Menlo Park: Facebook's Gehry project 'a rare treat'Planning Commission kicks off permit process for Facebook's west campus
By Sandy Brundage
Love was in the air at the first public review of Facebook's proposed new west campus design — a sprawling office in a forest envisioned by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry.
The 433,555-square-foot building would perch on top of approximately 1,540 parking spaces, and blend into the landscape by incorporating ground-level gardens that wind their way up to a rooftop terrace. The goal is for the 22-acre Constitution Drive site to resemble a forest as people drive by on the Bayfront Expressway, according to Facebook. The west campus would accommodate 2,800 employees, mainly engineers.
During the Sept. 24 Planning Commission meeting, community members and commissioners alike hailed the design. "It's a rare treat to have a project like this," said Commissioner Henry Riggs.
Fellow architect Peipei Yu, a member of the Planning Commission, shared the excitement, but wanted more. "When I first looked at it, I thought 'it's not Frank Gehry enough!'" She urged Facebook to play with the idea of technology popping out of nature. "If you're going to have Frank Gehry come to town, why not really have Frank Gehry come to town?"
Ms. Yu then reminded everyone that the city needs to consider what benefits may be derived through the project's development agreement, cautioning that "we don't want to get so excited because it's so shiny ... that we get distracted and forget benefits for our city."
Two areas she had in mind: Direct revenue, and planning for a population bump in already overcrowded schools as Facebook employees have kids. Unfortunately Ms. Yu will not be in town for the negotiation process — Sept. 24 was her final meeting as a planning commissioner; her family is moving out of town, according to city staff.
The notion of payments to make up for a lack of sales tax revenue arises at an interesting time. Commissioner Vince Bressler asked during the Monday night meeting whether Facebook would be selling products in the future, although at the time there wasn't an answer.
However, three days later the social networking giant introduced "Facebook Gifts," a service allowing users to give each other real goodies such as chocolate or stuffed animals. Will that trigger sales tax revenue? A Facebook representative said that w ill depend on where the gift ships from, since the company has partnered with vendors who stock the items. In some cases the tax will be factored into the price. The California Legislature has pushed hard for taxes on online purchases, and Amazon recently began collecting sales taxes from California residents.
The development agreement for the east campus included a one-time payment of $1.1 million as well as incrementally increased payments over 10 years starting at $800,000 annually, commitments to funding community programs, and other niceties such as local bike trail improvements. Facebook will likely try to negotiate a smaller-scale agreement for the west campus — and appears to have some support for that within the community and commission.
JobTrain Executive Director Sharon Williams praised the social networking company's efforts to follow through. Very often when a client announces they've gotten a job, it's at Facebook, Ms. Williams said, and "they're taking great pride in the opportunity." She also pointed out that a landmark Gehry building itself will be a community benefit, an observation that several commissioners agreed with.
The city will formally commence negotiations after the Oct. 30 council meeting, according to the staff report.