Regional planning needs to include telecommuting

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Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

During the April 30, 2019, meeting of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Dianne Jacob said, “Transit and roads are not mutually exclusive. We need both.”

She is correct, but the county and other regional planners need to revive another tool for traffic congestion relief and climate control.

Jacob had to be at that meeting in person. Since rain was falling in San Diego County that day, I used the call-in line. It saved me a trip, as well as the wetness, and since I didn’t go into San Diego that day, I spent other parts of the day working at home. Telecommuting saves energy in more ways than trip avoidance; since I was able to wear clothes suitable for working at home rather than for meetings, I could extend the time between laundry loads and waking up 45 minutes later reduced the lights I used to get ready.

After the coronavirus precautions were implemented in March 2020, governing board members were allowed to call in to board meetings. Jacob and her colleagues may have had to dress for video, but they didn’t have to leave their homes. The elected officials experienced firsthand the benefits of what many workers already do.

In 1990, Richard Louv wrote a two-part column on telecommuting for the San Diego Union. His March 25, 1990, column includes the sentence, “And in January, the San Diego County board of supervisors voted to set up a pilot program to study the behavior of a dozen or so county employees working from home.”

In 1990, I was living in San Diego and writing for Soccer San Diego, so I did not follow the board of supervisors. I do not know what happened to that pilot program. This activity also took place before any of the current board members were first elected, so they can’t be faulted for not being aware of this study. The supervisors, along with the San Diego Association of Governments and other regional planning bodies, could add telecommuting to regional plans to reduce traffic congestion and promote climate control.

On Sept. 1, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors created an ad hoc committee to evaluate telecommuting and virtual meeting policies. The temporary changes due to the coronavirus protections convinced the county supervisors that some of those policies have future utility, and some department heads cited an increase in productivity when workers were based at home rather than in a county office. In addition to the mileage reduction the benefits include lessened need for office space and parking at county facilities and increased quality of life for employees whose commuting time is eliminated.

Transit is most convenient in certain parts of larger cities and not truly feasible in most small towns or certain parts of large cities. Telecommuting is feasible nearly anywhere. Ironically, a single-family home where the homeowner makes the sole decision about modifications to enable working from home is more appropriate for telecommuting than a multi-family urban infill unit where modifications are not permitted or not even possible. Telecommuting may work best in parts of the region transit doesn’t serve.

The increase in the cost of homes, in part due to development restrictions, have often forced two adults to work so that housing payments and other expenses can be met. Living close to work assumes that one’s workplace will not change and also assumes that both spouses work in the same area. Telecommuting, especially when a residence is sufficient for two workers at home, eliminates the need to have housing close to the employment location.

Many transit centers have park-and-ride facilities, and freeway off-ramps may have a nearby park-and-ride facility to encourage carpooling. Commuters still need to drive to those park-and-ride facilities to use transit or carpooling; however, they do not need to drive to commute from one part of the house to another.

The coronavirus quarantine showed that additional people working from their home, including students, will reduce both traffic congestion and automotive emissions. The county will have enough tasks with regard to handling the coronavirus and maintaining services in the light of economic losses. SANDAG, whose biggest problem from the coronavirus epidemic will be the loss of sales tax revenue for its TransNet program, should focus not on prioritizing transit or roads but on expanding telecommuting options.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at jnaiman@reedermedia.com.