The housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area has been fueled in part by the rapid economic growth in Silicon Valley, causing rent increases in neighborhoods that push historical residents out. Gentrification concerns have become a major political force in cities, where some argue that local governments aren't doing enough to protect lower-income residents from getting priced out of homes.
Facebook is hoping to rectify some of this in Menlo Park, Calif., with its new campus expansion, called Willow Campus, which integrates its office expansion plans with a grocery store, a pharmacy and 1,500 housing units — 15 percent of which will be offered at “below-market rates.” In a plan unveiled July 7, Facebook expressed its interest in being a “good neighbor” and providing help to residential problems.
“The campus needs to be integrated into the community,” said John Tenanes, who leads the project for Facebook, in an accompanying video. “There needs to be pathways and connections so that neighbors feel like they can access the community and its amenities.”
Facebook moved into its Frank Gehry-designed headquarters a little more than two years ago, but the company has continued to grow exponentially. The new plan will be an expansion, not a replacement.
Creating a more dense mixed-use village will ideally cut down on the congestion in the region. The initial Willow Campus plan features the construction of a new transit center, as well as investment in “tens of millions of dollars to improve [highway] US 101.”
In a blog post, Tenanes pointed out the lack of infrastructure investment leading to congestion rather than tech companies building massive campuses without worrying about existing housing supply:
“The region’s failure to continue to invest in our transportation infrastructure alongside growth has led to congestion and delay," he wrote. "Willow Campus will be an opportunity to catalyze regional transit investment by providing planned density sufficient to support new east-west connections and a future transit center.“
Other Silicon Valley companies including Google, Apple, eBay and Yahoo have tried overcoming the commuting difficulties for those driving from San Francisco down the peninsula by using private buses. But some criticize the practice, saying it creates more congestion while serving only a select few. Facebook, which also operates private bus shuttles, is hoping to buck the stereotype of the "self-interested tech disruptor at everyone else's expense" with its new plan.
The initial plan was submitted to the Menlo City Council on Thursday, July 6. If approvals go as planned, construction could launch sometime in 2019. Occupancy for the housing may begin two years after that.
“Going forward, Tenanes wrote, "we plan to continue to work closely with local leaders and community members to ensure Facebook’s presence is a benefit to the community. It’s one we’re lucky to call home.”