PG&E Tree Removal Project on Hold

Utility says hundreds of trees across California obstruct access to buried gas lines

A PG&E project to remove trees that obstruct access to gas pipelines is on hold while the utility negotiates with California cities.

The utility company wants to remove obstacles, including trees, from Eureka to Bakersfield to make way for thousands of miles of gas pipeline.

The mayor of Walnut Creek says more 700 trees in his municipality could be removed. And the city of Martinez says nearly 300 of its treasured trees are on the chopping block.

But residents of both cities are saying “not so fast.”

“Martinez is a tree city,” resident Gay Gerlack said. “We’re very proud of our hills, our trees. This is the home of John Muir. No one saved more trees throughout the United States than John Muir.”

PG&E has earmarked hundreds of trees across the Bay Area for removal as part of its Pipeline Pathway Project, a program aimed at clearing pathways along the utility district's 6,750-mile natural gas line.

“They are on top of the natural gas transmission line. They are blocking us from seeing where the line is,” PG&E spokesperson Debbie Felix said. “And if there's an event or emergency we want to make sure we can get to that line.”

But several East Bay cities aren't buying it.

Martinez City Manager Anna Gwyn Simpson says they are determined to fight the tree removal.

“We're very concerned about it,” Simpson said. “We are a Tree City, USA, so trees are an important part of our community and we hope they don’t move forward without discussing this with us.”

“What we don’t want them to do is come into our town overnight, disregard our city ordinances, disregard state environmental law and cut down all these trees.” Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson said.

Lawson says more than 700 trees have been earmarked to for removal in her city. She says the city is prepared to sue to stop it.

“We did at last Tuesday's council meeting authorize our attorneys to sue PG&E, if and when they believe that becomes necessary,” Lawson said.

But as communities talk of taking legal action and teaming up, PG&E says they are listening.

“We realize we could have done a better job communicating,” Felix said. “We are sitting down with every city. For the time being, we have paused this program. Until we have an agreement in place with each city, we are not removing any trees under this program.”

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