Facebook is one step closer to expanding its offices again. The Menlo Park City Council on July 19 approved the terms of a development agreement to allow Facebook to build two new, 75-foot-tall office buildings and a hotel on its Menlo Park campus.
The new office buildings would total about 962,000 square feet, and the proposed hotel would contain 200 rooms and total about 175,000 square feet. The project requires tearing down several buildings on the former TE Connectivity campus, located along Bayfront Expressway, Constitution Drive and Chilco Street in eastern Menlo Park.
The term sheet for the agreement was approved on a 4-0 vote, with Mayor Rich Cline absent.
Mr. Cline conveyed his approval in written remarks read aloud at the meeting by Menlo Park Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith. "I am happy with the terms," he wrote. "But for Menlo Park, this is just the start."
He and Ms. Keith made up the subcommittee in charge of negotiating the terms of the development agreement.
Under the agreement, Facebook would contribute funding for studies, subsidies and projects worth about $15 million in one-time payments, along with providing an ongoing revenue source of at least $636,000 per year. The project includes subsidized rental housing for 22 teachers, public safety officers or nonprofit workers; $1.25 million annually in hotel taxes; $1.5 million to start a "Housing Innovation Fund"; and continued funding toward research and planning of transportation improvements in the Dumbarton Corridor.
The terms of the agreement for Facebook's expansion were praised by a number of union leaders, who lauded the company's commitment to working with local labor unions, while Facebook's overall contributions to local nonprofits were highlighted by several nonprofit leaders of the Midpeninsula as reason to support the project.
Matthew Franklin, president of MidPen Housing, an affordable housing developer, said Facebook's contributions could go toward accelerating a project on Willow Road to add 75 below-market-rate units to the city's affordable housing stock.
Fran Dehn, president and CEO of the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, called the agreement "thoughtful, generous and relevant." "Facebook has become the city's change agent," she said.
Others expressed some reservations about the agreement.
Adina Levin, a member of the city's Transportation Commission, said she wanted to see clearer language to cement a public-private partnership for future transportation projects.
Keith Ogden of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto said he wanted clearer information about how the below-market-rate housing would be distributed between categories ranging from very low- to moderate-income households.
Javanne Murguia-Brown, a planning commissioner in East Palo Alto, pointed to two of the conditions in the development agreement that have already been committed to or are already required and shouldn't count as "public benefits." That includes the $6.3 million below-market-rate fee Facebook is required to pay according to city policy, and a $1 million contribution Facebook has already made to launch a study on how to improve transportation along the Dumbarton Corridor.
"I don't see Facebook as a hero. I don't think they're trying to save people. (I don't think) they're villains either," she said.
David Laurance, who is the principal at Beechwood School, a private school for low-income families in Belle Haven and East Palo Alto, said he has witnessed a number of neighborhood improvements since Facebook has been in Menlo Park, including new park and playground facilities, but he has also seen the loss of numerous families from the area due to skyrocketing housing costs.
"We see the benefits, but the question remains: Who will all these benefits be for?" he asked.
Next steps for the project are for city staff to respond to issues that were raised during the public comment period of the project's draft environmental impact report. According to a timeline discussed July 19, the final environmental impact report could be released on Sept. 15, before the project goes before the Planning Commission for a public hearing on Sept. 26. After that, it's set to move on to the City Council on Oct. 18 and Nov. 1.