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A Sensible Way to Ease 101 Construction Impacts

As South Coast braces for freeway widening, here's a scheduling solution to help ease commuter aggravation and challenges.

Finally, the long-awaited widening of Highway 101 begins this year between Milpas Street and Hot Springs Road in Santa Barbara. The local business community has been advocating for this important improvement to our infrastructure for years, but now, with the work set to begin, are we ready to manage the growing pains that will accompany this major project for its duration over the next four years?

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Kristen Amyx
Without a doubt, it is time for the South Coast business community, known worldwide for successful innovation, to come up with some creative solutions to the aggravated commuting challenges our employees who live in Ventura County and other points south will be facing daily. Small businesses that do not have the resources to sponsor vanpools or subsidize train or bus fares, let alone contribute to the down payment for local workforce housing, may feel the greatest impact.

That’s why I am particularly excited about the Small Business Family Scheduling Option of 2008. AB 2127, introduced by Assemblyman John Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes, amends Labor Code 511 to provide employees and employers flexibility in work schedules by allowing a small business — with 25 or fewer employees and not covered by a collective bargaining agreement — to agree to offer scheduling options requested by an employee. Such options would include working four 10-hour days a week, or eight nine-hour days and one eight-hour day in two weeks, known as a 9/80 schedule.

Sponsors of the bill include the California Chamber of Commerce and numerous local chambers statewide, including a fellow member of the Regional Legislative Alliance, the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce. The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce joins these organizations and strongly supports the proposal for the multiple benefits both to our region and to individual employees of local small businesses.

Reducing commuter traffic at peak hours with flexible workweeks is easy, immediately effective, and minimally disruptive to employers. Not only are drivers on the roads at different times throughout the day, total trips throughout the month also decrease. Fewer trips and fewer cars mean fewer headaches for all of us.

Commuters on Highway 101 are not the only potential beneficiaries of this legislation. As employees at some larger companies who already enjoy a 9/80 or similar work schedule know, spending less time at the office and on the road getting to the office, means more time at home or pursuing other interests. If you do the math, working a compressed four-day workweek can provide up to 50 extra nonwork days each year for the average full-time employee. Such tangible benefits go a long way as we all struggle to strike a balance between work and home life. Research has also shown that people who take advantage of compressed workweeks tend to live healthier lives, exercise more and sleep better. Any employer can tell you that happy and healthy employees are more productive, and good for the bottom line.

Our environment, particularly air quality, also stands to benefit. As the number of car trips decreases, levels of pollutants and carbon emissions drop accordingly. A California Air Resources Board Economic and Technology Advancement Advisory Committee draft report suggests that flexible working hours would result in a 10 percent reduction in emissions with 10 percent of employees using the schedule. That’s only a start, but it’s a good move toward making a real impact.

Iterations of AB 2127 have failed in past legislative cycles. However, this is the right bill at the right time and the Goleta Valley chamber will be pushing for it to pass. Employees at companies of all sizes should have options open to them so they may lead balanced, healthy and happy lives.

The Small Business Family Scheduling Option would only be a small piece in the complex set of adjustments the entire community must make as we face the challenges of a major highway project. But it offers potentially far-reaching benefits that go beyond merely helping to reduce highway congestion. These are workplace improvements for the long run, not simply Band-Aid measures to hold us over until the freeway construction is complete.

Kristen Amyx is president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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