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Facebook’s departure was a slow fade, but its last gasp came in May 2021, when Ms. Bowen, who had led the project since 2017, left the company. In a farewell email to Mr. Slocum and others that day, which was obtained by The Times through a public records request, she wrote that she thought Facebook “had modest awareness of the gargantuan task that was first envisioned.”
The email told the broad strokes of the story and ended on a melancholy but optimistic note. “We moved a rusted 25-year-old needle, re-energized the community, and awakened the region to possibility,” she wrote. “Admittedly, we remain stuck in the reality that on average, it takes 20+ years to build a significant bridge in the United States. We need to change that. And we will.”
A year and a half later, though, it seems unlikely that Facebook will be part of that change. In almost every way, including its name, Facebook, now Meta, is a far different company than it was in 2015. Where Facebook was expanding, Meta is retrenching, shedding products, disbanding entire teams and spending nearly $3 billion to shrink its office footprint. With this change, Meta is keeping some of its promises to the local community, including its plans for a new 59-acre mixed-use development in Menlo Park called Willow Village. But it seems clear that as the company slashes both jobs and leases, it’s concentrating less on building infrastructure in the physical world and more on luring users into its virtual one.
And yet, while Meta’s priorities may have shifted, the need in its own backyard has not abated. According to transportation commission data, on March 13, 2020, just before the world shut down, about 30,400 cars crossed the Dumbarton highway bridge, which runs alongside the ruined rail bridge. On Sept. 30, 2022, it was about 30,500.
Commutes remain brutal for employees who can’t work remotely, including Angelina Sanchez, a janitor at Meta, who told The New York Times through a translator in October that she commutes about 90 miles each way to and from Modesto, leaving home at 5 a.m. and not returning until 10:30 p.m. Ms. Sanchez, a mother of three, said she used to live in nearby East Palo Alto but has moved farther and farther away to find housing she can afford.
The Dumbarton Rail project wouldn’t have solved these problems on its own. But it might have helped. The question is: Whose job is it to take on that work?
The public sector, which has the mandate but lacks the resources, or the tech companies, which have intensified the problem but ultimately answer to investors?