High school district wary of Facebook's 'Willow Village'

M-A parents launch petition campaign

Students mingle on the quad of Menlo-Atherton's new G wing building in August 2017. (Photo by Nathalie Camens.)

"Dear Mr. Zuckerberg," starts a March 2 letter Sequoia Union High School District Superintendent Mary Streshly wrote to the Facebook CEO, in which she raises some concerns she has with the company's proposed "Willow Village."

That's not to say she opposes the project – "we can all agree that the region is in critical need of housing," she writes – but she says she wants to talk to the company about how to mitigate the problems its proposed "Willow Village" development could create for the district.

Facebook plans to build 3.45 million square feet of office, retail and residential space on a 59-acre site in Menlo Park 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.

"One of the things we're trying to do is get to the table so that we can understand more and have an accurate analysis of the impacts to the schools," she said in an interview with The Almanac.

Her primary concern is the expected rise in enrollment that could come with the addition of 1,500 new housing units, she said. According to a state formula, she said, the new housing could mean an estimated 300 new high school students in the district, all of whom would be zoned to attend Menlo-Atherton High School.

Ancillary impacts of new development, such as an anticipated increase in traffic and subsequent possible decrease in student safety as a result of more cars on the road, would be borne throughout the district, she added.

"This is an unprecedented time on the Peninsula," Ms. Streshly said. "There are thousands of new units of living space coming into the Peninsula."

Since sending the letter to Facebook, Ms. Streshly said, she has met with representatives from the company.

"They basically characterized our conversations as philanthropic," she said, noting that the representatives seemed dismissive that mitigating the new costs to schools should be part of the proposal.

She's heard, but said she doesn't buy, arguments that the number of households with teenagers would be low at the corporate campus, where employee demographics are known for skewing young.

"Unless they're planning on only hiring single adults with no children, the notion of not having high school kids is not a realistic concept to entertain," she said.

Concerns at M-A

Over the last several days, a group of parents in the school district, mainly at Menlo-Atherton High School, have taken matters in their own hands, launching a petition requesting Facebook work with the high school district to mitigate the impacts of the anticipated new residents.

According to Ms. Streshly, Menlo-Atherton already has the largest student population in the county. It currently has about 2,400 students and enrollment is already projected to rise to as much as 2,600 by the 2018-19 school year.

In a newsletter to high school parents, Menlo-Atherton Principal Simone Kennel included information about how to sign the petition, noting that it was a parent-run effort, and offered to collect signatures. As of March 20, she said, she did not yet know how many copies of the petition had been signed.

"My sense is this: patience is running low," she said. "We want to be partners with Facebook and the city of Menlo Park."

Power to negotiate

One key question to any negotiations that might play out between the district and Facebook is just what a developer owes a school district when it comes to alleviating the stresses it might create by adding people to a community.

The high school district already charges developers impact fees, which are intended to cover the added capital costs that are generated by a development. As of 2016, the rates were $3.48 per square foot for residential construction and $0.56 per square foot for commercial and industrial construction. And it receives a certain percentage of property taxes for annual operating costs.

The preliminary master plan Facebook submitted to the city of Menlo Park indicates there would be roughly 1.59 million square feet of housing space, which, when calculated at the proposed $3.48 per square foot, would generate for the district about $5.52 million in impact fees.

Yet there's a gap between what those impact fees would cover and what the school district says it needs. Ms. Streshly told The Almanac that, according to early calculations, she is expecting that it may cost $60 million in capital costs alone to build the school facilities needed for 300 more students. It's not yet known how much property tax the new development will generate, nor what the annual operating costs will be for the new students, she said.

"The only leverage I see is to advocate for what the needs of education for all of the community's students are going to be, at some point," Ms. Kennel said. "If we don't have a long-term plan to account for that, we are going to be struggling in many ways."

In any case, both Ms. Streshly and Ms. Kennel said they plan to participate in the public process and seek to work with Facebook and the city of Menlo Park in future negotiations.

"I believe the city has to play a leadership role in bringing both sides together," Ms. Streshly said.

Public input

The company is holding a series of public outreach meetings as it prepares for the first major step of the environmental review process: issuing a notice of preparation, in which the public can comment on what potential environmental impacts the project might have that should be studied.

The third of three Facebook-organized "open house" events will be held Thursday, March 22, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center, 700 Alma St., at the Menlo Park Civic Center.

The company plans to invite interested parties to participate in a series of community discussion groups later this spring to talk about "the features and amenities of Willow Village," according to an event flyer.

Editor's Note: In response to this story, a Facebook spokesperson emailed the following statement on March 28: "Facebook cares about its neighbors and we view our relationship as a partnership based on listening and learning. We understand that as we grow, our interaction with the people around us is very important and we want to be thoughtful and transparent about the next phase of our expansion."


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44 people like this
Posted by Davena Gentry
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2018 at 12:17 pm

I strongly encourage people to attend the "Facebook Village Open House" this evening and learn more about this massive project and how it will impact Menlo AND all of the surrounding communities!! IMHO MP should hit the "pause" button, we need to get a handle on traffic.

9 people like this
Posted by diesel
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2018 at 12:38 pm

diesel is a registered user.

Even if the housing will not increase the high school enrollment , that same high school is preparing and training students who may be future FB employees. So shouldn't FB be contributing a great deal to M-A (and other nearby schools) out of self-interest?

31 people like this
Posted by Jackrabbit
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Mar 22, 2018 at 12:42 pm

Broom FACEBOOK! Ship these carpetbaggers back to NJ. They almost singlehandedly have destroyed the sense of community that WAS Menlo Park. The compromise of personal information and their inability to be honest with their members is more proof that this is a bogus operation interested ONLY in getting rich(er)!

59 people like this
Posted by Enuff
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 22, 2018 at 12:46 pm

It seems the MP City Council will let anyone build anything, no matter how out of proportion it is for our small city, as long as the developers pay for the privilege of destroying our city.
This also applies to Facebook's gargantuan plans for Menlo Park.
There are 2 choices: let Facebook buy us off in one way or another--in this case by paying the school district "impact fees" etc., OR: standing up to the project and saying: No Thank You!
Who exactly does our City Council represent--the residents or Facebook?
And by the way, who knows the future?
Facebook is in trouble currently due to the recent data leak scandal. Why destroy Menlo Park, overburden our schools, clog our streets with gridlock--all for a company that may not even be here some years down the road.
But even if it stays, Facebook has already outgrown Menlo Park.
Don't forget the huge Stanford project that will take up many blocks on El Camino, or the Greenheart project, etc.
Scads of towering office buildings and high-rise apartment houses and traffic, traffic, traffic .
Goodbye to our lovely community that was a great place to raise children, and to enjoy the quiet contentment of suburban life.

39 people like this
Posted by kapi
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Mar 22, 2018 at 1:01 pm

How ironic that the first "Facebook village open house" is being held the same evening as Menlo-Atherton High School's Open House--making it impossible for parents to attend both. This sort of tone-deaf response by Facebook needs to stop. If you are going to be a part of this community, than REALLY be a part of this community! I hope that the dates of future info sessions are more carefully considered.

41 people like this
Posted by cowgirl in the city
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Mar 22, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Enuff -I couldn't agree more. Facebook has outgrown Menlo Park. What a disgrace.
Everyone who is able should attend that meeting tonight (fb open house) and start the protest. Stop the insanity.

13 people like this
Posted by Elementary not high school will be impacted
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2018 at 1:20 pm

Elementary not high school will be impacted is a registered user.

I actually agree with FB that few high school students will live in the "Village" in the near future based on the average age of their employees (28). Even old Legacy companies such as HP have relatively young employees with an average age of 39. What will be impacted are the elementary schools.

Web Link

57 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 22, 2018 at 1:25 pm

It’s time for voters to make a change on City Council. A great start would be in the new district that includes Suburban Park and the Willows. Voters should reject Kirsten Keith and remove her from the City Council.

Last year an editorial in Palo Alto said it best:

"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

14 people like this
Posted by Claire
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Mar 22, 2018 at 2:18 pm

The article doesn't mention if the elementary school district is also raising concerns. I assume this would be Ravenswood which has had its own set of problems lately.

33 people like this
Posted by Liesel
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 22, 2018 at 2:33 pm

Liesel is a registered user.

All I can say is that I am so sad for Menlo Park. It is no longer the bucolic, friendly hometown kinda place where everyone knew most everyone else. I hope they stop the development madness, but I fear that Menlo Park may have passed a tipping point and will just be one more over crowded with too much traffic town along the Peninsula.

5 people like this
Posted by XYZ
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 22, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Hello, ppl
Wake up!!!
Everything changing.
No more of what you got used to.
No more.
Different time, different generation, different everything.
Thise school' super: intendants/visors/boards/etc... When its too many students-too bad, when its few students- too bad also.
Schools will be also different. And schools will be better.

27 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 22, 2018 at 5:38 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

There was never a time in recent history "where everyone knew everyone else". You just don't have that in a CITY of 35,000 people. And that's what we are. And it's time to accept the fact and move on. The entire Bay Area has seen tremendous growth, not just Menlo Park. And it will continue. Things change. Get over it.

11 people like this
Posted by The voice
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 22, 2018 at 6:21 pm

A city of 35,000 people with an influx of 20,000 at Facebook alone. This has been a long time coming. The cozy relationship with Facebook it’s developers, Haven Av developement, Hamilton Av developement. The ex police chief hopping in bed with Facebook. Spending $200,000 on mindfulness training! City council closing there eyes. And everyone knew the traffic would end like this. They pushed their agenda and now it has reached the limit of tolerance. Wake up? Keep arguing about a library that we don’t need while all this has happened it’s past tense

2 people like this
Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 22, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Regarding the expected number of additional students : Facebook may not even end up managing these apartments. They can not be so certain of the residents even five years from now. Facebook is a developer here first, a social media behemoth second. As a developer their plan has to be assessed in terms of its total long-term impacts. Our over-population and congestion is the baseline which has to be drastically improved. It cannot be made an iota worse and any development should make it measurably better. FB is proceeding apace on their Dumbarton plans which is a great start. Don’t count them out, but set the bar high.

22 people like this
Posted by Read The Room, Mary
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 22, 2018 at 8:35 pm

Are you kidding me? Everyone and their mother understands that the Bay Area needs housing, but Sequoia Union is arguing for the opposite? Give me a break.

16 people like this
Posted by Ream The Room, Mary
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 22, 2018 at 8:38 pm

Let me be clear: I do NOT like Facebook, but this kind of "sorry, the Peninsula is full- should've gotten here earlier!" perspective really chaps my hide.

School districts in this area get a lot of money through impact fees and property taxes, and it's THEIR JOB to figure out how to allocate it productively. If Mary Streshly can't do that, she's basically saying that she doesn't know how to do her job.

5 people like this
Posted by kbehroozi
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 22, 2018 at 9:13 pm

kbehroozi is a registered user.

It's actually their third open house...and there will be more. If you want to be involved, pay attention, show up, and provide constructive feedback.

11 people like this
Posted by margomca
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 23, 2018 at 2:59 pm

margomca is a registered user.

While not much can be done to mitigate the impact on primary, middle and high schools by this projected influx of new students, FB CAN do much to mitigate the safety issue. If FB can ferry workers to their MP campus (which also greatly cuts down traffic) it can also provide busses for students to safely get across 101. The busses could transport ALL students, not just those who live in this new area. That would be a wonderful contribution to this area and I'm sure would make EPA and Belle Haven parents be much more positive about FB. In the meantime, they should have spaces in their new campus to offer all kinds of tech classes to students in evenings and weekends. As someone earlier noted, these students may well be future FB workers, and certainly FB users. Right now FB has a lot of egg on its face. Here's a small wash cloth, Mr. Zuckerberg!

6 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2018 at 11:39 am

Let's not forget that the commenters who decry the ruining of MP and want zero growth are they very same people who courted offices for tech companies while obstructing any sort of growth in housing or infrastructure. You all elected the city council and you all created the current situation. Please stop. You are the the cause of increased traffic and high cost of housing and living. NOT FB. You invited them here and have benefited greatly. It is the fault greedy, selfish long term homeowners of MP.

4 people like this
Posted by been there
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 26, 2018 at 2:21 pm

been there is a registered user.

The school districts charge on a per square foot basis for the impact the new residential and commercial space will have to enlarge and improve schools. This is why it is called a 'school impact fee'. This is also in addition to the annual income these school districts also collects from school bonds and property taxes.
To say the schools are burdened from the addition of newly constructed residential space as well as commercial space is false. They collect extra money for every addition square foot of added space.
To complain that Facebook is unfairly burdening to schools is false. The school districts are being more than compensated when one considers the normal Facebook employees don't have school aged children.
If the school districts feel the compensation is inadequate to build new schools for the new growing population, they should change how much the charge on a per square foot basis. It is wrong to ask Facebook to step write a large check regardless of the size of their bank account.

2 people like this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2018 at 4:23 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

At the Tuesday, March 27 City Council meeting, the G4 Consent Calendar topic pertains to Facebook's further development. Staff recommends that Council "Waive the second reading and adopt an ordinance approving the Amended and Restated Development Agreement for the Facebook East Campus Located at 1 Hacker Way. The Hacker Way location might be the same as "Facebook Village." (If so, using consistent terminology would help the public better keep track of the issue.) I need to read/skim the 80+ report (linked to the council topic) to better understand this matter. However, anyone concerned about Facebook's growing presence in MP and/or this particular development, please write and consider making a public comment at the meeting. While it might feel good to post here, council may not read these comments. Speaking out publicly also encourages others to come forward. See you tomorrow night!

Like this comment
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2018 at 4:24 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

Oops. Forgot to add links to the staff report pertaining to Facebook. Web Link You can obtain the entire agenda at Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Most adults are eventual parents
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 27, 2018 at 1:50 pm

Facebook's avg age of 29 means many will have middle-schoolers by the time this village is fully built, and High schoolers in another couple years. However, many will move to single-family housing if they can when they have school-age kids.

And with age distribution, up to half probably already have kids in a school somewhere.

In other news, according to flood predictions in the LA Times yesterday, Facebook and all lower areas of the bay area will be flooded in the next 100 year flood anyway (which is apparently over-due).

Plan for that! Build housing, but not in a flood or earthquake zone...

2 people like this
Posted by Bay Area Professional
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 11, 2018 at 11:12 am

All these concerns surrounding 'overcrowding' and 'traffic' bc M-A and the rest of the bay area shirked their responsibilities to build new housing and infrastructure to accommodate the population boom that has continually increased in the past 40 years.

2400 current students / 300 students = 8 * 60 million = 480 million valuation for M-A high school!?!

You're asking 200k per student from FB?! AND as a blank check to do whatever you want with it?! Give me a break.

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

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