Viewpoint - October 26, 2011

Editorial: A careful tone for Facebook negotiations

We don't know if there is any reason to think that a Menlo Park City Council member might be wined and dined by Facebook officials and then offer them something in return, say a way out of a pesky planning and zoning regulation. We are much more likely to see this type of corporate behavior in Sacramento or Washington, D.C.

And so far, at least, we haven't seen any evidence that the social media giant has attempted to throw its weight around with city officials or anyone else. In fact, just the opposite is taking place, as evidenced with the recent open house and outreach to various civic groups and service clubs to visit the company's remodeled headquarters at the former Sun campus on the east side of the city.

From all reports, Facebook is taking great pains to become a good corporate citizen as they moves more of their Palo Alto workforce into the sprawling, 57-acre Menlo Park campus. We have to keep in mind that "networking" is Facebook's middle name, and given the instant communications available on the company's website, there is no reason to believe that its relations with the city will be anything but forthright and transparent.

Nevertheless, we think it is entirely appropriate for the City Council to do all it can to make sure negotiations between Facebook and the city over regulations that will govern the company's campus development going forward can proceed without interference from outside parties.

Last week a subcommittee (Mayor Rich Cline and Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith) was appointed that will be the liaison between the council and the city's negotiating team, which includes Interim City Manager Glen Rojas. Before he was appointed, Mayor Cline said he was concerned that the two subcommittee members could be "buttered up" with perks from Facebook like a lunch with CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

City Attorney Bill McClure said that although the subcommittee members could voluntarily avoid becoming targets of Facebook largesse, the council could not restrict them from having private individual meetings with company officials. But the council did correctly, in our view, agree to restrict the subcommittee's access to Facebook employees.

The negotiations mean a lot to the city and Facebook, which hopes to gain approval to house more than the 3,600 employees now permitted on the former Sun Microsystems site, in return for limiting the number of vehicle trips to 15,000 a day. Public benefits provided by the company will be another part of the deal as well as rules for future projects, including infrastructure improvements.

As it continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how quickly Facebook will want to ramp up its employee count beyond the current build-out limit of 6,100 jobs on its combined campuses at the Sun site and the two large Constitution Drive lots across the Bayshore Expressway.

But with a reported 800 million users now and the outlook of continued strong growth in other countries, it is easy to see why Facebook undoubtedly considers the current negotiations crucial so that the company can accommodate much more growth here in the near future.


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