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Facebook, are you listening?

Facebook has come to Fremont in a big way. Fergus O’Shea, Director of Campus Development for the Bay Area, attended the June 11, 2019 Fremont City Council session to advise the city of plans to develop the previous Sun campus (Ardenwood area) in addition to its existing “Commerce Campus” close by. At this time, about 800 employees are inhabiting the space, but the future may see as many as 5,000 Facebook employees working at the Fremont location.

With its mission statement commitment: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”, it is incumbent upon such large enterprises to support the communities they impact. The economic benefits are palpable through increased revenue but societal concerns are also important and, as O’Shea iterated for Facebook, “We will continue to look for ways to connect with the community; it’s very important to us.” Traffic impacts of such a large influx of commuters was a primary focus of the presentation, emphasizing efforts by Facebook to encourage alternative modes of transportation.

One glaring widespread problem that is beginning to rise to the top of corporate consciousness is where all of these employees will live and their quality of life. At the forefront is the conundrum of truly affordable housing and its concomitant issue of homelessness. The term “affordable” by Bay Area standards is absurd when compared with most other locales within the United States. Starter “homes” are listed at over one-half million dollars! This not only creates havoc in the housing market, but puts extreme pressure on the lower economic strata to absorb the most basic costs of food, shelter and transportation. Additional expenses of medical care, education, recreation and communication are, for many, luxuries.

The widespread problem of housing is linked to many corollary concerns and can be found at the root of the Bay Area environmental crisis. Although regional in nature, it is only solvable on a local scale, supported by a broad coalition of ethically concerned and engaged public and private partnerships. We can’t do anything about our wonderful weather, concentration and synergy of technical talent and pleasant natural environment that attracts more and more people, but we can do something about the influx we create. It is imperative that those directly responsible for attracting huge workforces, understand and respond to infrastructure needs such as housing, traffic and environmental damage.

A recent statement [Published Jun 18, 2019] by Google CEO Sundar Pichai addressed the housing problems with a commendable approach. He notes, “…we know our responsibility to help starts at home.” Google will repurpose “at least $750 million of Google’s land, most of which is currently zoned for office or commercial space, as residential housing.” According to Pichai, this is equivalent to at least 15,000 homes for middle- and low- income families. In addition, a $250 million fund will provide developer incentives spurring an additional 5,000 affordable units. He adds, “…we will give $50 million in grants through Google.org to nonprofits focused on the issues of homelessness and displacement. This builds on the $18 million in grants we’ve given to help address homelessness over the last five years, including $3 million we gave to the newly opened SF Navigation Center and $1.5 million to affordable housing for low income veterans and households in Mountain View.”

The current uproar over the location of a navigation center for Fremont has universal consensus on its primary objective, to assist those in desperate economic and social situations with the basic requirements of dignified living… shelter, physical and emotional support. Wherever the location – some have suggested a series of centers throughout the city to attack the problems of homelessness – the answer lies in not only addressing the manifestations, but root causes as well. Large corporations such as Facebook are reaping the benefits of Southeast East Bay communities; it is time for them to confront the problems associated with their success too.

Pichai concludes, “Solving a big issue like the housing shortage will take collaboration across business, government and community organizations, and we look forward to working alongside others to make the Bay Area a place where everyone who lives here can thrive.”