I have been thinking about the expansion of Facebook into the Belle Haven Community for a number of weeks.
I have called the Belle Haven Community (East Menlo) my home for over fifty-five years.
Although this is California, I feel that I have been living in the deep, deep, deep South. Instead of living on the other side of the tracks, I lived on the .
Over the course of the last 55 years I still see my city as divided, not only geographically, but by race and class. I do not think that the quality of our school, sidewalks, streets, parks, police services and recreational centers are the same in the Belle Haven community as the other side of Highway 101. Because of this, it seems to me that the City Council of Menlo Park has never really represented my interest as a person living in the Belle Haven Community.
The Council’s lack of concern for my community became even more apparent to me when I attended a recent City Council meeting in which the issue of was discussed.
I want Facebook to be part of my community, but I keep asking myself what would make Facebook a good neighbor? This question has not been adequately addressed to date. I have been to two different meetings regarding Facebook and there were very few residents from the Belle Haven Community in attendance. We need a well-organized old-school community meeting where we can air our differences and find our commonality. We need a space and a place where we can identify our common interests and give birth to a unified response to Facebook’s plans.
At the City Council meeting that I attended, people spoke in favor of Facebook expanding their campus. Many of them kept mentioning how grateful they were to have received their from Facebook. to support Facebook’s promise of employment. Does this promise include training and high-tech jobs for the most marginalized people in the county?
This area gave birth to the silicon chip, but this economic driver didn’t cause every boat to rise in my community.
In fact, while many people west of Highway 101 were getting rich, people east of Highway 101 were getting prison sentences. I think the irony of this situation is that while the City of Menlo Park envisions the enormous benefits that Facebook could bring to the city, San Mateo County is envisioning . Why else would they be considering a new county jail in this very poor economy?
I am excited to hear of the wonderful gift of that Facebook intends to plant and their efforts to make the bike and walking trails and routes more accessible. I think these are worthwhile improvements. But are they just public relations? Do they make Facebook a genuinely caring neighbor? Do they add up to an adequate community benefits agreement? They certainly won’t solve the problem we in Belle Haven already face, before Facebook’s expansion, extreme difficulty in exiting our community in the morning and returning in the evening.
When I spoke before the City Council, I asked for access to employment and asked the City to insure that Facebook employment policies did not discriminate against people with criminal conviction histories. After all, we live in this community too. However, by the time I had driven home I knew that I had spoken in the voice of an ex-slave trying to hock labor.
Would jobs alone make a billion dollar corporation a good neighbor? What about the people who are too old to work and who have been living here for multiple decades and generations, in the shadow of financial inequity? After all when the people at Facebook use the restroom their waste will flow through the pipes paid for by tax dollars of our elders.
When they ride their bikes on the street they will be on the street paid for by the preceeding generations. When they use the park, they use an amenity that was paid for by the retirees in my community. For many of them Facebook remains just an abstract notion. Their children are grown and in many cases have moved away. Laptops and bike trails will do little to remedy the community needs that they have.
It’s not right. Facebook is about to go public. As a result, more people will enter the ranks of the 1%. In light of this, it’s shameful to think that our community might only muster up the nerve to ask for are a handful of jobs, training to serve the rich, a few computers and community improvements that ready our neighborhoods for further gentrification.
Facebook is one of the most powerful and successful companies in the world today and they have the resources to be an excellent neighbor. They should assure us that we will not be displaced and that our community will remain in-tact. Let’s shift the paradigm this time and make it more than a question of a few service jobs for poor folks. Facebook can provide training that prepares us to become managers and owners.
What’s more, if Facebook can make hundreds of millionaires and even some billionaires they can certainly set up a foundation dedicated to protecting the interest of the residents of their neighborhood, the small Belle Haven Community. The foundation can be set up so that the interest on the principle is utilized to provide scholarships for higher education for the youth in our community. They can give stocks options to our older residents and make grants for people to hold on to their homes or to remodel them in these troubling times. If they still have the urge to plant trees, they can improve our few small parks. A board comprised of community members could be established, something that we control.
I propose that the City Council of Menlo Park support Belle Haven residents in reaching a robust with Facebook, one that fairly serves the needs of our neighborhoods. We need a meeting and a chance to pull together the best minds of Belle Haven to work on this. This is something that I think many of our parents would have done.
Once again, I must reiterate that I would like to see Facebook as my neighbor but like any other neighbors, my wish is that the people moving in next door will be good ones. If you find this extremely difficult to follow just consider what is being demanded by people who now recognize they are part of the 99%. Well, my neighbors and I are the bottom part of the 99%.
Executive Director, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children