A private town hall meeting was held at the East Palo Alto Senior Center on Monday between Facebook executives and members of East Palo Alto-based advocacy group Real Community Coalition.
Reporters were excluded. Coalition founder JT Faraji cited bad past experiences with the press as the reason for the group's blanket policy to exclude reporters from its meetings.
Sitting in an outside room for the meeting's duration, this reporter could hear the timbre of elevated voices, but not much of what was said.
The meeting's purpose, Faraji said, was "to start generating a dialogue between our community and the corporation – without having a middle man."
Among the subjects discussed were how Facebook's presence is spurring gentrification and housing costs in the area, the need for affordable housing, how a new police unit in Menlo Park might impact communities of color in Belle Haven and East Palo Alto and how to connect local residents to jobs at Facebook, according to Kyra Brown, program director at Youth United for Community Action, an East Palo Alto-based nonprofit advocacy group, who was attending and speaking as a community member.
About 30 people attended the event, which was hosted by the Real Community Coalition – an advocacy group made up of East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park residents, plus "anyone and everyone that is for positive change and for our community," said Faraji.
The meeting included Facebook employees Lewis Knight, Juan Salazar and Bernita Dillard.
Some people from the Silicon Valley chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) joined the discussion partway through the meeting.
Faraji said he founded the Real Community Coalition about two years ago and that it has regular town hall meetings to talk about problems in the community. The organization's private Facebook group has about 170 members.
Ranjeet Tate, a DSA member from Cupertino, who attended the meeting, said that the Facebook officials in attendance "say the right things," but that the company should have anticipated the problems its expansion would cause to the community and started earlier to try to mitigate those impacts.
Brown said she asked that Facebook codify a corporate social responsibility policy (See her guest opinion on the topic here).
"It's not infeasible," she said. "Other corporations have CSR (corporate social responsibility) departments."
Both Brown and Faraji said that, following the meeting, they felt that Facebook officials didn't make any promises, but were open to further discussions.
"They gave the impression they were committed to having more conversations," Faraji said.
Salazar, the Facebook employee, declined to comment after the meeting and Knight could not be reached for comment.