A proposal by the Menlo Park Police Department to accept a Facebook offer of $9 million over five years to get a head start on training new officers to cover Menlo Park's "M-2" area east of U.S. 101 was met with mixed responses at the City Council meeting Tuesday night.
The proposal was on the agenda for discussion only, so the police department would have to return to the council for an official vote on the plan.
Council members voted 4-1, with Ray Mueller opposed, to have the police department continue looking into having Facebook fund the new police unit. Those funds are expected to cover the costs for salaries, benefits and equipment for about five officers.
"I'm not on board," said Councilman Ray Mueller. He said he thought it was "bad public policy" to accept gifts from companies in order to provide for basic city services. The police not giving Facebook preferential treatment, he said, is a "best case scenario."
Police Commander William Dixon pointed out that there has been growth in population and employment in the M-2 area, and more is coming. Adding many new residents and workers will increase demand for police services in that area, he said. According to a staff report, the Menlo Park Police Department aims to have on staff one police officer per 1,000 people in the city's "service population." The service population is calculated by taking the total city population and adding one-third of all employees within the city, Commander Dixon said.
In addition to major expansion projects by Facebook, leasing will begin on more than 500 new apartments at two complexes on Haven Avenue. Work is underway on the Menlo Gateway hotel and offices too.
Police Chief Bob Jonsen said the police department will have to hire new officers eventually, but without Facebook's immediate funding, there may be an 18- to 24-month lag between the time many new residents and employees move in and the time it takes new officers to get fully trained and prepared to patrol their beat.
Several council members asked if Facebook might get preferential treatment from the police in response to its contribution. Chief Jonsen said Facebook has already funded the police department's community services officer and neighborhood service center in Belle Haven, and the company has been professional and never asked for any favors as a result of its contributions.
Kirsten Keith said she sees the voluntary contribution as a type of in-lieu donation for the sales tax revenue that Menlo Park won't get from the company. Cities across California are struggling with the loss of sales tax revenue to fund city services, she said.
She said she'd prefer to see the Facebook contribution go to the police department as a whole, not just to pay for increased police coverage in the Facebook area. Chief Jonsen said that the police department will need to increase police capacity in that area in the near future whether or not Facebook pays for it.
Council members asked what would happen after five years, when the funding from Facebook ends. The idea, police executives said, is that by that time, some of the development allowed by the recent general plan update will be built, and that is expected to generate enough property tax revenue to support the added police officers.