Neighboring cities, ACLU criticize findings of Facebook expansion studies


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

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.

What's next

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.

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16 people like this
Posted by Concerned Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 1, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Enough is Enough! The massive influx of a narrow segment of the population (Tech, White Collar) is destroying the very nature of the Peninsula. The area is now "over grown" & turning into a concrete jungle inhabited only by the rich.. Since Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, etc. base their businesses on catering to the new "distributed" economy, there is no reason why all of their workers have to be co-located in the same zip code.

Future expansion should be in other cites. If they want face-to-face interaction (which they claim is not required for others), they can establish/expand in Stockton, etc,and they will still be close enough. Continued, uncontrolled, expansion will destroy the balance & nature of our communities.

A concerned long-time resident

9 people like this
Posted by old timer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 1, 2016 at 9:54 pm

What Facebook is doing to our city and well beyond MP borders is indeed a disaster.

But simply writing letters and attending meetings will not in any way solve the problem. Right now the MP council is deaf to doing anything to control Facebook. The present City Manager loves it all. He is building a huge bureaucracy, raising staff and his salaries.

It is well past time to stop this and the only way that is going to work are referendums and possibly recalls.

The general plan, which whatever it will say, will be approved by Council. It must be subject to a referendum and defeated.

5 people like this
Posted by Housing
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 1, 2016 at 11:19 pm

None of these comments reflect that Facebook is also proposing to build housing. If the General Plan update allows 4500 units and the Facebook expansion will increase demand by 3600 households, then we still have a good deal of additional housing capacity to accommodate other growth.

You can't look at the jobs/housing imbalance by looking just at the new jobs and ignoring the new housing.

3 people like this
Posted by Roberto
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 2, 2016 at 10:13 am

Roberto is a registered user.

@ Concerned Resident: Discrimination should never be tolerated. By definition:In human social affairs, discrimination is treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing is perceived to belong to rather than on individual merit.
Your comment: "The massive influx of a narrow segment of the population (Tech, White Collar) is destroying the very nature of the Peninsula. The area is now "over grown" & turning into a concrete jungle inhabited only by the rich" Clearly highlights you support discrimination, although it appears you justify it by picking on Tech and white collar.
I repeat - discrimination should never be tolerated.

Like this comment
Posted by Free Speech, sure...
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Aug 2, 2016 at 7:19 pm

Neighboring cities getting in the mix, that makes sense, but why is the ACLU commenting on land use issues? Maybe the Menlo Park Planning Commission can start weighing in on internet privacy and criminal law reform?

2 people like this
Posted by Concerned Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 3, 2016 at 12:47 pm

Roberto- please take a deep breath & consider what is happening to the community! The comments are NOT in any way racist, sexist, or any other"ist". If you believe that the City/Town managers are protecting the interests of the residents that they represent, they should see those residents are their "customer".

The question really is- Do the majority of the area residents support a transition to a high rise concrete neighborhood with massive traffic congestion. This development is great for the politicians (more $ to spend on them, staff & pet projects), real-estate developers & the "Crony Capitalists" that want to bring in more workers here. But, is it really in the best interests of the residents - particularly the Middle-Class that is being driven out of the area.

I for one do not think so!

Like this comment
Posted by Genevieve R.
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2016 at 10:44 am

Kate, if you ever feel like doing some actual journalism (instead of just acting as a megaphone for people's statements), how about you take a look at Palo Alto and East Palo Alto's own general plan updates and EIRs? Spoiler alert: they are jammed full of the same "Significant and Unavoidable" traffic and air quality impacts that those jurisdictions are complaining about with Menlo. EPA is planning to add 2 million new square feet of office, but did Menlo complain about that?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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