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Thanks to work-from-home trend, the sky is blue — and Kern COG would like to keep it that way

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The color of our air has taken on an unfamiliar hue: blue. That’s generally the way it’s supposed to look. It’s simply been covered in a shroud of haze, both natural and man-made, locally produced and imported.

We’ve been seeing a lot more blue sky ever since the COVID-19 pandemic sent many of us home from work, school and leisure activities. Less traffic, less particulate matter and ozone in the air. Less brown, more blue.

What if, after this virus is acceptably contained and the economy can reopen, people kept their cars in the garage, say one day a week? That would be 20 percent less weekday traffic, 20 percent less weekday pollution, perhaps even 20 percent cleaner air. Less asthma, less heart disease. 

It’s an idea the Kern Council of Governments, a regional transportation agency, has been kicking around with others around the state.

The idea, as Kern COG Executive Director Ahron Hakimi explains, is for businesses to allow — or even require — employees to work from one at least one day a week.

“Every single year for at least the last decade, people have been saying they are dissatisfied with the air quality in Kern County,” Hakimi said. “Right now we have a huge opportunity to make a real difference — not in 10 years, not in 20 years, but right now — by challenging both employers and employees to telecommute.”

The idea that Kern COG is kicking around, Hakimi said, is to encourage employers to direct their workers to work from home one day a week, at a minimum, starting immediately.

Bakersfield City Councilman Bob Smith, an avid cyclist, says most of us have been practicing telecommuting long enough to make it a permanent practice without much trouble.

“A lot of people have been forced to try it, through this (pandemic),” Smith said. “And the technology’s gotten to a point where it’s easier and easier for people. And I think people recognize that more, now that we’ve been forced to try.”

Obviously not every business would be able to allow telecommuting. Many require employees to work at thier desks in the office, or out in the field. But many might be able to allow employees to work from home two days a week. Or five days a week. Whatever the case, Kern’s air quality will surely benefit.

 But what if local companies don’t want their employees to work from home? Can they be compelled to do so?

Kern COG’s Hakimi wonders the same thing.

“That’s what we’re kicking around right now at both the regional level, San Joaquin Valley (level), and the state level,” he said. “Up to now, all carpooling or telecommuting has been voluntary and many organizations encouraged it. Do we take the next step for the state or the federal government to mandate it? Those are the conversations we’re having. … We have the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and they would be able to either mandate it or apply incentives or disincentives.”

As brutal as this pandemic has been for the economy, it undeniably has some silver linings. We’re walking more, biking more, checking up on each other, and we’re breathing more clean air too. Now there’s a movement to capture and hold that last benefit.

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