News

Menlo Park: Questions fly on Facebook's 'Willow Village' campus

Planning Commission session reveals company plans to expand workforce to size of Menlo Park's total population within 10 years

An aerial map indicating the proposed layout of Facebook's "Willow Village," planned to occupy a 59-acre site in eastern Menlo Park, near the Dumbarton Bridge. (Image courtesy Facebook/OMA Architecture/city of Menlo Park.)

Facebook's proposal to create a new neighborhood in Menlo Park and add enough office space to cumulatively accommodate a workforce the size of Menlo Park's current total population – more than 33,000 – raised some questions from the Planning Commission during a Feb. 26 discussion.

The company has proposed to build a massive development project it's calling "Willow Village," which would include: nine office buildings totaling 1.75 million square feet; 1,500 housing units, 225 of which would be designated as "below market rate"; 126,500 square feet of retail space for a grocery store, pharmacy and food and beverage services; a 200-room hotel; a culture/visitor center; a total of 5,319 parking spaces; and about 18 acres of open space, eight of which would be publicly accessible.

The proposed residential buildings would range in height from 61 to 72 feet and the office building would range in height from 74 to 112.5 feet.

The site is now home to a collection of about 1 million square feet of commercial office, warehouse, and research and development structures.

The 59-acre property is located on the south side of Willow Road about a quarter-mile west of Bayfront Expressway, bounded roughly by Mid Peninsula High School to the west, Willow Road to the north, the Dumbarton rail corridor to the east, and the UPS Center and Pacific Biosciences office (on O'Brien Drive and Adams Court) to the south.

Facebook proposes to elevate the site in accordance with the city's requirements to be above the flood plain and protected from sea level rise.

A presentation by Facebook showed future scenes of pedestrians and cyclists out shopping at a proposed grocery store, pharmacy and other food or beverage establishments, or enjoying publicly accessible park space on a site now clustered with unremarkable light industrial office buildings.

According to Facebook Vice President of Global Facilities and Real Estate John Tenanes, the company plans to be able to, within 10 years, have about 35,000 employees at its Menlo Park properties east of U.S. 101, which include the proposed offices and new office building associated with the Bohannon Companies' Menlo Gateway development.

At the Menlo Gateway development, Facebook has committed to lease the entirety of the newly completed office building and two more planned office buildings, according to a Facebook spokesperson. Combined, the three buildings are expected to offer about 700,000 square feet of office space when complete.

Currently, about 15,000 Facebook employees work in Menlo Park, Mr. Tenanes said. (As a reference point, Menlo Park's total population was 33,319 in 2016, according to population estimates in the American Community Survey.)

The company proposes to build the "Willow Village" project in four phases, with occupancy planned to begin in 2021; occupancy of the remaining phased-in development would occur in 2022, 2023 and 2025.

The first phase would include about 70 percent of the total proposed square footage for the neighborhood retail street, including a grocery store, plus the first 500 of the total 1,500 housing units proposed and one-third of the office development.

The second and third phases would add the remaining two-thirds of the office space and housing units proposed. The fourth phase would include the installation of a proposed 200-room hotel and a cultural or visitors' center.

Community response

As might be predicted, at the fore of the concerns expressed by the planning commissioners were the standard questions they ask of most new developments in the city: How will the project affect the city's jobs-housing balance and how will traffic be impacted?

When Facebook moved to Menlo Park in 2010 and 2011, Mr. Tenanes said, the company had about 2,500 employees. Today, the company has 75 locations worldwide, he said.

In public comments, Menlo Park resident Adina Levin noted that with the addition of an expected minimum of 7,000 jobs, and only 1,500 housing units, the proposed development is "still pushing the (jobs-housing) balance in a difficult direction." She encouraged the commission to focus on bike and pedestrian amenities to reduce car traffic.

Several locals said they appreciated the public outreach that Facebook officials had done already but still had some concerns.

Sheryl Bims added that she believed the city should develop a plan to underground utilities and improve public landscaping and streetscapes in the neighborhood. She also urged the commission to start talking about education.

"As a community, Belle Haven is at a place where we are ready to separate from Ravenswood to become a new district or part of Menlo Park," she said.

George Yang said he hoped to see improved public transit options along the Dumbarton Bridge, including a transit loop connecting the South Bay.

Planning Commissioner John Onken asked staff if a development ever reaches a point where the impacts are so severe that a project is actually halted. "As a community, we see EIRs (environmental impact reports) endlessly. ... We say, oh no, well that's going to be lousy. There's not much we can do."

Ultimately, city planner Kyle Perata said, that decision is up to the City Council. If a study finds environmental impacts that are determined to be significant and unavoidable, those must be cleared by the council through what's called a "statement of overriding considerations."

According to Mr. Perata, city staff have begun preliminary steps on the environmental impact review process, but no timeline has been established yet. The city is likely to release a "notice of preparation" document that asks the public to weigh in on what potential environmental impacts should be evaluated in the city's study in the coming months, he said.

In addition, Facebook officials also plan to host their own public meetings in the coming weeks to provide information about the proposed development. A March 3 meeting was held in the Menlo Park Senior Center in Belle Haven.

Other scheduled meetings are:

● Saturday, March 10, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the East Palo Alto Senior Center at 560 Bell St. in East Palo Alto.

● Thursday, March 22, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center at 700 Alma St. in Menlo Park.

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Comments

41 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 27, 2018 at 2:52 pm

So, here's my suggestion. We change the name of Menlo Park to Facebook Park. We privatize the entire city. (Privatization at the federal level has become "de rigueur.") Facebook then operates the city without further tax costs to any of the residents, especially since Facebook employees will come to outnumber us. Indeed, profit sharing should extend beyond corporate employees to all the rest of us, since we will reside within the corporate purview of Facebook. Governing would be cost-effective. We would all "Lean In" with Sheryl Sandberg. All of us would end up living higher on the food-chain, so to speak.

If you can't fight 'em, join 'em.


2 people like this
Posted by Lloyd
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Feb 28, 2018 at 10:36 am

Has Sheryl Bims touched on the Tinsley Program? If Belle Haven does separate from Ravenswood, then the residents of East Menlo Park will not be eligible for the program. Unless Belle Haven joins Menlo Park City School District, this will be a disservice to the families living in that area.


43 people like this
Posted by Who is Driving the Bus?
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 28, 2018 at 10:40 am

Who is Driving the Bus? is a registered user.

The City of Menlo Park must not repeat the mistake of approving Facebook projects without requiring FB to bear the full cost of providing essential public services such as police and fire protection, and the cost of expanding infrastructure to accommodate new residents and employees. Traffic in this area is rendered impassable during certain hours. Aside from delays it makes emergency response impossible. Menlo Park must not permit development unless a robust transportation plan is in place to not just mitigate traffic congestion, but actually improve mobility. Until then, we are at a saturation point and no new development should be approved. If FB does not want to participate in the cost let them find another community to hold hostage.


6 people like this
Posted by maximusgolden
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 28, 2018 at 12:41 pm

Has there been any discussion of developing light rail or a bike corridor from CalTrain to East Menlo? Perhaps Facebook could be convinced to help fund this endeavor and its completion could be coordinated with the electrification project which will increase CalTrain capacity and reduce travel time.

This could move a lot of Facebook commute traffic from cars and private buses to public transit.

The system might even be designed to cross the Dumbarton Bridge and go to BART on the other side.


34 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 28, 2018 at 2:54 pm

This project should be a "no starter" just like the development of the salt flats into it's own "town". Menlo Park does not have the infrastructure to handle that amount of new housing, the roads are already impossible with out the additional people. This plan needs to be stopped and stopped now.


10 people like this
Posted by sjtaffee
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 28, 2018 at 3:44 pm

sjtaffee is a registered user.

I hope to make one of these meetings in the future and I appreciate FB asking for our input.

At first blush, I'm wondering where the innovation is in all this. The plans look like it could be any other company creating an office park and apartments in any other area in the US. There's nothing world class about it. Nothing that demonstrated outside of the box thinking. I expected something architecturally bold. Something that would redefine suburban development. Something that would say we have thought long and hard about the future of cities like Menlo Park, located in the Bay area adjacent to sensitive wildlands.

steve taffee


28 people like this
Posted by Jen Wolosin
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 28, 2018 at 4:20 pm

Jen Wolosin is a registered user.

I just sent the following email to City Council at city.council@menlopark.org

Dear City Council and Planning Commission Members,

I attended with great interest Monday night's Planning Commission meeting to better understand Facebook's Willow Village plan. While I left impressed with the phasing plans, design team and some of the concepts presented, I also walked away with many questions and concerns:

Traffic Mitigation

Given the scope of the new Facebook project, I am underwhelmed by the traffic mitigations mentioned at the meeting, by both Facebook reps and City Staff.

Here is what Facebook mentioned:
- A $100,000 investment in setting up a Transportation Management Association for downtown businesses. Compare that investment to Facebook's 2017 revenue of over $40 billion.
- Facebook's Transportation Demand Management Program. This is mostly made up by the Facebook buses. About 50% of Facebook employees arrive in modes other than single occupancy vehicles. Great.
- Hints of the reactivation of the Dumbarton Corridor...assuming that it is "time and cost efficient." Promises of more studies on that.
- Underparking. They mentioned 1.7 parking spaces per 1,000.
- The future of autonomous vehicles.

Here is what City Staff mentioned:
- The same Transportation Management Association mitigation ($100,000 from Facebook) already mentioned above.
- The Transportation Master Plan. Note: This is a a plan that helps to identify and prioritize transportation efforts. While the plan is a "Top 6" priority for the City, it is still a year away from being adopted (projected for Spring of 2019)...and then there's project identification, funding and implementation. We are years away from any relief associated with the Transportation Master Plan.

While many claim that Facebook is a good neighbor and partner, they need to prove it. In exchange for their mass amounts of office development (35,000 workers projected to be coming to MP in the next 10 years) there must be extensive community benefits. Teases of Dumbarton bridge help and $100,000 program investments aren't enough. We need concrete and immediate transportation action. While Facebook pointed out that most of the Willow Road traffic in MP is not theirs, they admitted on Monday that 15% of it is Facebook. That's a lot of Facebook cars. They must do more other than fund studies and small programs to address our traffic crisis. The City must hold them accountable to real action and tangible benefits. The City and Facebook must apply the same intensity and can-do attitude to real transportation solutions as they are doing to push through the Facebook Willow Village.

On that note, what is the real plan for the giant Culture/Visitor Center that is planned for the corner of Willow Road and the Dumbarton Corridor? There is talk that this could be converted into a transportation hub if the Dumbarton Corridor is activated. Can we get further explanations and commitments from Facebook about this? It appears highly unlikely that this will indeed be a Culture/Visitor Center (there is only so much Facebook swag people can buy). Please be upfront with us.

Housing

Two things jumped out at me with regards to housing...other than there will be 9,500 new jobs with only 1,500 new residential units:
- It appears that Facebook can build 1,777 residential units, not just 1,500. They must do that. Every unit counts.
- There was a discussion at the meeting about who the non-BMR residential units will be serving. It appears that to date, Facebook is allowed to give preferential treatment to Facebook employees for the rentals (assuming no discrimination laws are broken). Is that a good thing or not? I'm not sure. This definitely needs to be discussed and not left entirely to Facebook to decide.

Retail Shopping Area

Many times at Monday's meeting the planned grocery store was touted as a major community benefit (and one of the ones most highly desired by Belle Haven residents). A grocery store was a top need that came out of the ConnectMenlo process and that's great. However, for whom is the grocery store and associated retail area actually being designed for? I asked this question on Monday and was told that it was for both the community and Facebook...that leaves me to these further observations/questions with regards to different intended users of this retail (Belle Haven Residents, Facebook Employees, Other Menlo Park Residents, Commuters):

- Belle Haven Residents.
It is unclear what type of grocery store and what types of restaurants and retail services will be at this location. Since Belle Haven residents shoulder much of the burden of all this development, they should be the primary recipients of the associated benefits. Many Belle Haven residents are living paycheck to paycheck. I'm assuming that Belle Haven residents need affordable prices on grocery staples, including fresh food. This may not be what Facebook employees have in mind (think Whole Foods). Picking the right grocery store may be a challenge (unless a Whole Foods-type market is significantly subsidized). The same goes for the other restaurants and services.

Another issue related to the Belle Haven residents and the retail area is the challenge these residents will face trying to cross Willow Road. At Monday's meeting this was brought up and both an overcrossing and improved/really good crosswalks were suggested. This issue must be better thought out. I know some older Belle Haven residents who would have a hard time walking over Willow Road in either of those fashions...and having Belle Haven residents drive to the new retail center will only add more cars. There are also families with young kids who may want to take advantage of the open space being provided. One suggestion would be for a reliable Facebook-funded/operated shuttle to serve the Belle Haven community every 15 or 30 minutes. Just as the Facebook campus has many shuttles moving its employees from building to building, so too could it use these shuttles to move around its neighbors. This seems like a very small price for Facebook to pay.

- Facebook Employees
Someone pointed out on Monday night that if Facebook employees are given all the free food and convenient retail services they so desire on campus, why would they need to come to the Retail area to shop/dine? This is a huge issue that needs to be addressed by Facebook. Also as mentioned, with regards to the grocery store, will the same grocery store that is affordable and desirable to Belle Haven residents meet the needs of Facebook employees?

- Other Menlo Park Residents
This development is made possible by "ConnectMenlo" the General Plan Update. I'm a little confused about how this development "connects" Menlo Park. Why would a Menlo Park resident (who doesn't live in Belle Haven or work at Facebook) brave Willow/101 traffic to come to this new Willow Village? There are easier grocery stores to get to. There are many restaurants on the other side of town. What's the draw or are the rest of us not intended to go there?

- Commuters
I suppose that the 80% of traffic on Willow that neither starts nor ends in Menlo Park could decide to pull over to the Willow Village and go to the market and/or grab a bite to eat. How likely is that? How much analysis has been done on this?

The traffic flow and transportation planning associated with different user bases needs to be considered now. How will Belle Haven residents get there, how will other Menlo Park residents get there, how will Facebook employees from other campuses get there, and what about commuters coming off of Willow Road? The distribution of shoppers/dinners who are expected to use this area of the Willow Village must be thought through.

Judging by the presentation given, I am cautiously hopeful that Facebook has hired the right retail consultants to think through these issues. If the retail corridor is the biggest community benefit that Menlo Park gets out of this development, it should be done right and not set up to fail. We deserve an explanation of how this is supposed to work.

ConnectMenlo set a vision of "live, work, play." It's clear who will work at Facebook's Willow Village. It is less clear who will live and who will play. Please clarify and do something so we don't end up with more "commute, work, commute."

Facebook has the right to develop, but we have the right to community benefits. Facebook is looking out for their interests, please look out for ours.

Sincerely,
Jen Wolosin
Menlo Park Resident

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Safe Routes in this email. In the Staff Report for Monday night's meeting there was discussion about changing the roads from the original ConnectMenlo design to a design more compatible with Facebook's proposed Willow Village. While I am not against this in principle, I'm concerned about the additional Transportation Department staff time and resources an effort like this will require.

There is a dangerous backlog of Safe Routes-related safety issues that need to be addressed around Menlo Park. In the most recent issue of The Almanac I wrote an editorial which lists 10 (of many!) intersections around town that pose immediate dangers to pedestrians and cyclists. We can not continue to punt safety improvements in order to push through development projects. Perhaps Facebook, being the good neighbors that they claim, could help us move these projects along, by both funding and offering engineering support. The speed in which they are able to implement infrastructure improvements when it suits them is remarkable. In exchange for their ability to modify the original ConnectMenlo road design, it would make sense to ask them to help us in our city-wide engineering needs. This would really help to "connect Menlo".


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 28, 2018 at 5:21 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Jen - Thank you for such a well articulated position!


8 people like this
Posted by Susan Bird
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2018 at 8:18 pm

Jen,

You articulated all of the major concerns I believe so many of us had extremely well.

Thank you


14 people like this
Posted by 1:1
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 28, 2018 at 9:21 pm

If they can only build 1777 units, they should only add office space to support 1777 jobs. It actually. Should be fewer cubicles per unit given the existing jobs/housing imbalance. In reality, I'd prefer zero additional office space and zero population growth at the local, state, and national levels. Let the jobs distribute elsewhere rather than moronically trying to cram them all into the SF Bay Area.


6 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2018 at 8:20 am

Another reason FB needs to go.
Web Link


13 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2018 at 8:32 am

Time for the city of MP to institute a substantial payroll tax on businesses with over 1000 employees.


6 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2018 at 8:41 am

The dangers of allowing FB to build substantial housing in Menlo Park for their tens of thousands of employees includes their impact on voter rolls - voting to help FB by influencing council and commission elections and numerous city measures. That must be prevented to protect our city.


8 people like this
Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 1, 2018 at 7:00 pm

KPIX-TV did a 2 minute video segment on Facebook's plans

view at:

Web Link

Mayor Ohtaki was interviewed.

When asked "is Menlo Park ready for this insane growth?" he replied

"There is no easy quick answer"

WRONG Mayor. The answer is NO!


7 people like this
Posted by Ohtaki and Keith
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2018 at 7:47 pm

Ohtaki's comment isn't surprising.

The new General Plan, which has made Facebook's expansion possible, was approved 4-1 by the City Council. The same General Plan was never approved by the Planning Commission, as it failed to pass in a 2-2 vote. Still the City Council majority adopted it. The only Councilmember who voted against the General Plan's approval was Mueller.

Last year after Facebook's expansion plan's were filed, Kristen Keith, then Mayor, we so delighted in her statements to the press, before any study was conducted, an editorial in Palo Alto rebuked her: "Menlo Park city officials, including Mayor Kirsten Keith, who express delight at Facebook's proposal and explain this is just what the city had in mind when it approved its new general plan last year, do a disservice to their constituents and to the region."

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by related news
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 2, 2018 at 12:47 am

In a Breitbart story from the same timeframe as that Palo Alto Online article, Mayor Keith raises concerns about the regional housing crisis. In an embedded television interview she talks about the need for traffic mitigation measures: Web Link

"When we do the Environmental Impact Report on this, one of the major components of it will be transportation and traffic concerns, and so there will have to be mitigation measures for that, and that's going to be very important to our community." — Kirsten Keith, July 2017


4 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2018 at 1:41 am

@related news

Have any links to the Weekly World News while we're at it? I wonder how Bat Boy is doing.


1 person likes this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 2, 2018 at 3:49 am

Many excellent concerns raised here. I am also concerned. Those who can, may want to attend the upcoming March 5 @ 2 p.m. Finance and Audit Committee meeting. Web Link The agenda discussion will focus on the staff-created (as per the prior minutes) workplan. At the end of the workplan is a chart that Web Link that provides "details regarding the revenue expected by the City of Menlo Park from the various development agreements with Facebook." How significantly might this revenue stream influence decisions regarding Facebook? Is the revenue stream enough to make up for the downside of Facebook's massive presence in MP? The F&A Committee is one of 11 advisory commissions/committees that residents may apply to serve on and their meetings are public ones that anyone may attend.


6 people like this
Posted by Housing crisis
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 2, 2018 at 5:52 am

@yimby and @relatednews

We are all on to Kirsten Keith and her ambition and double talk. A project that creates more jobs than housimg, even if it adds housing, worsens the housing crisis. Talking about traffic mitigation measures assumes the project will be approved. It's time for Keith to move on. The Palo Alto editorial sized up the situation just right, even if she did try to start the spin once called out for it.


1 person likes this
Posted by related news
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 2, 2018 at 9:47 am

Looking at that Palo Alto Online article (Web Link), there is no direct quote from Mayor Keith. The editor describes the reaction from the entire council (in present imperfect tense) referring to when the general plan was approved in the past. The Palo Alto Online article includes a link to a Guardian story (Web Link) with the same information as the Breitbart story. Apparently, council was delighted (according to the editor) with the approval of the General Plan Update, not the Facebook proposal.


1 person likes this
Posted by No blathering
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 2, 2018 at 10:30 am

Jen:

You need to reduce the blather and reduce the above to a couple of points. People get lost before the end- Their time is valuable.

What is the best takeaway? I think that 35000 total FB employees in a city population of ~30000.


4 people like this
Posted by Living wage,
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 2, 2018 at 1:42 pm

Living wage, is a registered user.


As a benefit to the residents of Belle Haven that will likely be entry level, and low skill workers FB will need to fill, I suggest a living wage be included in the development agreement for any job within the boundaries of this new development.

This could be a win/win for FB and the residents who could walk or as suggested take a FB shuttle to work. No car trips, and enough money for locals to live on.


Like this comment
Posted by Chai
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2018 at 5:07 pm

We travel from Redwood City to Fremont. The evening traffic is so awful. We need 1.5 hours to reach home everyday just because of Facebook. I have ended paying fine at child care even after leaving so early to pick up. I’m sure it’s not just me and there are plenty of people facing this issue. I have been traveling this way for several years and we are only seeing it get worse. We really need a solution


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

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