Menlo Park approves Facebook expansion plan

The 'Like' sign outside Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters. (Matt Harnack/Facebook)
May 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Facebook got the approval from the Menlo Park City Council to go ahead with its expansion plans. The company wants to add thousands of people and square footage. That's despite its disappointing stock performance since going public 10 days ago.

Not everyone, however, is supportive of the plan. The decision got hung up by an argument over a street corner in the neighboring city of Atherton.

"We are here tonight, because we are concerned the EIR from the facebook expansion project is unsatisfactory," Theresa Dellasanta, the Atherton interim assistant city manager said.

Atherton city officials marched into Menlo Park council chambers to complain about a proposed second left-hand turn lane at the corner of Marsh and Middlefield Road. It would accommodate the potential traffic congestion from the Facebook expansion project, but Atherton says it would be unsafe.

"One of the things that we had indicated was that you had underestimated the traffic impact by about 25 percent," Atherton City Councilmember Jim Dobble said.

Facebook wants to expand its existing 57-acre campus and build a new 22-acre campus on the other side of Bayfront Expressway with a tunnel connecting both campuses. It could add 6,600 more Facebook employees on top of the current 3,500. But the potential traffic backup into neighboring Atherton could have the two cities dueling in court.

"You know, I listen to what your lawyers say and I listen to what our lawyers say and clearly they're quite different," Dobble said.

Facebook attorney Tim Tosta jumped into Menlo Park's corner.

"You have complied with the law and you have done it in a timely and thorough fashion, and the fact that Atherton came in late with a new proposal is really not your problem," Tosta said.

The city of Menlo Park says it will limit the number of vehicle trips to and from Facebook at 15,000 trips a day. Facebook has agreed to restrict the number of vehicles and encourage employees to take shuttles, rideshare or bicycle to work, but it may not satisfy the neighbors.

"I have to say that we have to do what we think is right for Atherton just as you think you have to do what is right for Menlo Park," Dobble said.

Aside from the nearly $15 million in benefits for the city of Menlo Park over the next 14 years, the city says the overall benefit to the entire region far outweighs the squabble over a street corner. It unanimously passed the Facebook expansion plan and promised to work with Atherton in the future.

Facebook stock drops below $30

Even as Facebook is pushing ahead with its plans to expand in Menlo Park, the company's stock continues to struggle. Facebook's stock fell to a new low Tuesday, closing at $28.84 per share.

While Mark Zuckerberg enjoys his honeymoon, the continuing slide in Facebook's stock price is suggesting the social network should be working on a business plan, not an expansion plan. In all, Facebook stock has dropped about 24 percent below its initial public offering price of $38 per share a week and a half ago.

Planning an expansion to go from 2,200 to more than 9,000 employees takes time. But the sliding stock price has critics wondering about Facebook's priorities.

"I think there's a real problem when a company at $100 billion loses market cap of on the order of $40 billion in a week or so; I think that is a systemic problem," serial entrepreneur Jon Fisher said. "And I don't think it's a Nasdaq issue or a market issue, I think there is something very wrong with the company and how it's perceived itself."

Facebook and the city of Menlo Park are moving ahead with a big expansion to accommodate thousands of more employees and are looking at ways to cub the traffic.

"Instead of looking at the number of people, we've given a trip cap amount, so it's 15,000 trips per day with a very specific -- from 7-9 a.m., 2,600 trips and from 4-6pm, 2,600 trips and then 15,000 for the whole day," Mayor Kirsten Keith said.

Menlo Park residents don't seem too alarmed by the numbers.

"[Highway] 101 is already a disaster, it's hard to imagine it getting any worse," Andy Mattes said.

While planning proceeds for the expansion, the daily erosion in Facebook's stock price seems to reflect investor concerns and perhaps about the need for a new campus immediately.

"We haven't seen any earnings or actual business performance and so a lot of people are making their trades based on trying to guess what the future's going to be," Edward Jones financial adviser David Amann said.


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