Bay Area mayors push back on climate-focused telecommute mandate

15th October 2020 Sarah Wray

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo have raised concerns about a controversial mandate which would require a significant number of residents to work from home at least some of the time even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

On September 23, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) approved the Final Blueprint for Plan Bay Area, which is a policy document to guide the growth of the Bay Area until 2050 focusing on the economy, the environment, housing and transportation.

The Blueprint includes a strategy to increase the number of Bay Area workers that work from home one or more days per week to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion. This would mean mandating that all large office-based employers (with 25 or more employees) have at least 60 percent of their employees telecommuting on any given day. This could be achieved through compressed work weeks, flexible work schedules or remote work policies.

The report says that the mandate could bring the telecommute share to 25 percent, noting that half of the workforce has a job that must be completed in-person.

Revenue and equity concerns

A statement from the cities of San Francisco and San Jose yesterday said they have been working with the MTC over the last few weeks to address “significant challenges” stemming from the proposal.

Further, fifteen members of the Bay Area delegation to the California State Legislature issued a letter addressed to MTC Chair Scott Haggerty raising concerns, including that the plan would reduce public transport fare revenue, disadvantage low-wage workers and could see people moving out of the region. It could also impact downtown businesses such as restaurants and shops. The letter argues that the work from home mandate conflicts with other strategies in the Plan Bay Area such as walkable neighbourhoods and increased housing density near employment and transport centres. It adds that the plan overlooks those who already travel to work by sustainable modes, stating that: “In San Francisco, for instance, fewer than 30 percent of workers eligible to work from home drive to work”.

MTC said the strategy was not in the Draft Blueprint but has been added based on public feedback over the summer, although other reports suggest the idea came as an unwelcome surprise to some citizens.

“To ensure this strategy achieves equity goals, a complementary strategy to expand Internet access in underserved communities was added to the Economy Element as well,” the latest plan says.

Unique opportunity?

Mayors Breed and Liccardo issued a statement saying: “As the Mayors of the two largest cities in the Bay Area, we appreciate the work the Metropolitan Transportation Commission staff have committed to developing and completing the Plan Bay Area 2050 Blueprint that will help us meet our collective climate goals. We also acknowledge Plan Bay Area’s responsibility to meet state emissions reduction targets with a fiscally constrained transportation investment plan — especially given the more recent impacts of COVID-19 on our respective communities.”

It goes on: “While we support many of the innovative and bold strategies MTC has developed to help address our shared transportation challenges and meet our emissions reduction targets, we remain concerned about the telecommute mandate and cannot support it as currently drafted. We look forward to working with MTC staff, and our colleagues, on refining this strategy and considering alternatives that allow us to equitably meet our GHG reduction target and support the vitality of our downtowns.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has been more positive about the mandate, calling it “an important policy”. She told Bloomberg: “We have to look for silver linings amidst this horrific tragedy, and one of them is that there are opportunities to do things that could not have been done in the past.”

“Now is the time we can do this in a way that is least disruptive to business,” she added.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments are expected to adopt Plan Bay Area 2050 in summer next year.

Image: Anthony Delanoix, Unsplash

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