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Sixty community residents held an evening meeting with representatives from Facebook to discuss the company's plans for interacting positively within the East Palo Alto and Belle Haven communities.
The evening event was the culmination of a series of joint meetings the residents of the two cities have held. In their previous meetings, the residents focused on the potential impact that the Facebook campus might have on the area and the benefits that could be derived from the company's presence in the community.
Facebook captured the attention of local residents and city officials in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park when the company announced that it would move into its current Menlo Park location at 1601 Willow Road. The move took place six months ago.
During this particular community meeting to discuss Facebook's impact, the focus was on how to access job training, employment opportunities and the grant money that the company had set aside to benefit community nonprofits.
In speaking of Facebook's relationship to both East Palo Alto and Belle Haven, local resident Dorsey Nunn told the group that there should be “at the core of the social networking system, a sense of social justice.
“I need to say, I'm not trying to resource my nonprofit, I'm not trying to turn a dollar on Facebook. The only thing that I'm trying to acquire is the ability for the community to access greater services....If this is one of those unique minutes, one of those unique moments, …[then] this conversation is a real important conversation,” Nunn said.
The gathering, which was held at the Onetta Harris Community Center on April 18, came one day after a Menlo Park City Council meeting in which city officials discussed the 'Development Agreement” that the City of Menlo Park had negotiated with Facebook.
The agreement lays out the benefits the City of Menlo Park will receive as long as Facebook occupies its current Menlo Park campus, the benefits the community would get, Facebook's environmental commitments, the mutual benefits that would be shared between Menlo Park and Facebook and the general terms under which the Facebook campus in Menlo Park would operate.
The agreement also stipulates that Facebook will give Menlo Park $800,000 in each of the first 5 years, $900,000 in years 6-10 and $1,000,000 in years 11-15. After that the annual payment amount would be adjusted annually based on changes to the Consumer Price Index.
The agreement was discussed at the community meeting, which included presentations from Justin Murphy, the development services manager for the City of Menlo Park, and several Facebook representatives: Susan Gonzales, who is in charge of the company's community outreach, and John Tenanes, who negotiated the agreement for Facebook to buy the site where the company's Menlo Park campus is located.
Many questions surfaced about the community outreach programs that Facebook is planning and the community fund that the company is establishing to administer the $500,000 that it will contribute to the community fund.
During the meeting it was stated that East Palo Alto city officials are working with Facebook on an agreement that contains some provisions that are similar to the ones in the agreement signed with Menlo Park.
As the meeting came to a close, the frustrations that some audience members felt following the presentations became apparent in several questions that were asked.
One Menlo Park resident wanted to know how much of the money Facebook pledged to the City of Menlo Park would be invested in the Belle Haven community. She expressed the prevailing fear within the group that Belle Haven would be shortchanged by the city. In answering the question, Murphy said that the money would be put into the general fund and it would be up to the Menlo Park City Council to decide how much it wanted to alott to Belle Haven. He encouraged the residents at the meeting to make their wishes known to the Menlo Park City Council.
After this sticky point, one of the community participants, Michelle Tate, questioned why much of the emphasis at the meeting was placed on reaching out into the community to train residents on how to apply for jobs at Facebook in entry level positions.
Tate made it clear that she already knew how to apply for jobs, that she already had marketable skills and was an experienced professional. Another audience member, Larry Owens, said that he was a professional with sales and marketing experience and had applied on the Facebook website five different times, but had not heard from anyone.
Both Tate and Owens wanted to know what professionals in the community needed to do to be considered for jobs at the company and they stressed that Facebook's representatives needed a plan for those who were experienced professionals as well as for those who would be trained for entry level jobs.
In responding to the sense of frustration that was expressed, Tucker Bonds, Facebook's manager of policy communications said, “Facebook is in the community to grow and to improve the community.”
The meeting ended on this note with a thank-you given to everyone. It was announced that the next community meeting to discuss Facebook's presence in the community will be held on Wednesday, April 25 at 6 p.m. at the Menlo Park Church of God in Christ, which is located at 1410 Chilco Street at the intersection of Chilco and Hamilton Ave. The meeting is open to the public.