Mayor London Breed issued a statement Wednesday expressing “significant concern” over a regional strategic plan approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Committee last month that would require cities to encourage more telecommuting in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb congestion.
The regional transit agency adopted the Final Blueprint for Plan Bay Area, a planning strategy that will be used to guide policymaking and funding efforts in the coming years, on Sept. 23.
Despite robust debate among commissioners, a work-from-home mandate that would require employers with more than 25 employees and the ability to conduct work remotely to have 60 percent of their workforce telecommute on any given day was passed 12-1.
Companies would have flexibility in how to achieve the target, employing tools such as compressed work weeks, flexible work schedules or remote work, but doing so will be critical in bringing current emissions levels down by 19 percent over the next 15 years, a goal set by the state.
Some Bay Area stakeholders, including Breed, say that’s just not going to cut it.
“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,” the joint statement from Breed and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said.
The Final Blueprint for Plan Bay Area tries to paint a picture of an “affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and vibrant for all” nine-county region in 30 years. It leverages nearly three dozen strategies that target four areas — the economy, the environment, housing and transportation — to achieve that vision.
Recommendations include putting more workplaces near public transit hubs, green infrastructure investments in public transportation and affordable housing, making neighborhoods more walkable and, of course, asking companies to require more workers to do their jobs from home.
During the Sept. 23 discussion, commissioners and members of the public from San Francisco expressed grave concern over how the mandate could gut The City’s downtown economy, prove disproportionately burdensome to those who can’t afford roomy living conditions and disincentivize development and use of green transit options such as public transit, biking or walking.
The 15 members of the Bay Area delegation to the California State Legislature echoed these concerns in a letter they penned to the chairman of the MTC Tuesday.
“We are concerned, however, that the Work From Home Mandate was not adequately vetted, may not achieve a reduction in transportation greenhouse gas emissions, and may have additional negative consequences for our constituents and our region as a whole,” the letter said.
The delegation asserted a blanket mandate “fails to account for equity” and isn’t “a viable or appropriate long-term strategy for the Bay Area.”
It risks a meaningful reduction in fare revenue for public transit systems with the loss of commuters that would “badly harm” low-wage workers and people of color; the hollowing of regional downtown centers and the jeopardization of non-office downtown workers who depend on commercial centers for service-industry jobs; a failure to account for workers who live in smaller homes with large families or multiple roommates; and the creation of sound argument for those who want to avoid increasing housing stock in the region if there’s no requirement to live near the workplace.
The letter also argued there’s evidence to suggest work-from-home strategies actually increase emissions because they encourage people to live in lower-density environments that lead to “longer, more auto-dependent” commutes and non-work trips. However, it didn’t cite research to support that claim.
The letter also said the mandate targets people already taking sustainable methods to work, as is the case of nearly 70 percent of workers in San Francisco who would be eligible to telecommute under this strategy.
The letter suggested other ideas to reduce trips and emissions, such as placing more housing and office space near transit, prioritizing transit over highway widening, and giving Bay Area residents “aggressive but flexible” policies that allow them to shift their commutes and other trips to sustainable modes.
Passage of the Final Blueprint didn’t cement the telecommute strategy into law.
Local governments, nonprofits and other stakeholders are encouraged to collaborate on details for how to best implement the strategies in a fashion tailored to each jurisdiction. But without buy-in from key players such as county lawmakers, the lofty goals of affordability, sustainability and accessibility given to the Bay Area could prove hard to achieve.
Both the delegation and the mayors emphasized their willingness to work with the MTC to “consider alternatives” to achieve these goals without sacrificing equity or the “vitality of our downtowns.”