WALNUT CREEK -- Pacific Gas and Electric has agreed not to cut down any trees or contact local homeowners about removing trees for the next six months.
In exchange, Walnut Creek will not sue the company and will work with the utility on a tree plan, according to a signed agreement reached Tuesday.
The agreement calls for the company and city to find a solution regarding PG&E's proposal to cut down 735 trees in the city to allow better access to its natural gas pipelines as part of the controversial statewide Pipeline Pathways program.
"What we have signed puts into writing that this program is on hold for all circumstances except for a documented emergency -- this is not only gas but for their normal electric work as well," said Mayor Kristina Lawson.
PG&E must give the city 15-day advance notice for any electrical work where pruning or taking down trees is involved, so it isn't confused as part of a larger controversial gas pipeline project, she said.
The $500 million Pipeline Pathways project is an initiative to clear obstructions from the utility's 6,750 miles of underground 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 after the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
In Walnut Creek, PG&E had already agreed in principal not to cut down any trees on public property after the mayor started an online petition criticizing the utility's plan to hack down trees. But the formal agreement now bans PG&E from cutting down trees on both public and private property and prohibits them from proactively contacting customers -- which had continued.
Calling the agreement a "positive step toward building a better relationship," PG&E spokeswoman Debbie Felix said the company is dedicated to finding a solution that ensures public safety and keeps Walnut Creek beautiful.
The city and utility still have major unresolved differences that must be worked out. PG&E maintains it has the right to take down the trees without going through the city tree removal permit process, and city leaders strongly disagree.
Over the next several months, PG&E workers and city staff will examine every tree PG&E wants to take down and reimburse the city for staff's time, Lawson said.
PG&E has agreed to do the same in other East Bay cities where leaders raised similar concerns, Felix said. No other city had a signed agreement by Thursday, she said.
In the next six months Walnut Creek will also work on tabulating what PG&E must pay to the city in reimbursement for any trees it plans to take down. But Lawson still believes PG&E must go through the city's tree removal permit process.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.