CONCORD -- Despite Pacific Gas and Electric's pledge last week to suspend a plan to cut down thousands of trees while it works with concerned cities, the utility has been removing some privately owned trees near underground gas lines.

This comes as a surprise to many residents and city leaders who believed the utility had temporarily put the entire project, encompassing both private and public property, on hold.

"In some areas, we already have agreements in place with private property owners, so in those cases where those agreements are in place we're moving forward with that work," PG&E spokeswoman Debbie Felix said.

As part of its Pipeline Pathways project to ensure access to its natural gas pipelines, PG&E plans to remove about 730 trees in Concord.

"We're almost complete with all the private property work in Concord, with the exception of heritage and protected trees," Felix added. "The heritage and protected trees that we have not removed on private property, we will not remove them until we reach a shared solution with each city through these ongoing conversations."

Furthermore, PG&E is still contacting homeowners across Contra Costa County to make plans to remove their trees, shrubs or structures, according to Felix.

In an email sent earlier this week, Concord Mayor Tim Grayson told residents they don't have to let PG&E representatives into their backyards.


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"Some residents are unaware that at this time, because cities have come together and asked PG&E to put the project on hold, they are not required to let PG&E take down their trees," Grayson said Friday.

The City Council on Tuesday may adopt a resolution demanding that PG&E stop all tree removals in Concord until the utility agrees to discuss adequate mitigation and compensation, reimburse the city and homeowners for costs associated with planting and watering replacement trees, pinpoint the targeted trees and vegetation and comply with the city's tree protection ordinances and the California Environmental Quality Act.

Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson said she learned recently that PG&E is still contacting homeowners, which contradicts what the utility told her last week. Lawson said PG&E's message has been "inconsistent."

The $500 million Pipeline Pathways project is a statewide initiative to clear obstructions from the utility company's 6,750 miles of gas lines from Bakersfield to Eureka. PG&E says it needs to remove the trees, shrubs and structures on private and public property to ensure pipeline safety -- a top priority in the aftermath of the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

But Concord and other cities, including Lafayette, El Cerrito, Walnut Creek, Martinez and Danville, have objected to the plan, citing a lack of information about the project and lack of proof the trees are a safety hazard. Concord and other cities joined to hire a law firm to challenge PG&E and force it to abide by local tree-removal ordinances.

Grayson and his colleagues find the prospect of cutting down hundreds of local trees particularly galling because Concord has been a designated "Tree City USA" for 33 years.

"This is about teamwork. PG&E came in and they simply said, 'Here's our project, we're going to do it, and we don't see that we have to follow your rules,'" Grayson said. "If you'd just include us in your plans for this Pathways project, we could have resolved a lot of these issues so that they never become issues."

Staff writer Elisabeth Nardi contributed to this story. Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.