues, even with mitigation measures. It disrupts the flow of people trying to cross the neighborhood.

I am actually willing to give them a little more of a break on housing. Other than a few high-end rental properties in the process of being built, I don't see a lot of Facebook people renting in the area; they're not going to move into the affordable rentals in the area. A few may buy, but that would benefit the sellers, not hurt them. They could reduce the number of houses for rent, by buying from investors who previously rented places; that's the main mechanism by which they might adversely impact affordable housing.


3 people like this
Posted by Housing
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 22, 2016 at 1:24 pm

In an article about the housing impacts of Facebook's expansion, shouldn't there be a mention that Facebook has proposed building 4500 housing units as part of the new General Plan?

That's a big deal. I think Facebook are trying to be the good guys here. (JI have no connection with the company.) Right now, the land they have isn't zoned for housing, so it would be illegal to build housing there. The city has to make it legal to build housing before they can do it!


9 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 22, 2016 at 1:32 pm

First, I agree with Mper. The Almanac frequently struggles with bias issues.

Anyhow, while its interesting to hear that non resident business interests like the person watching over environmental impact on the bay, where is the indication that any of the commission members, the city govt or the developers are responding to residents very legitimate concerns on both sides of 101? Where's the open discussion?
My personal favorite is the comment that it's not FB's job to fix the existing traffic problems. Will they be responsible for hugely exacerbating the situation? Or for putting our water situation and housing situation in further straights? Or for considerably impacting the lifestyle on both sides of 101 while participating on the commission that is telling residents, sorry, some things just can't be mitigated? Really? Without breaking a sweat, I can think of a half dozen ways to make this more manageable for residents who will be directly and seriously impacted. But that was the commissions job. The city's job. The developer's job. You can tell how they feel about residents living close to FB, both sides of 101 by what they don't do.


4 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 22, 2016 at 1:58 pm

Housing :

"Right now, the land their isn't zoned for housing."

Right now, the land they're on isn't zoned for 75ft buildings, and yet, the city has agreed to adjust the zoning laws to accommodate two of them.
I don't believe that includes the -10 floor hotel they will add, but not certain.




1 person likes this
Posted by Wow! Just wow!
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 22, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Can anyone confirm?
I understand the project at the 101 exchange at willow which is positioned as helping ease traffic on Willow and surrounding feeder roads, was actually put in place to make it easier for folks to walk and bike to and from FB. We always have needed better connectivity for people on foot or bikes to cross over 101, but I thought the new foot bridge crossing 101 from Van Ness was built to address that need.

When I read the description of the new project, I confess, I found it really confusing. How will removing 2 of 4 access roads to 101 improve traffic at that spot? Maybe less lane jumping for locals?
Why is there no mention of the crush of 'through'' traffic heading to and from the bridge during rush hour? This seems like rather a huge and obvious gap in the analysis.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wow! Just, wow!
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 22, 2016 at 2:27 pm

Sorry, meant the foot bridge at Van Buren!! (Don't know where I am any more!)


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2016 at 2:32 pm

The City of Menlo Park hasn't agreed to approve anything yet. The applicant (Facebook) submitted their project and controls the contents of it's EIR.


1 person likes this
Posted by MenloBelle
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 22, 2016 at 2:39 pm

If I have this right, the existing general plan allow about 4 million sq ft of non-residential development in the area. In ADDITION; "The proposed general plan changes would allow up to 4,500 MORE housing units, 2.3 million MORE square feet of nonresidential space, and 400 MORE hotel rooms in the M-2 area. Those changes could increase the number of employees by 5,500."


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 22, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Having The Facebook proposal and the general plan proposal presented as two proposals is very dubious--these are clearly contemplated as a single package, but have been split them into two parts to maximize approval chances. The Facebook proposal lacks housing, the general plan has plenty of it, Wow let's pass them both to solve the problem! I don't appreciate this type of public opinion and perception manipulation! Think both proposals showing up at the same time is a coincidence!? I think not. Why don't we just call both one big Facebook proposal.


1 person likes this
Posted by Samia
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 23, 2016 at 11:36 am

I don't understand how this kind of intensive development can be approved so close to the bay. Aren't we worried about restoration of the bay and sea level rise? Shouldn't we pay attention to the fact that residents of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties easily passed Measure AA and clearly care about these issues?


3 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 23, 2016 at 12:20 pm

@Resident

I don't think this is a case of real underhanded collusion as you suggest. The M2 zoning was horribly out of date. Almost all of the projects approved in that area over the last 15 years have not been manufacturing or industrial uses as the economic profile of this city has changed. And yes, the handful of big land owners in the area have worked to influence the zoning so that it favors what they want to build. The overlapping EIR's are not a fiddle on behalf of the City to cloud over the problems, if anything they've illustrated how deficient our infrastructure is and how Belle Haven is being brought into the same economic pressure as the rest of the Bay.

Sadly Belle Haven can't have it both ways. The reason Belle Have and EPA were cheap was a very high crime rate. Now that that's fixed, you can't expect to make the area artificially undesirable to keep out the Yuppies when it's at the center of the New Economy Universe.


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