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Trees along Locust Street, between Civic Drive and Bonanza Street, in downtown Walnut Creek, Calif., photographed on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Cities across the Bay Area are joining together to try and stop a plan by Pacific Gas and Electric that will call for the cutting down of thousands of trees like these. PG&E says the cutting down of trees is necessary to make their gas pipelines safer. Many city leaders are saying that the utility is violating local tree removal ordinances. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

When PG&E hired Anthony Earley as its new CEO in 2011, it was seeking to repair the company's tattered reputation as a tone-deaf utility that put profits ahead of safety and respect for the public.

Earley came on after the San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, a tragedy for which the company now expects to face criminal charges. He seemed to understand the importance of revamping the system's gas lines before they blow up another community.

But, as demonstrated by the company's plans to destroy thousands of trees in the East Bay, Pacific Gas & Electric will still trample the public it serves to save a buck. The company continues to maintain an imperious mentality, thinking it can go anywhere and do anything without regard to the consequences. That must stop. Now.

Calling its program Pipeline Pathways, PG&E plans to clear the land above its 6,750-mile natural gas transmission system. It's not that the company needs to repair the pipes below. It merely wants unfettered access.

It claims this is for safety purposes, but thus far the program seems to be mainly for PG&E's convenience and maintenance cost-savings. It has yet to demonstrate the safety benefits are real or the economic, environmental and visual destruction, in many cases of decades-old trees including hundreds of prized oaks, is justified.

Oh sure, after eight cities -- Clayton, Concord, Danville, El Cerrito, Lafayette, Martinez, Pleasanton and Walnut Creek -- threatened legal action, the company late last week said it was putting the project on "pause."

That's hardly reassuring, for it suggests the company, which repeatedly refuses to provide straight answers to direct questions, is prepared to hit the start button again at a moment's notice. The pipelines stretch from Bakersfield to Eureka, meaning the program could uproot trees in most Bay Area cities.

In the city of Walnut Creek, for example, Pipeline Pathways would rip up blocks of precious shade trees downtown and destroy median beautification on one of the city's most heavily traveled thoroughfares. In Danville, PG&E would remove heritage trees right in front of the town offices.

Rather than try to work cooperatively with the communities by first demonstrating the need and then working collaboratively to figure out the least-destructive solution, PG&E had arrogantly advised East Bay cities that it had the legal authority to act unilaterally and it planned to do so.

It's highly questionable whether they do have that authority, but the company has yet to concede that point. Moreover, even if it could act without municipal blessings, that is hardly the respect for the public that we were promised in the Earley era.