Though they haven't yet taken a vote, members of the Menlo Park City Council spoke favorably Tuesday about a proposal by Facebook to provide $11.2 million to fund the creation of a police unit to cover a large area of Menlo Park east of U.S. 101, including all of the Facebook campus. (The area does not include the Belle Haven neighborhood and the industrial area west of the abandoned Dumbarton rail line.)
Facebook proposes to fund the new unit of five officers and a sergeant over five years, with the possibility of a two-year extension should the expected increase in city revenues from development in the area fall short. A previous cost estimate of the five-year funding plan was $9.1 million, but with a recent increase in pension costs and a closer analysis of new equipment costs, the cost estimate is now $11.2 million for the five year plan, said Police Commander Dave Bertini.
Councilman Ray Mueller, who at previous council meetings said he opposed the idea, said he could support it if the city's development agreement with Facebook were changed, so that the funding accepted from Facebook would be considered a voluntary "in-lieu sales tax" instead of a gift or donation to the city. Doing so, he said, would not set the precedent that a company can pay for preferential treatment from the city or its police.
Councilman Peter Ohtaki said that he supported Mr. Mueller's idea "so it doesn't have the perception of 'pay for play.'" (All developers in the city, Councilman Rich Cline later noted, "pay to play," via development agreements and the provision of community benefits.)
In public comments, Kyra Brown, who works at Youth United for Community Action, an East Palo Alto youth advocacy nonprofit, and JT Faraji, an East Palo Alto activist, asked the council members to reconsider their support for the Facebook-funded police unit.
"I would ask that you consider the political implications of this decision, given the high number of racial profiling of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven residents by the Menlo Park Police Department," Ms. Brown said. "This decision, if acted upon, sends the message that the Menlo Park City Council supports and is a corporate sponsor of racial profiling."
Mr. Faraji expressed similar concerns. "When you have that many more police patrolling the area and no increase in crime, there is a tendency for over-policing and that can sometimes result in racial profiling," he said. He said he was also "concerned about a private corporation that is going to be funding public officials. … Instead of being beholden to the public, public servants will be beholden to a private company."
Menlo Park Police Chief Robert Jonsen said in a past council discussion, and at a public meeting held in Belle Haven on April 11, that Facebook already funds the Belle Haven neighborhood service center and a full-time community services officer who works with youth, and the company has not asked for preferential treatment yet.
In the police department's proposal, Commander William Dixon wrote that the department needs to increase its staffing in that area because that is where most growth is occurring.
The department seeks to maintain a ratio of one police officer for every 1,000 people in the "service population" (calculated as all residents and one-third of workers). Given the rapid growth occurring and anticipated in that area, the department doesn't want to wait for increased tax revenues before training new officers, he said. It typically takes about two years to prepare a fledgling officer to patrol his or her beat, according to Cmdr. Dixon's report.
Population growth in Menlo Park is already happening, and quickly, according to a May 1 report by the California Department of Finance.
From 2016 to 2017, the report says, Menlo Park had the highest percentage of population growth among all cities of 30,000 or more in the Bay Area, due to multi-family housing development. The city's population grew to 35,670 from 33,807, an increase of 5.5 percent.
By comparison, other cities in San Mateo County had a population increase of less than 1 percent, or a decrease, as in Belmont and Pacifica, from 2016 to 2017, according to the report.
The Facebook-funded police unit item is expected to be brought to the council for a vote at a future meeting.