County commuters

A graph based on a survey of 926 Santa Barbara County employees shows the vast majority — 73.7% — commute to work alone in private cars, with the second-most common method of carpooling coming in at just 14.4%.

Santa Barbara County officials hope to cut county government’s greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of employees commuting to work alone and increasing the number using greener transportation and working remotely.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed the staff to return within 90 days with more detailed costs for the various recommended strategies — most of them the cheapest and easiest — that might accomplish those goals.

But some supervisors questioned how much impact the effort would have, and none of the various incentives and benefits will address the underlying cause that sends thousands of workers from the North County and San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties on a daily trek as far as 95 miles to reach their work sites.

Sustainability Division Chief Ashley Watkins said a survey of 926 employees, or 24% of the workforce, showed 73.7% commute by driving alone, and 600 employees from Santa Maria and Lompoc travel an average of 120 miles a day to their jobs in the South County.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said the city of Lompoc believes 6,000 people — from both government and the private sector — leave the city each day to work in the South County.

“The point is, we have a jobs-housing imbalance,” Adam said. “It points out we should take every opportunity we can … to put staff in the North County where the workforce is.”

He also said the staff might be misinterpreting the data by expecting improved incentives to increase the number of commuters using alternative forms of transportation or telecommuting.

“I think what you’re discounting is people like the freedom and flexibility,” Adam said.

The staff’s recommended incentives include enhanced tech support for those working remotely; increasing the pretax benefit for using alternative transportation; offering employees a discount on purchasing zero-emission vehicles; expanding the vacation bonus for alternative commuting; providing “hotel work stations” at other government agency offices; and expanding alternative work schedules and telecommuting.

One member of the public who spoke said the county should extend its commuter incentives to the private sector, while another said moving the county fleet and employees to all-electric cars would just shift emissions from the cars to the electric generators, given that more than 50% of the state’s electricity comes from natural-gas-fired plants.

Fifth District Supervisor and Board Chairman Steve Lavagnino also questioned the impact of moving commuters from their cars to buses.

He asked, “If someone takes the bus, then has to get in the car to go to the market, is it actually saving a trip compared to someone who makes stops” on the way to or from work? 

Adam also said he thinks there will be a limit to the amount of participation the county can get.

“I just think the benefits on this thing will be de minimis,” he said, adding he would support the staff’s proposed increases in incentives now but that wouldn’t guarantee he would when the data on costs come in.

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News Editor

Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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