Editorial: Facebook fairy tale rubs off on city | February 15, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - February 15, 2012

Editorial: Facebook fairy tale rubs off on city

Ever since Facebook moved into its Willow Road headquarters, the world has waited for the stars of Social Network to cash in on the incredible value the company has created in just a few short years.

And now that the Internet giant with more than 800 million users will go public, the impact of having a company that could be valued at $100 billion in our backyard is beginning to come clear. From the $5 billion CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to receive to the nearby venture capital firms that were smart enough to bankroll the Harvard drop-out, untold amounts of money will flow from Facebook and some of it will land in Menlo Park and other nearby communities. And don't forget the hundreds of early Facebook employees who will pocket millions of dollars when they convert their stock to cash.

Local real estate brokers have made the news recently in stories speculating about Facebook's impact on the local market. Of course, house prices are bound to increase, which is good for homeowners but could be bad for anyone paying more rent every year for housing. Some brokers believe the company's impact will be felt gradually and that the buyers will be very aware of price inflation. In other words, sellers might not succeed if they raise prices too high to cash in on the trend.

But beyond the Facebook gold dust that will be sprinkled over this region in the coming months, Menlo Park officials are continuing to wade through the massive draft environmental impact report (more than 150 megabytes) that attempts to assess what will happen if they grant the company's request to add 3,000 employees to its east campus and another 4,000 to its yet-to-be-built west campus across the street on the Bayfront Expressway.

For the most part, the draft EIR suggests there will be some impact on police and fire services, as well as schools and housing, but not enough to warrant major action. The touchiest issue may be the discussion of traffic impacts, which will be considerable along Willow, Marsh and Middlefield roads. Certainly the Marsh and Willow freeway interchanges — already plugged at rush hour — will suffer as well. It will not be an easy job, and it must be completed by April when the City Council is scheduled to hold hearings on granting the necessary permits.

Council members will have to decide if the impact of about 10,000 employees will warrant requiring Facebook to pay for selected public improvements at nearby venues like Belle Haven, for example, or provide ongoing funding for services like the Belle Haven library or even a Wi-Fi system, as suggested by one planning commissioner.

The company already has agreed to help improve bike lanes on Willow Road and the Bay Trail bicycle path that connects to the Facebook campus. Both would further the goal of convincing Facebook employees to reduce their use of automobiles to get to work. Another way to lower car trips is to fund or somehow support housing opportunities for employees, particularly in Belle Haven, where one or two sites have been identified.

All of this is being considered amid the backdrop of the city's loss of $3 million in redevelopment agency funds due to a change in policy on REAs by Gov. Jerry Brown. Virtually all the city's RDA funding was connected in some way to east Menlo Park, including all of Belle Haven and the east Facebook campus.

Community centers and playing fields and other public facilities in Belle Haven could lose funding unless the city of Menlo Park steps in. Certainly the council will be thinking about how Facebook's newfound wealth could somehow help Belle Haven preserve some of its public services and facilities. The question is how much of its newfound wealth will the company want to share.


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