WALNUT CREEK -- Leaders here are cheering an agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric they hope will allow the utility and city to work together to preserve both public safety and as many local trees as possible.

In a 4-0 vote Tuesday, with Councilwoman Cindy Silva recusing herself, the council voted to approve a "framework agreement" with PG&E calling for the company and city to find a solution regarding PG&E's proposal to cut down 735 trees in Walnut Creek to allow better access to its natural gas pipelines -- part of the utility's statewide Pipeline Pathways program.

The $500 million Pathways project calls for clearing 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 Mayor Kristina Lawson started an online petition criticizing the utility's plan to hack down trees.

She said this agreement gives her hope.


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"I am optimistic that by putting a framework agreement in place, the city and PG&E can begin to work more cooperatively on all issues of community concern while keeping the community safe," she said in a letter to supporters on Monday. "Once again, Walnut Creek residents and our partners and friends across the region came together to protect the community character we all cherish so much."

In the agreement PG&E agreed to do the following:

  • Reevaluate all trees initially proposed for removal, upon request by an agency, and only propose the removal of trees for which data supports safety concerns, all with a goal of reducing the number of trees proposed for removal;

  • Comply with encroachment permit procedures and requirements;

  • Identify trees protected by local tree protection ordinances;

  • Mitigate for protected tree removals;

  • Pay costs associated with all of this;

  • Evaluate measures that could avoid the need for tree removals;

  • Provide data;

  • Conduct field reviews with the city.

    What the agreement does not address is perhaps the biggest bone of contention -- whether PG&E is subject to local tree removal ordinances.

    "Instead, the agreement is designed to develop a framework for limiting the number of trees required for removal and to develop information for the city to carefully consider PG&E's tree removal requests," Lawson said.

    But this means if the city and PG&E disagree about a particular tree, for example, the city or the utility may still go to court to settle the issue.

    Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617 or enardi@bayareanewsgroup.com

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