Atherton, Menlo Park continue talks on Facebook EIR dispute | May 30, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - May 30, 2012

Atherton, Menlo Park continue talks on Facebook EIR dispute

by Renee Batti

Oh, the irony of it all: The very same company that has encouraged millions of "friends" to get all warm and fuzzy online — whether they know each other or not — is now at the heart of a disagreement that could drive a wedge in the long-standing friendship between next-door neighbors, Atherton and Menlo Park.

The dispute stems from an environmental report identifying significant impacts on Menlo Park from Facebook's operation in that city, but, according to Atherton officials, giving the city's neighbor to the north short shrift. That report, the environmental impact report (EIR), is on the verge of being certified by Menlo Park.

In a strongly worded April 26 letter to Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith and City Manager Alex McIntyre, Atherton urged Menlo Park to reconsider mitigation measures identified in the EIR for the impacts that built-out Facebook campuses will have on the Marsh and Middlefield roads intersection, saying that the "traffic analysis performed for the ... EIR is flawed and inadequate."

The letter, written by Interim City Manager Theresa DellaSanta, said that if the issues raised by the town aren't resolved, the town "must explore all options including legal challenges to the mitigation measures to effect a more reasonable and responsible position by Facebook and the City of Menlo Park."

Although some observers have interpreted the letter as a threat to sue Facebook as well as Menlo Park, Atherton City Attorney Bill Conners said last week that Atherton "has not ever ... considered the possibility of a lawsuit against Facebook. I don't know of any cause of action to sue Facebook."

Because Menlo Park has legal oversight over the EIR, that city would be the party to dispute with, or take legal action against, if Atherton has a disagreement over the findings, he said.

But, he added, Atherton is hoping to resolve its issues over the EIR with its neighbor without litigation — a sentiment echoed by Ms. DellaSanta. "We prefer to work with Menlo Park and have it be a win-win situation," she said. "Our main concern is the safety of our residents. And it (the planned roadway mitigation) is just not safe."

The dispute

Atherton staff asserts that one of the EIR's key mitigation measures proposed to address traffic impacts at Marsh and Middlefield is not feasible because it requires widening lanes into private right-of-way. In addition, they say, it understates cumulative traffic impacts that will occur once Facebook builds out its current campus at Willow Road and Bayfront Expressway and the land it owns across the expressway on Constitution Drive, resulting in inadequate mitigation measures.

The EIR suggests that Facebook pay about 30 percent of the cost for adding another turning lane westbound on Middlefield and a merging lane northbound on Marsh, in addition to other roadway changes.

Chip Taylor, Menlo Park's public works director, said the information city staff and the EIR consultants were working with indicates the area needed to widen lanes is in the public right-of-way.

Mr. Taylor, Mr. McIntyre and other staff members met with Atherton staff on May 22 to discuss the matter, and Mr. Taylor said afterward that they are reviewing some of the information and concerns raised at that meeting.

He and Mr. McIntyre said in interviews that the city believed Atherton had signed off on proposed mitigation measures discussed prior to the completion of the draft EIR, saying that Menlo Park staff had met with Atherton staff and the town's Transportation Committee, and had met with agreement.

Ms. DellaSanta noted, however, that people in city government "should know that a (citizen advisory) committee ... doesn't have the authority to approve anything."


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