What do Menlo Park's neighbors think about Facebook's expansion plans? East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Atherton have all written letters to Menlo Park, raising questions about the draft environmental impact report for the expansion project and asserting that the draft may not include sufficient analysis of how such changes could impact their cities.
Facebook plans to add 6,500 employees and build two office buildings totaling 962,400 square feet, plus a 200-room hotel in eastern Menlo Park.
East Palo Alto
East Palo Alto's letter to Menlo Park blasted the city for being part of the cause of the region-wide affordable housing dearth.
"The regional housing crisis exists because cities like Menlo Park willfully and systematically develop more jobs than housing units," said the letter, signed by East Palo Alto Mayor Donna Rutherford. "East Palo Alto and the region cannot afford to continue to bear the negative social, fiscal and environmental externalities of a project that assumes that other cities are going to house 95 percent of the employees of new development in Menlo Park."
(A recent report on the potential displacement threat of Facebook's expansion says there are 1,380 housing units under construction or in planning in Menlo Park. Of those 1,182 are expected to be market rate units, and 198 below market rate.)
Mayor Rutherford also expressed concerns that increased traffic from Facebook's expansion could negatively affect local air quality. According to an analysis of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the portion of East Palo Alto bounded roughly by Willow Road, Cooley Avenue, U.S. 101 and Bay Road is "disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution."
In her letter, the mayor also said Facebook's plan to curb solo driver trips is "unrealistically optimistic." The company plans to add 6,500 employees to its Menlo Park campus, but allow only an additional 438 vehicle trips during the morning rush hour and 123 in the evening.
Atherton expressed concern about the traffic impacts on its residents. In a letter signed by City Manager George Rodericks, Atherton questioned the accuracy of Menlo Park's traffic projections, and criticized the omission from the study of some Atherton intersections on Middlefield Road and El Camino Real.
The letter came with a list of demands for numerous traffic-mitigation projects expected to cost a total of about $6.04 million. Those projects include the addition of bike lanes on El Camino Real on one side from Atherton Avenue to Encinal Avenue, and on the other side from Selby Lane to Watkins Avenue, along with a sidewalk on El Camino Real from Encinal Avenue to Valparaiso Avenue.
Mr. Rodericks also asked for 1.6 miles of pedestrian walkway along the entirety of Middlefield Road's west side within Atherton boundaries and a 10-foot wide paved bike path on Middlefield Road from Marsh Road to Watkins Avenue.
"We believe that further studies and documentation are required before the draft can become a usable environmental document," he said.
Palo Alto's four-page letter said the estimated job growth Facebook would generate is far above the job growth projected for Menlo Park by the Association of Bay Area Governments.
Palo Alto asked that Facebook be required to build the recycled water system it has proposed, recommended Facebook cover its parking lots with solar panels, requested further study on the risks of placing 75-foot-tall buildings only 2.4 miles away from the Palo Alto airport, and asked for further clarification on the traffic analysis methodology in the report.
In addition to comments by neighboring cities, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, with Public Advocates and a number of advocacy organizations, weighed in on the project, echoing some of the cities' concerns. "It is ... implausible to conclude that adding an army of new employees amounting to one-fifth of the existing workforce (in Menlo Park) would have no growth-inducing impact," the letter said.
The ACLU cited a displacement study by consultants that said that adding 6,550 employees translates to demand for an additional 3,638 households in the region. That number is likely an understatement, two professors of urban development said in a separate letter, since it assumes many of the new Facebook employees will move in together, without bringing households of their own to the region.
Still, the ACLU letter says, 3,638 households is a lot: it translates to roughly 45 percent of the total number of housing units that were built across San Mateo County between 2007 and 2014.
Following the July 11 deadline for such letters, the city of Menlo Park will release its responses to the issues raised when it releases its final environmental impact report. That document is expected to be released around Sept. 15, according to a timeline by city staff.