PG&E VP Presents Case for Controversial Tree Removal Plan to Contra Costa Board of Supervisors

April 23, 2014 10:00 am · 28 comments

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors said on Tuesday that they will need more details from PG&E before the utility moves forward with a proposal to remove hundreds of trees from county property as part of a larger tree and vegetation removal plan to boost access to its gas pipeline network.

The board was the latest government entity to hear from PG&E about its controversial Pipeline Pathway Project, which in recent months has angered and concerned some East Bay residents and city leaders who say PG&E cannot unilaterally cut down trees.

The public indignation over the proposal has prompted PG&E to slow down the plan and utility officials have agreed not to cut down any trees before reaching agreements with cities and counties.

However, utility officials say removing vegetation and even some small structures such as free-standing garages over the utility’s gas pipeline is essential for public safety – one of PG&E’s top priorities in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed 8 people and damaged some three dozen homes.

PG&E Vice President Kirk Johnson addressed the Board of Supervisors at its meeting in Martinez on Tuesday about the dangers trees and their roots pose to the pipeline.

Johnson said that for decades, the utility has been “too customer-friendly,” allowed property owners to plant trees too close to the pipeline and has been lax on reinforcing previously existing guidelines about planting trees above the pipeline.

Now, he said, PG&E has seen that “tree roots have the ability to interfere with the safety and protection of our pipeline from external corrosion — corrosion impacts the integrity of the pipeline.”

In addition, trees situated just above the pipeline make it difficult for workers to access and maintain the line and check for any safety issues, he said.

Still, PG&E officials have pledged to slow the five-year, $500 million tree removal plan until they have inked agreements with the cities, counties and private property owners involved.

“It will take a while to get there but this is what we would like to see to eliminate the risk,” he said.

PG&E has put up thousands of line markers and signs to clearly mark the pipeline and is dispatching patrols and sending out mailers to boost awareness of keeping pipeline access areas clear, he said.

Debra Mason, a Bay Point resident who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, agreed that removing the trees is necessary.

“It’s sad to see an oak tree go…but I think we have to put the people and our community’s safety first,” she said.

However, several other speakers said removing the trees would significantly downgrade their homes.

“To clear that pipeline would be ruinous to our community, it would ruin our property values, it would ruin our ambiance,” said Pleasant Hill resident Yehudit Lieberman.

Susan Fuller, who lives along the Iron Horse Trail in Pleasant Hill, asked PG&E to consider alternatives to removing the oak trees that line the yards in her neighborhood.

County staff said that PG&E must provide more specifics about where they plan to remove trees before it can work with the utility on the proposal.


"..too customer friendly..." April 23, 2014 at 10:23 AM

I wonder if knucklehead Kirk Johnson passed that one by the PR Department before blurting it out…?

Dwight Schrute April 23, 2014 at 11:02 AM

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas

The trouble with the maples
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the maples
Can’t be happy in their shade

There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream ‘Oppression!’
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
‘The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light’
Now there’s no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe and saw

Me April 23, 2014 at 11:06 AM

Yes they were being too customer friendly when they claimed they undercharged us for a whole year and gave us an $800 bill out of the blue a few years ago? Which they did let us pay off in three payments, because Their meter malfunctioned, or so they said. I am no fan of theirs.

Me April 23, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Plus we are one of the properties they want to clear things out on. Put up stakes all over the other day. On Our property. Not cool.

This is a clever scheme.... April 23, 2014 at 11:28 AM

to get our support for neighborhood nuclear reactors as an alternative to gas…

The Lorax April 23, 2014 at 11:32 AM

Hellooo. Just a friendly reminder that the fight to save a 300-year-old tree must be won over and over again. Lose the battle once and the tree is cut down forever. And growing a new one takes 300 years.

Anon April 23, 2014 at 11:37 AM

This isn’t about tree roots. Most tree roots aren’t deep enough to damage the pipeline. The issue is that PG&E wants to inspect their pipelines by helicopter and they want a giant swath of land denuded of vegetation to make that easy.

Anon April 23, 2014 at 11:39 AM

PG&E’s original story was about the helicopter inspection, but they changed to tree roots when they started meeting resistance. It’s time for PG&E to be taken over by the state. Places with public utilities, like Sacramento or LA have cheaper utility bills and are safer. PG&E is not your friend. They exist to screw you as much as we will let them.

funny man April 23, 2014 at 11:51 AM

i smell a big pile of BS
i agree.. time to break up PG&E just like ma bells were
distribution, produciton and transmission should be different companies to promote competition and consumer choice

Cat Wrangler April 23, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Community property owners say removing of all of PGE is essential for public safety.

Spark Baldman April 23, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Cut them down. Chop the wood. Stack it in our yards. Let us burn on the coldest days of the year instead of having “no burn days”. Im in!

Sacto Rob April 23, 2014 at 12:20 PM

#8 Anon- Oh yes, by all means let’s put our utilities under the control of the same entity that can’t balance a budget and is systematically cutting our government services in order to fatten the payroll and benefits of government employees. Just brilliant.

Sacto Rob April 23, 2014 at 12:28 PM

PG&E, like all utilities, is allowed to cover the costs of its operations by charging customers for delivery of service. So if you deny PG&E the cheaper alternative of inspecting its pipelines by air instead of on the ground, you’re driving up your own utility costs.
Pipelines blow up, everybody gets mad at PG&E.
PG&E tries to keep costs down with cheaper pipeline inspections, and everybody gets mad at PG&E.
Utility bills go up because PG&E gets denied a cheaper safety inspection process, and everybody gets mad at PG&E.
Conclusion: everybody just likes to get mad at PG&E.

Anonymous April 23, 2014 at 12:30 PM

This is about pipelines blowing up and killing people. When it happens PGandE will point at politicians and say they impeded safety. They will be right.

Dasn’t forget they are on trial criminally for the big explosion.

funnygal April 23, 2014 at 1:05 PM

agree with funnyguy…

PG&EEEEEEEK April 23, 2014 at 1:41 PM

PG&E sure isn’t making any friends these days. They should leave our trees alone. So what if their work is more inconvenient because of the trees. PG&E really sucks. Yep, we’re all mad at PG&E and it won’t change no matter what they do. Utilities went up with the dumb smart meters they installed, and they will always find a reason to up our utility bill. So, I say leave the trees and we will be billed more because their inspections will take more man hours on their part. Either way, they will raise our rates, so leave the trees.

Bark chewer April 23, 2014 at 2:05 PM

I would really like to know what PG&E is going to do about the telephone poles they cut off at the top and bottom and left them sort of hanging there. 3 poles on Dormer Ave look like this. Safety hazard for some poor kid. I had a PG&E Forman tell me the one that leans onto my property about 8ft that it also was bad and needed replacement, that was 10 yrs ago! They take are money but don’t do basic maintance. Would love to here back from Claycord or PG&E! Thank you.

Elwood April 23, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Some questions for Mr. Knucklehead Johnson:

How many trees caused the San Bruno explosion?

How many explosions have ever been caused by trees?

Isn’t it true that this is just PG&E’s revenge for the civil and criminal actions against it over the San Bruno explosion?

Me April 23, 2014 at 4:49 PM

@ Elwood. To play the devils advocate, they need to monitor the pipe lines with an unobstructed view with automated drones to insure safety more. That is what they told me anyway, after their root argument was blown away.

MrDioji April 23, 2014 at 5:47 PM

@me #4
Hate to break it to you, but I’m sure they have a utility easement on “your” property. In the agreement, you shall keep the easement clear, and they can have unrestricted access to their pipeline.
So good luck with that.

However, I do agree that PGE handled this poorly. You need to keep people informed.

Jan April 23, 2014 at 5:53 PM

Is there a website where you can see where these pipelines run?

Although I was pleased to get an information email from the Martinez Major explaining how citizens could bar PG&E from cutting trees on their private property, I’m leery. This is the same official who shrugged off my complaint about a neighbor who cut down several oaks that were “obstructing” her view. Oaks that were well over 50 years old. Nothing was done even after I pointed out the specific code she was violating.

I suppose the PG&E story garners more opportunity for publicity.

Julio April 23, 2014 at 6:32 PM

Just PG&E getting even

Atticus Thraxx April 23, 2014 at 7:48 PM

If you told me tomorrow PG&E caught caught stealing babies and eating them, I’d believe you. That’s where I’m at with those bastids..

Elwood April 23, 2014 at 7:54 PM

@ me #19

With no disrespect intended toward you, what PG&E told you is absolute bullpucky.

The San Bruno explosion was caused by their shoddy practices, not inability to see their rights of way.

Does anyone else remember a few years ago when they decided to save money by no longer trimming trees away from their power lines? Result? Fires and one service interruption after another. But it briefly added to their bottom line.

KAD April 23, 2014 at 8:47 PM

Several years ago, I saw a PG&E truck at the curb and workers on my sidewalk so I went outside to find out what they were doing. They informed me, after I asked, that they had been monitoring a gas leak and determined it had gotten bad enough to repair. I knew nothing about this and there were no trees anywhere near this leak. They were more interested in telling me how the sidewalk, when they were finished, would look at the rest of the sidewalk. Now you tell me how they would have noticed that from a helicopter.

KenInConcord April 24, 2014 at 3:12 AM

A classic play straight out of the Democrat’s playbook!!

‘Rahm Emanuel Says Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste”

This has nothing to do with San Bruno incident:
–High Pressure gas line
–Poor documentation
–Bad Welds
–Lack of maintenance

–Low Pressure lines
–Easier maintenance
–Arial fly-overs
–Saving money

Winston April 24, 2014 at 10:23 AM

A map of PG&E’s pipelines is here.
This tree cutting plan is about saving money for shareholders, not about safety.

KAD April 24, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Winston is correct. It is a money issue.

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