Ventura County supervisors this week voted unanimously to require the county's largest businesses, including the county government itself, to draw up plans for limiting the number of trips that employees make to and from work during morning rush hour.
The measure, designed to restrict the number of cars on the county's highways from 6 to 10 a.m., is similar to one recently imposed on Los Angeles County, Orange County and parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
It is the first in the state under legislation allowing smaller districts, such as Ventura County's, to also control motor vehicle trips, officials said.
Although it will require effort and expense to put the plans together and deal with the agencies that govern them, the local business community has not vigorously opposed the measure. The Ventura County Economic Development Assn. has supported it, and representatives of only two businesses offered any protest at Tuesday's hearing.
Beginning in January, businesses with 100 or more employees must submit plans to the county's Air Pollution Control District for reducing commuting trips. The county aims to cut the number of vehicles on the road by mandating that the equivalent of one out of every three cars carry at least two people to work.
The plans would then be extended to employers of 75 or more in 1991 and to employers of 50 or more by 1992.
No penalties will be levied for failure to reduce the number of commutes, said Richard Baldwin, executive officer of the county Air Pollution Control District. However, failure to submit plans could bring "substantial penalties--fines or imprisonment," he warned.
David Calkins, chief of air programs for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Western region, hailed the action, pointing out that Ventura County's air contains 50% more ozone than the nation's standard.
"This ruling is a step in the right direction," he said. "It will not take away an employee's decision to ride to work alone, but will provide alternatives."
Many of the largest employers are expected to offer van pools and arrange car pools to meet the county's requirements. The county itself has offered its 5,000 employees bus discounts, flexible hours and other incentives to leave their cars at home.
'Going Along With You'
"Ventura County is a major employer," said board Chairman Susan Lacey. "We are trying to show that we, the regulator, are also being regulated. . . . We will be going along the road with you."
However, some observers expressed skepticism that the plans, and the bureaucracy required to administer them, will end up clearing the county's air.
"This will increase the staff of the air quality district, but do little to change air quality," predicted Jere Robings, incoming executive director of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn.
And Laura Bridley, transportation planner for the city of Ventura, said the county's measure could conflict with a city requirement that businesses reduce afternoon traffic in the commercial area between Victoria Avenue and the Santa Paula Freeway.
Business owners in that area will be confused over whether they must meet the requirements set by the county or those set by the city, she said.
The county measure aims to cut morning traffic because morning emissions yield smog in the heat of the day. But the city, which intended not to reduce air pollution but to cut traffic congestion, focused on traffic in the late afternoon and early evening.
The board also set an Aug. 29 public hearing on fees that employers will be required to pay when submitting trip-reduction plans.