Facebook Founder’s Favor Comes With Complications

Adela Morales and Adrian Bonilla with their grandchildren, who lived in an R.V. community in East Palo Alto, Calif., until they were evicted last week.

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. — Adrian Bonilla lived in a shared house in this Silicon Valley town with his wife and two grandchildren until earlier this year, when the rent for their bedroom jumped to $1,200 from $900 a month. Mr. Bonilla attributed that rise to Facebook, which is based nearby and was growing.

So Mr. Bonilla, a 43-year-old mechanic and Uber driver, bought a 1991 recreational vehicle and joined a family-oriented R.V. community on a quiet cul-de-sac. They lived there until last week, when Mr. Bonilla received an eviction notice.

This time, Mr. Bonilla said, the reason he had to move was because the city wanted to clear the way for “the Facebook school.” That school is funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a limited liability company set up by Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, to work on social change endeavors. Ms. Chan is a co-founder of the school, a private institution for low-income children called the Primary School.

Despite the good will behind the school, it has been met with wariness.

“The school is a Facebook school. It’s not a city school,” Mr. Bonilla said, adding that he knew he would have to move again when he heard about it. “When Facebook comes, everybody moves everywhere.”

Mr. Zuckerberg is already facing plenty of troubles across the globe, including questions about Russian interference on Facebook during the 2016 election. The skirmish between the couple’s initiative and the R.V. community, which city officials said was becoming a flood hazard, is a reminder of how the billionaire also faces difficulties on his own doorstep.

For many in East Palo Alto, which is just blocks from Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., no C.E.O. and company have come to embody the anxieties of the modern tech boom more than Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook. At a meeting last Wednesday at East Palo Alto’s City Hall, about 100 residents and protesters gathered with city staff to discuss their housing and some invoked Mr. Zuckerberg’s name.

New housing developments overlook older homes along Pulgas Avenue in East Palo Alto. The residents there have long felt disempowered against change brought by tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg.
A cul-de-sac in East Palo Alto that was once home to an R.V. community will soon be the location of a private school funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Jason Henry for The New York Times

“I want to talk about the elephant in the room,” said Zach Kirk, 20, a Stanford University student who grew up in Palo Alto. “Actually, he’s not in the room, he’s in some mansion: Mark Zuckerberg.”

Wherever Mr. Zuckerberg goes in Silicon Valley, he seems to generate a housing problem. In 2014, after the tech mogul bought a house in San Francisco, neighbors complained about construction, his security detail, the parking and how his presence would inflate prices. Earlier this year, protesters marched in East Palo Alto to denounce the displacement of residents because of big tech companies like Facebook.

The battles are likely to grow as Facebook continues its expansion in Menlo Park, with 1.75 million square feet of new office space expected to be built. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has…

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Peter Bordes

Exec Chairman & Founder at oneQube
Exec Chairman & Founder of oneQube the leading audience development automation platfrom. Entrepreneur, top 100 most influential angel investors in social media who loves digital innovation, social media marketing. Adventure travel and fishing junkie.
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