Concerned about Pacific Gas & Electric's plan to chop down potentially hundreds of mature trees in Palo Alto, city officials have sent an email to neighborhood groups advising residents not to sign any agreements with the utility company regarding tree removal until the city has assessed and come to an agreement with PG&E.
PG&E is proposing to remove hundreds of trees in Palo Alto as part of its Community Pipeline Safety Initiative around its gas transmission lines throughout the state. The plan has been met with concern in surrounding cities, including Menlo Park and Atherton because of its removal of many mature trees on public lands and residential properties.
PG&E has not conducted any Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regarding the tree removals, a point brought up by members of other Peninsula city councils, and it has not offered alternatives, such as relocating its pipelines, some of which run through residential properties.
Palo Alto leaders are questioning the need for the removal of so many trees and expressed concern this week that the utility company is offering residents tree-removal contracts. City officials said those contracts are based on incomplete information and are telling residents not to enter into any agreements with PG&E.
"The city has not agreed or approved any proposals, action plans or efforts on this matter. The city encourages residents to not enter into any agreements or sign any 'action plan' with PG&E at this time," officials said in a statement posted on the neighborhood social media site Nextdoor.
City staff and PG&E will meet on Monday afternoon, Nov. 9, to discuss the utility company's proposed action plans, including scheduling a public community meeting as soon as possible to keep residents informed and engaged.
City Manager James Keene told the council on Monday, Nov. 2, that the number of trees PG&E estimates for removal has been downgraded from 600 or 700 to 56 city trees and 289 trees on private property.
"That's still a significant number. Obviously, we're still quite concerned about the situation," he said.
Catherine Martineau, executive director of the nonprofit urban forest advocacy group Canopy, told the council at the Nov. 2 meeting that her organization and city staff are looking for possible alternatives to removing trees.
"Residents are very concerned. On Ashton Avenue they're wondering whether the rather old pipeline should be realigned or replaced with another one elsewhere instead of ripping out their backyards," Martineau said in an email to the Weekly.
"It is clear safety is paramount. However, Canopy and the city want to ensure that the fewer possible trees be removed, that City of Palo Alto tree policies be respected, and that adequate mitigation be provided by PG&E for any tree or other vegetation that absolutely has to go."
Residents and Canopy have asked the city to convene a public meeting as soon as possible, Martineau said.