Facebook has lots of friends at Menlo Park public hearing | January 18, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



News - January 18, 2012

Facebook has lots of friends at Menlo Park public hearing

by Barbara Wood

City employees and officials in Menlo Park spent a lot of time on Facebook last week, but not updating their statuses or posting links to funny cat videos.

It was the topic of Facebook the city focused on — specifically, the social networking giant's request to allow more employees and to eventually expand to new buildings across the street. Three public meetings had Facebook on the agenda.

On Monday, Jan. 9, the Planning Commission heard from the public about the draft environmental impact report (EIR) on Facebook's project, which could eventually bring as many as 9,400 employees to Menlo Park.

It was clear Facebook already has lots of friends in the city, less than a year since it began the move from its Palo Alto offices. Speaker after speaker said the social networking giant has already helped local schools and organizations.

"I'm here tonight attending the Facebook lovefest," said Sharon Williams, executive director of JobTrain, a Menlo Park nonprofit that provides job training. "The way they've opened up to the broader community is impressive."

Bronwyn Alexander, a Belle Haven teacher and resident, said not only have Facebook and its employees been "bringing money and volunteers into our classrooms on a daily basis," but Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the Belle Haven Community School's eighth-grade graduation last year.

The other topic mentioned by speaker after speaker was improving local bikeways for easier access to the Facebook campus and other businesses on the Peninsula.

By the Thursday, Jan. 12, Planning Commission study session considering public benefits Facebook could be asked to provide, the company had already agreed to some of the bicycle improvements mentioned Tuesday.

John Tenanes, Facebook's director of global real estate, said the company will immediately start designing a pedestrian/bicycle tunnel to cross under Bayfront Expressway near Willow Road, to be completed within a year. Facebook will also start working with other regional companies to fill gaps in the Bay Trail bicycle commute route that passes near the campus, Mr. Tenanes said.

Planning commissioners mentioned asking Facebook to help Menlo Park acquire or maintain Flood Park, to pay an in lieu tax to make up for not generating sales tax revenue for the city, and to finance a shuttle to downtown Menlo Park that could be used by Menlo Park residents as well as Facebook employees.

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, the City Council considered requests to extend the time allowed for public comment on the project's draft EIR by as much as six weeks. Citing fears that any longer than a week could put Facebook's final hearings during summer vacations, and citing requests for no delay from Belle Haven neighborhood residents, the council members voted unanimously for only a one-week extension.

East Palo Alto, the Sierra Club, the Committee for Green Foothills and others had asked for more time for public comment, citing the size of the project and the fact that several holidays fell during the comment period.

"I think in Menlo Park we take being a good neighbor very, very seriously," said council member Kelly Fergusson. She promised the city would take the concerns of East Palo Alto into consideration. "We are committed to working very closely with out neighbors," she said.

City Attorney Bill McClure told council members that while they have no legal obligation to respond to comments received after the official comment period ends, they are free to consider and act on them.