State will ban new gas cars
Bay Area: Transportation agency votes for 60% remotework mandate
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.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signs an executive order on gaspowered auto sales in California on the hood of an electric car.
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.