Make remote work permanent? No way, say Bay Area leaders

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

No way, say Bay Area leaders.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is drawing heavy fire
from lawmakers, the business commmunity and transit supporters this
week 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 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. But the
new plan, he said, is unworkable. “It’s surrender.â€

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
— 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 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.â€

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
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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 gasses, 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.

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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,â€
he said. “This undermines the incentives to live near
work.â€

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,â€
he said, but “why would we want to punish companies doing the
right thing?â€

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Make remote work permanent? No way, say Bay Area
leaders