Menlo Park city council advances Facebook expansion plans

Predicted traffic impacts remain controversial as the plan heads for final approval

The Menlo Park, California, city council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve Facebook's plan to expand its headquarters in the city, pending a final procedural vote at its next meeting on June 5.

Facebook has sought permission to house as many as 6,600 workers at its main campus in the former offices of Sun Microsystems and potentially to make taller its west campus buildings, which were once home to Tyco Electronics. The company first presented its expansion plans in December 2011.

Because the expansion will bring more traffic to the area and necessitate the removal of some mature trees, Facebook will be required to carry out environmental mitigation measures, including a cap on the number of vehicles that can enter and exit the campus during peak commute times. Facebook has also agreed to a number of economic sweeteners for the city.

The thorniest issue facing the council was the matter of how traffic patterns could be adapted to handle the influx of workers. Several residents of the Belle Haven neighborhood that abuts the Facebook campus voiced concerns that their neighborhood would be impacted disproportionately as the company continues to grow.

The affluent neighboring town of Atherton also brought new objections related to traffic patterns at one intersection within its city limits that planning estimates suggest will see at least an 8 percent jump in traffic. Atherton city council member Jim Dobbie and interim city manager Theresa DellaSanta delivered their concerns in person, putting the Menlo Park council in the awkward position of seeming to benefit at the expense of their neighbors as they approved Facebook's plans.

"It's very hard to design an intersection from the dais," Mayor Pro Tem Peter Ohtaki said just before voting to approve Facebook's plan. "We've been trying to balance a lot of concerns."

Local politics aside, all of the council members praised Facebook for the economic benefits they believe it brings to Menlo Park.

In closing the debate, Mayor Kirsten Keith said to the Facebook representatives: "Welcome to Menlo Park; we're happy to have you here. Please like our Facebook site for the city."

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

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