Local officials are claiming progress in their attempt to stop the removal of thousands of trees throughout their cities by Pacific Gas and Electric.

PG&E says it needs to remove the trees on public and private property as part of the Pipeline Pathways project to ensure access to its natural gas pipelines. On Thursday, PG&E confirmed that it would "pause" the project and no trees would be taken down as it works with cities that have expressed concern with the plan. "We share these cities' deep appreciation of the trees," PG&E spokeswoman Debbie Felix said. "We are listening, and we want to continue working collaboratively. We decided to pause to allow more time and have these good conversations to make sure we are addressing their concerns."

Trees along Locust Street, between Civic Drive and Bonanza Street, in downtown Walnut Creek are photographed on March 25, 2014. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News
Trees along Locust Street, between Civic Drive and Bonanza Street, in downtown Walnut Creek are photographed on March 25, 2014. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Felix didn't know whether those conversations would lead to public meetings.

Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson said she was notified Wednesday night by a PG&E representative that the utility giant will meet with her and other city representatives to discuss the project. The company agreed to suspend any clearing of trees or brush on both private and public property until it meets with Walnut Creek officials -- though the work wasn't supposed to start in earnest until May.

"Our quest to ensure PG&E considers alternatives to the Pipeline Pathways program is not over," Lawson said in an email. "We need to communicate to PG&E that while safety is paramount in Walnut Creek, there are better alternatives to the program that will not have permanent impacts on our community's character."

The $500 million project is a statewide initiative to clear trees, shrubs and structures from the utility company's 6,750 miles of gas lines. PG&E says it needs to remove the obstructions 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 several cities throughout Contra Costa and Alameda counties, including Lafayette, Concord, El Cerrito, Clayton, Martinez and Danville, have objected to the plan, complaining of a lack of information and proof that the trees are a safety hazard. Walnut Creek and other cities created a consortium and hired a law firm to challenge PG&E and try to get the utility to abide by local tree-removal ordinances.

Felix would not say exactly what the pause means for the future of the project in these cities. For those cities where there is an "action plan" and agreement, PG&E will commence or continue work such as taking down trees and structures.

Lawson started an online petition March 22 that has more than 2,200 signatures. It asks PG&E to meet with residents.

A PG&E government affairs representative has agreed to attend a community meeting to receive feedback from residents, Lawson said. The time, date and location of that meeting has yet to be determined.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.