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San Francisco Peninsula

Facebook gives cash to N. Calif. town over traffic concerns

Facebook’s move to Menlo Park late last year has created a small windfall for one of the richest communities on the Peninsula.

The town of Atherton, a wealthy enclave near the new Facebook campus, received $350,000 from the social media giant last month to allay its concerns over increased traffic.

Now the question for the town of 7,000 people is what to do with the cash.

“We’re not in a big hurry to spend the money,” said Atherton Mayor Bill Widmer. “We have a number of issues we’re looking at.”

The payment is the smallest Facebook has made to appease its new hometown and neighboring communities.


East Palo Alto, one of the poorest cities in the region, received $650,000 from Facebook to compensate for increased congestion on its streets.

Menlo Park, meanwhile, received $1.1 million to finance street improvements and other projects to handle the thousands of employees working at the new location.

Facebook also will pay Menlo Park at least $8.5 million over the next 10 years to offset the loss of local sales taxes formerly generated by Sun Microsystems, the computer software company that used to occupy the space Facebook now calls home. Menlo Park does not levy a sales tax on online advertisements, a major source of revenue for Facebook.

Facebook, which moved from its Palo Alto location last year, employs roughly 2,500 people in Menlo Park. In coming years, it hopes to have 9,400 employees at the new site and a planned campus nearby. The company expects to break ground on the new facility next year and complete it by 2015.


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Lawsuits could stall high-speed rail plans

Even if state officials can scrape together the billions of dollars needed to fund California's ambitious high-speed rail plans, lawsuits from local cities and opposition groups still could delay, divert or derail the project altogether.

In the Bay Area, cities and nonprofits are suing over issues with the route and environmental studies. In Southern California, the city of Palmdale has gone to court over fears that rail officials will pull a planned Antelope Valley line through the city and reroute the tracks up I-5 instead.

Perhaps the hardest-fought battle is yet to come in the Central Valley, where Kings County officials and residents say they’ll do everything in their power to stop a 100-mile stretch of track from wiping out thousands of acres of prime farmland between Fresno and Bakersfield.

The biggest obstacle facing the beleaguered bullet train is probably its uncertain financial future. But lengthy court battles also could affect the project by delaying construction, increasing costs and altering the course the train takes through the state.


According to estimates by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, rerouting the high-speed line to satisfy various stakeholders could add hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars to the final price tag.


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High-speed rail proponents seek ways to salvage project

The California bullet train project is buffeted by bad news.

Downbeat pronouncements regarding its financial prospects.

Growing opposition from the very communities the system hopes to serve.

Lawsuits, and the threat of more to come.

Some proponents of the $45 billion, 800-mile rail system fear the ambitious project – and the huge economic boost they foresee from its construction – is starting to slip away.

Certainly that’s the view of prominent bullet-train booster Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, a regionwide chamber of commerce. He calls the bullet train “the signature infrastructure project that will define the Bay Area, California and even the United States in the 21st century.”

But in a July 19 letter, Wunderman said he feared that the fight over the bullet train’s route down the San Francisco Peninsula was going to kill California high-speed rail, or at least the San Francisco Bay Area portion of it.

In the letter, he urged the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which coordinates transit planning in the Bay Area, to take the lead in coming up with some sort of compromise rail plan that might be acceptable to the project’s many critics.

“Our inability, as a region, to articulate a clear vision for high-speed rail has real consequences,” Wunderman wrote to commission Chairwoman Adrienne Tissier, who also is a San Mateo County supervisor. “We weaken our support in the state and federal government, we put ourselves at the back of the funding line, and we strengthen those who argue that high-speed rail is an impossible fantasy.”


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