State will ban new gas cars

Bay Area: Trans­porta­tion agency votes for 60% re­mote­work man­date

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Roland Li

In the face of protests from San Fran­cisco of­fi­cials and ad­vo­cates of public tran­sit, the Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion on Wed­nes­day moved for­ward with a plan to keep many of the re­gion’s work­ers at home — with cli­mate change, not the coronaviru­s pan­demic, as the ra­tio­nale.

The com­mis­sion voted to in­clude the controvers­ial man­date that large Bay Area em­ploy­ers keep 60% of their work­ers home each work­day as part of a 2050 plan­ning strat­egy to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions and traf­fic con­ges­tion.

The re­quire­ment is now part of the Plan Bay Area Blue­print for 2050, a re­gional trans­porta­tion plan that is re­quired un­der state and fed­eral law and plays a role in al­lo­cat­ing trans­porta­tion fund­ing.

The com­mis­sion also voted to study po­ten­tial al­ter­na­tives that would give work­ers in­cen­tives to walk, bike or take public tran­sit to work rather than driv­ing, af­ter crit­i­cism that the mea­sure would pun­ish ur­ban work­ers, par­tic­u­larly in down­town San Fran­cisco.

Busi­nesses with 25 or more work­ers would be af­fected. Those that must have in­per­son work­ers such as gro­cery stores are ex­empt. The to­tal share of re­mote jobs is ex­pected to in­crease from 14% to 25% if the pol­icy is adopted, a ma­jor shift for the re­gion that could re­make its tran­sit and devel­op­ment pri­or­i­ties and po­ten­tially make work changes spurred by the coronaviru­s per­ma­nent. The com­mis­sion has a goal of re­duc­ing green­house gas emis­sions by 19% from cur­rent lev­els by 2035.

The Plan Bay Area Blue­print for 2050 was shaped by on­line public feed­back this year dur­ing the coronaviru­s pan­demic. The plan is ex­pected to be adopted by next sum­mer, but any le­gal man­dates on re­mote work would re­quire fu­ture leg­is­la­tion.

MTC Com­mis­sioner Nick Jose­fowitz, who is also the pol­icy direc­tor at ur­ban think tank SPUR, said the re­quire­ment could dis­pro­por­tion­ately hurt down­town San Fran­cisco, where many work­ers take public tran­sit, walk or bike and aren’t adding to green­house gas emis­sions.

“It’s not fair to ask them to work from home,” Jose­fowitz said at the Wed­nes­day meet­ing, adding that the re­quire­ment could do “real dam­age to down­town and our econ­omy.” Jose­fowitz is San Fran­cisco Mayor Lon­don Breed’s ap­pointee to the com­mis­sion.

It would also hurt those with room­mates who have a harder time work­ing from home, he said.

Re­tail­ers and restau­rants, as well as public tran­sit agen­cies like Cal­train and BART, have suf­fered heav­ily in the past six months with the ab­sence of al­most all of­fice work­ers in the area.

“I’m very con­cerned,” said Hil­lary Ro­nen, a San Fran­cisco supervisor and MTC com­mis­sioner, in a state­ment. “If this be­comes re­al­ity, it will have a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic im­pact on San Fran­cisco.”

Jose­fowitz pro­posed an amend­ment to re­move the 60% work­from­home man­date and replace it with a man­date for re­mote work, public tran­sit and equiv­a­lent mea­sures to reach the 19% green­house gas emis­sion, but the com­mis­sion re­jected it 9­4.

Alex Sweet, a trans­porta­tion ad­viser to Breed, said dur­ing public com­ment that the strat­egy “can­not be one size fits all” and a flat 60% re­quire­ment could un­der­mine the city’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

“We be­lieve this strat­egy needs re­vi­sions,” she said.

Ex­ec­u­tives at ma­jor Bay Area com­pa­nies have ex­pressed mixed feel­ings about work­ing from home.

Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook said Mon­day at a con­fer­ence hosted by the At­lantic that the “vast ma­jor­ity” of work­ers wanted to re­turn.

“In all can­dor, it’s not like be­ing to­gether phys­i­cally. And so I can’t wait for ev­ery­body to be able to come back into the of­fice,” he said, but added, “I don’t be­lieve that we’ll re­turn to the way we were be­cause we’ve found that there are some things that ac­tu­ally work re­ally well vir­tu­ally.”

Net­flix co­CEO Reed Hast­ings told the Wall Street Jour­nal that work­ing from home is “a pure neg­a­tive” and said the Los Gatos video stream­ing gi­ant would bring back work­ers as soon as the ma­jor­ity can be vac­ci­nated.

Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg said that it is now hir­ing for fully re­mote po­si­tions and that half the com­pany could po­ten­tially work from home by 2030, which would dis­trib­ute eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity to a greater area.

Other com­pa­nies such as Square, Twit­ter, Zil­low and Coin­base are al­low­ing many or all of their work­ers to work re­motely.

MTC Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Therese McMil­lan said more changes like ac­count­ing for non­car trans­porta­tion can be added to the plan.

“These are the kind of lay­ered re­fine­ments that could hap­pen” dur­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion, she said.

Oak­land Mayor Libby Schaaf, an MTC com­mis­sioner, said the “death and dev­as­ta­tion” caused by on­go­ing wild­fires that were ex­ac­er­bated by cli­mate change demon­strate that ma­jor ac­tion is needed, even at some eco­nomic cost.

“Put peo­ple be­fore prof­its,” she said. “I am not will­ing to not have a telecom­mut­ing man­date in this … blue­print.”

The ex­pan­sion of work­ing from home spurred by the coronaviru­s pan­demic was an op­por­tu­nity for long­term changes, she said, be­cause “com­pa­nies are al­ready dis­rupted.”

“There is an op­por­tu­nity to do things that could not have been done in the past,” she said.

San Jose Mayor Sam Lic­cardo, an MTC com­mis­sioner, said that he sup­ports find­ing com­mut­ing al­ter­na­tives such as walk­ing or public tran­sit and that the iso­la­tion and psy­cho­log­i­cal draw­backs of re­mote work are sig­nif­i­cant flaws. Es­sen­tial work­ers like those in the food in­dus­try are also un­able to work from home, he said.

“Work from home is cer­tainly not the ideal solution,” he said. “We’ve got to find lots of al­ter­na­tives.”

Stacey Ran­decker, a San Fran­cisco res­i­dent, was among dozens who op­posed the man­date dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s public com­ments, say­ing that it would un­leash “tremen­dous un­in­tended con­se­quences,” such as hurt­ing tran­sit agen­cies and down­town restau­rants and shops.

Daniel Kim / Sacramento Bee

Gov. Gavin New­som signs an ex­ec­u­tive or­der on gas­pow­ered auto sales in Cal­i­for­nia on the hood of an elec­tric car.

Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle 2019

Be­fore the pan­demic, Bay Area res­i­dents were con­cerned about the heavy traf­fic clog­ging streets and high­ways. Here, San Fran­cisco’s Fremont Street is seen in March of last year.

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