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What Happened After Silicon Valley Tried to Make Telecommuting Permanent

California’s state air quality mandates require each region to have a feasible plan for a 19% reduction in emissions by 2035. But “after a barrage of criticism from Silicon Valley businesses and Bay Area mayors, Metropolitan Transportation Commission planners have backed off a requirement to have employees from big companies work from home three days a week,” reports the Bay Area News Group.

Instead a compromise plan approved unanimously by commissioners last week “calls for big companies to have 60% of their employees take sustainable commutes — by transit, bike or carpooling — by 2035.”

Lawmakers, mayors and the business community railed against the remote work mandate, saying it would undercut the Bay Area’s economy and encourage large companies to re-locate to cheaper regions. Transit supporters said work-from-home requirements would cut train and bus use without clear proof it would reduce the mileage of vehicle trips and emissions. The new proposal calls for no more than 40 percent of a company’s workforce to commute by auto on an average workday by 2035. Farms and employers with fewer than 50 workers would be exempt.

The plan encourages companies to subsidize transit passes, bikes, on-site employee housing, and commuter shuttles, as well as helping workers afford housing in walkable, transit-rich communities. Many large tech companies like Google and Facebook already provide shuttles and subsidize transit for their workers. It also suggests companies discourage workers from single-vehicle commutes by reducing parking spaces and raising parking fees, compressing work schedules and eliminating personal desks in favor of shared work spaces.

The new proposal was designed with input from state lawmakers, the mayors of San Francisco and San Jose, county supervisors, and officials from the tech industry and transit groups, MTC commissioner Nick Josefowitz said. “This is a much more effective policy,” said Josefowitz, chief of policy at the regional think tank SPUR. “This is figuring out how to do it better with everybody at the table.” Gwen Litvak of the business coalition Bay Area Council said the work-from-home mandate would have hurt urban centers and businesses. “The compromise will help revitalize downtowns, and gives business critical flexibility to have workers carpool, use public transit, ride bikes or walk, or even work remotely, but by their own choice,” she said.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the revisions better reflect how his city is evolving — from a suburban, car-centric culture to a city focused on developing a dense commercial and residential core supported by a robust transit network… Liccardo said part of Silicon Valley’s success springs from having talented employees working side-by-side, exchanging ideas and innovations. Remote work reduces some creative energy.

“We cannot impose mandates that contradict the laws of human nature and the laws of creative industry,” he said.

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