Imagine, in the post-pandemic future, most Bay Area workers ordered to toil from home at least three days a week. Permanently.

That’s the path regional planners have chosen for a more livable and less congested community.

Bay Area leaders are already saying, no way.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is drawing heavy fire from lawmakers, the business commmunity and transit supporters for a proposal that would require big companies to have their employees work from home at least 60 percent of the time by 2035.

The proposal is aimed at reducing vehicle commuters and greenhouse gas emissions, but Bay Area politicians and business leaders say it would encourage Silicon Valley companies to pick up and leave. “This will spur a flight of large employers from the Bay Area,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, comparing the idea to paving lanes directly from Silicon Valley to Texas.

After recovering from the pandemic-caused recession, Liccardo said, “we’re going to miss those jobs.”

Liccardo and San Francisco Mayor London Breed this week urged MTC leaders to find a better solution to hit the region’s long-term clean air goals. More than a dozen members of the Bay Area state delegation signed a separate letter saying they are “deeply concerned” and followed with three pages of objections — a signal the plan is a no-go in Sacramento.

But the proposal shows the difficulty Bay Area planners have meeting the state’s ambitious clean air goals.

“They floated a trial balloon and it got shot full of holes,” said Matt Regan, vice president of policy at the Bay Area Council, a business consortium with more than 300 members. The new plan, he said, is unworkable. “It’s surrender.”

The work-from-home proposal is a small detail in a comprehensive strategic document known as Plan Bay Area 2050, prepared by the MTC staff and approved by its board late last month.

The plan asks large, office-based employers — think big tech and many other companies with more than 25 employees — to have the majority of their workers off-site at any one time. It offers a variety of suggestions to meet the goal, including shorter work weeks with longer working days, flexible schedules and more remote work.

Retail, warehouses and other businesses requiring on-site workers would be exempt.

The mayors, lawmakers and other local officials were quick to praise MTC for many aspects of the comprehensive plan, which envisions $400 billion for transit expansions, $13 billion for dedicated bike lanes, new tolls and lower speed limits to reduce the environmental impacts of a growing population.

The state requires the region to reduce per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by 19 percent by 2035 — a standard Bay Area leaders say is made more difficult because the region is already a leader in conservation measures. “There are no easy fixes,” MTC planners wrote in their presentation to commissioners.

To reach the air quality goal, planners ran their computer models and found a ready target — commuters.

“This is a solution that says, ‘We can’t move,’” said Jason Baker, a former MTC commissioner now with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, whose membership includes the valley’s big tech companies. “It’s frankly draconian.”

Silicon Valley businesses have been investing in green buildings, flexible work schedules and other sound environmental policies, but would reject a government mandate, Baker said. “It really risks sending companies out of the region,” he said.

Rebecca Saltzman, a BART director, is introducing a resolution asking MTC to re-examine the requirement, which was added late in the process. It would drive down transit use with no clear proof it would reduce greenhouse gases, she said. “We know we would lose riders,” she said.

Bay Area lawmakers said a work-from-home mandate would hurt small businesses located around large employers, drain vitality from downtowns and diminish transit use. The requirements would also fall heavily on low-wage workers who typically must report to work to cook, clean, build or serve customers.

San Jose and San Francisco both have tech giants — Google and Salesforce — spending billions of dollars to design and develop new campuses with a higher density of homes and apartments near transit. A work-from-home mandate could disrupt those plans, Liccardo said.

“I’m concerned about a parade of unintended consequences,” he said. “This undermines the incentives to live near work.”

Liccardo said the current COVID-mandated work-from-home rules are required for health and safety but aren’t necessarily the best way for businesses to operate. “It’s all well-intended,” he said, but “why would we want to punish companies doing the right thing?”


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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