Atherton says PG&E can start process to remove sixteen trees


Atherton's City Council is still unhappy about Pacific Gas & Electric's plans to remove trees growing over the company's rights-of-way for gas transmission pipelines. But the council has agreed to let the process begin with sixteen trees on six properties.

In July PG&E representatives explained what they are calling a "pipeline safety and tree vegetation management" program to examine 600 trees in the town for possible removal. Council members asked PG&E to return with more information before removing any trees.

PG&E government relations representatives William Chiang and Darin Cline told council members Sept. 16 that so far they want to remove only 16 of the 242 trees they've looked at, far fewer than the 30 to 40 percent of trees that they earlier said have been taken out in other communities under the program. Member of the council still weren't placated.

"I don't want to just accept this and have them start the process to remove trees," Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis said. Instead, she said, the town should formally ask PG&E to move its pipelines away from the trees.

In the end, however, the council agreed to let PG&E try its process with the 16 trees already identified as dangerous. "We can see how it goes with these six properties ... and we can assess that," said Mayor Rick DeGolia.

Mr. Chiang told the council that PG&E is looking at 606 trees along Atherton streets on 44 private properties. He said that so far, the utility has spoken to 27 property owners, and signed six tree removal contracts. The found 105 trees "that can stay exactly where they are" and others "are manageable" but may need to be removed later, he said.

He and Mr. Cline also promised that even though the utility is exempted by state law from needing local permits, PG&E will fill out, but not sign, the town's tree removal permit forms and will go before the Planning Commission for any trees covered by Atherton's heritage tree ordinance.

"I just don't want to create any misunderstandings with your Planning Commission that they can say, 'No, you can't take that tree,'" Mr. Chiang said.

"They can say no," Mr. DeGolia said. "We want our Planning Commission to look at this with open eyes."

Mr. Chiang said that while the town can't tell PG&E not to remove a tree, if private property owners refuse permission, the utility will not cut the trees. Later, however, Mr. Cline said that if homeowners did not change their minds it "would lead us to possibly going to court."

The program started after PG&E was ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission in April to put $850 million of shareholder funds into "gas transmission pipeline safety infrastructure improvements," as part of $1.6 billion in penalties "for the unsafe operation of its gas transmission system." In 2010, an explosion at a gas-transmission line in San Bruno killed eight people. It was the highest penalty the PUC has even imposed.

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1 person likes this
Posted by Shivaun
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 21, 2015 at 12:23 pm

What is involved in the decision to remove a tree? Are they in the way of upcoming PGE upgrades? Aging or diseased? I fear many will be removed just because they are in PGE's way, not because anything is wrong with them. We are losing so many limbs all over Atherton, mainly due to the drought, what does the arborist say?

5 people like this
Posted by lorry
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Sep 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Just where are the trees for removal located?

2 people like this
Posted by AnonCow
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 22, 2015 at 8:27 am

PG&E has no interest in removing any more trees that necessary for the safe operations of its systems. Do you like your safe, reliable gas & electric service? If so, sometimes vegetation requires removal.

5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 22, 2015 at 10:01 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This episode should remind everybody that an easement provides legally binding access to the piece of property described in the easement.

Anyone who places structures or vegetation in such an easement needs to recognize that the easement holder has a legal right to access all parts of that easement including removing any structures or vegetation required to gain such access.

Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 23, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.


We have this issue all the time with regard West Bay Sanitation District easements. We have, on occasion, had to dig up trees, fences, gardens that are planted in our right of way (easement) to get to the sewage pipes buried in customers backyards.

That 10 foot utility easement across the back edge of your lot is not "yours" as much as you'd think.


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