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City to residents: Don't sign PG&E tree removal contracts

Palo Alto sends out warning email about upcoming assessment of trees

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.

Comments

79 people like this
Posted by Down with PG&E
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2015 at 6:17 pm

" Hell, no, we won't sign!"

Really, how DARE they?!!


24 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 7:09 pm

I heard on the radio that something like 60% of the state's trees are already dead.
They are trying to think of ways to save the coast redwoods that are also dying.


10 people like this
Posted by Tree Hugger
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 7, 2015 at 8:14 pm

[Post removed.]


25 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 7, 2015 at 8:20 pm

I have a redwood tree in front of my house - not planted by me or the city but by the previous homeowner. Tress are so cute when they are puppies but not so cute when they grow up. The previous homeowner planted this tree directly over the gas line going to the house. It is marked on the concrete sidewalk. I have asked the city to remove the tree numerous times but they refuse to do so - they say it is a city tree and I cannot remove it.

If this tree was to fall over that would be an interesting adventure for the people across the street.

I sometimes wonder why a tree becomes more important than the people who live next to it and will be affected by it when it falls over.


28 people like this
Posted by Tree Hugger
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 7, 2015 at 8:27 pm

@ Resident 1

Here is the best part of it all; you are liable for that tree!


54 people like this
Posted by I Like Facts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2015 at 10:46 pm

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Tree Hugger
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 8, 2015 at 7:31 am

Trees do not belong in utility easements. Water,gas,sewer,communications,electric, trees should not be located near these easements. The only hysteria I have witnessed is when a utility worker cuts a couple of roots and the homeowner freaks out.


100 people like this
Posted by Just a Fact
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2015 at 11:47 am

The pipes that carry gas are NOT the same as the ones that carry water. Nor are they the same as the ones that carry sewage.

Sewage pipes are permeable by tree roots. Really old water pipes may be, but newer pipes are not. Gas lines are NOT permeable by most tree roots, especially not by redwood roots.

As aforementioned, the San Bruno conflagration was caused by faulty welds at the times of installation-- the 1950s.

Tree roots invade sewer pipes because they are looking for water. They do NOT go looking for gas! If they did, or could, it would immediately kill the tree, and that carnage would be visible all over the Bay Area.

Gas pipes are ( supposedly) well sealed because the contents are under pressure. A contributing cause to the San Bruno inferno was the fact that PG&E had been increasing the amount of pressurized gas through the pipeline, bursting the faulty welds( which, btw, had never ever been inspected in 60 years!).

I suspect that the inspections of PA pipelines turned up something, and that PG&E is deflecting blame by falsely accusing Pali Alto trees. In addition, if there are faulty welds in gas lines installed by PG&E, THEY must pay for repairs. If PG&E can blame it on trees, they can soak The homeowners and the city for the cost, and make millions in profit while dodging culpability. This would be historically typical of PG&E.

PG&E has billions of dollars in losses to cover for the San Bruno disaster ( for which they had the unmitigated gall to raise everyone's rates ). They cannot be trusted. Don't sign ANYTHING authored by these people.

As an afterthought, PG&E is living proof that laissez faire
does not work with companies whose work can endanger public safety. They need strict regulation.

Why is PG&E persisting in this baloney, unless they have knowledge of something fishy that public


10 people like this
Posted by Grumpy Old Guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Nov 8, 2015 at 11:49 am

Grumpy Old Guy is a registered user.

Can someone clarify this for me? I thought gas was a Palo Alto Utility? and therefore PA is responsible for the gas lines.


37 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 8, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Clarification would be good here. I remember when the San Bruno fire erupted there was a lot of publicity concerning where the main pipelines are in the peninsula in total. The surrounding cities use PG&E so there are main pipelines up and down the area. Not sure how PA would get gas otherwise because they do not have the capability to create gas within the city.


29 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2015 at 1:27 pm

"a public community meeting as soon as possible to keep residents informed and engaged."

Be vigilant! The hidden purpose of "community meetings" is to provide a veneer of public participation in the process. Then, at decision time, officials cite their "public outreach" to imply public approval, even if they barely escape the public meetings alive.


34 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann, Staff Writer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 9, 2015 at 10:31 am

PG&E owns the large gas-transmission pipelines through which all of the gas flows. Palo Alto owns (and repairs) the smaller conduits, which feed off of the main transmission lines and run through the city.


51 people like this
Posted by Save your trees
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 9, 2015 at 10:34 am

Just like PGE. They want to use satellites to "monitor' the pipelines, or at least that's what they told people in Mountain View. And they used scare tactics to get people to remove trees from their property! But, in Mountain View, enough people said "no", that PGE came back with a "gentler" proposal including replacing the trees they remove with new trees and re-landscaping where necessary. Don't know how that will work in drought climate. In Palo Alto, they are not offering to replace the trees, but I think that residents should definitely fight this.
Why are the gas lines under private property and not under the streets?


47 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2015 at 11:46 am

Hypocrites! It's OK when the city clear cuts CA Ave & now it's not OK?


10 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2015 at 11:48 am

Tree roots in their endless search for water can put a lot of pressure on pipes. As an example one pool owner was at wits end trying to find a leak. It turned out that there was a small leak by a pipe joint and a root from his hedge found it. After fixing the leak the pool was still losing water. Finally it was found that the root had enlarged enough to break another pipe joint. The root had found the original leak and then enlarged its diameter enough to break another pipe joint. Mind you this was only a hedge. Just think of the pressure a large tree root can exert on a large pipe.

Now if you want to blame PG & E for being concerned - so be it. Personally it would seem that they are speculating on a potential problem of an explosive nature. I do not understand why some people are griping when the "evil corporation" appears to be expressing some concern for the safety of our community.


55 people like this
Posted by Canopy for all
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 9, 2015 at 12:00 pm

While I agree with the concerns over loss of the city's canopy, I find it interesting that the city now asks PGE to find alternatives to removing tress, such as rerouting pipelines, when it offered no such alternatives to the Duvenek/St.Francis neighborhood when it began systematically cutting down all the trees in our utility easement areas instead of underground the wires as they've done elsewhere in the city. Our neighborhood has lost its once beautiful canopy and we are left with a visual nightmare of row after row of utility poles and wires. Same scare tactic used then as PG&E is using now. Put your money where your mouth is, PA council. Underground all wires in Palo Alto, not just those in a select few neighborhoods.


55 people like this
Posted by Think Again
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Tree roots DO NOT go looking for natural gas in pipelines. To do so would be toxic and fatal to the tree.

They look for water and sewage because they need water as well as the nitrogen in sewage. Bad news for water and sewer pipes, good news for gas pipes.

Get real, PG&E ( acronym for piggy)!


4 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Some people don't get it

The root looks for water

When it finds the water it increases its diameter

If the root is near a gas pipe the increase in diameter of the tree root MAY be enough to bend or even break a gas pipe especially at a weld or joint.


13 people like this
Posted by David B
a resident of Portola Valley
on Nov 9, 2015 at 12:55 pm

We get mad at PG&E when they don't maintain the lines, and there's a problem; then we get mad at PG&E when they want to maintain the lines and prevent problems.

We're as bad as you all say they are.


42 people like this
Posted by Senor Blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 9, 2015 at 1:10 pm

There is a "Heritage Tree" Ordinance in Santa Clara County which is strictly enforced on construction project. This falls under that Ordinance. PG & E better watch themselves.


34 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2015 at 1:32 pm

I suspect PA's over-reach as to "heritage"/protected trees is as breathtaking as its over-reach in "historic"/protected structures; for example the recently razed, run down, early 1900's, worker shack in College Terrace.


3 people like this
Posted by Jenny
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 9, 2015 at 2:09 pm

I have a horrible feeling that a beautiful cedar tree in my front yard was planted by a previous owner over the top of the gas line into my house. Much as I would hate to loose my cedar tree if PG&E want to pay for it's removal I am only too willing to allow them to go ahead and remove it. I have long thought that this was a dangerous situation and I'm glad PG & E are proposing to do something about it.


11 people like this
Posted by Stretch
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2015 at 2:50 pm

PG&E transmission gas lines don't run all over the city. They run to the stations, and the city's almost 200 miles of gas mains carry the gas to about 20,000 gas services. There is a station at Page Mill and Alma, for instance and another on the way into the Baylands. Some of these city mains and services are plastic and can be snapped by tree roots. Steel mains don't break at welds, the welds fail or the steel corrodes.

@ Just a fact, tree roots just grow and break things, even sidewalks and gas lines. The roots aren't looking for gas, of course, but they spread wherever they want, and a tree can die if a gas leak goes for too long.


48 people like this
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 9, 2015 at 4:36 pm

The war on trees in Palo Alto continues. Just astonishing.


42 people like this
Posted by Rootz
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Tree roots, if they do not get enough DEEP watering, will come up to the surface looking for water.

Hence the cracked sidewalks and driveways.

Also why this is no time to be planting new trees.

New trees require a lot of deep watering; mature trees don't require as much, because they have formed a tap root, but still need monthly deep watering.

Redwoods have no deep or tap roots to begin with, their roots will always come up in order to produce more trees. They also absorb water through their flat needles.

Deprived of water and fog, redwoods lose their ability to use capillary action to get water to their top branches. The redwood then begins to die from the top down. In a drought, large branches will fall from the top. In a flood year, redwoods are easily uprooted due to their shallow root system; this is why they are no danger to pipelines of any kind.

Most trees, in a drought, will be susceptible to viruses and attack from insects. Between things like Dutch Elm Disease, Sudden Oak Death, insect infestations, uprooting, etc, PG&E doesn't have to do a thing. It is already too late for most young or mature trees.


39 people like this
Posted by Rootz
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 9, 2015 at 8:00 pm

BTW, cedars are similar to redwoods in that they have a shallow root system. They naturally grow in rainy or foggy places, and do poorly in droughts. As the wet season soaks the ground, cedars, redwoods, and birches are most likely to be uprooted and fall.


28 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 9, 2015 at 10:58 pm

PG&E says this program is about improving access by first responders in case of a transmission line emergency. They mention possible wear-and-tear on these lines due to tree roots, but the emphasis is on access. They want to minimize obstructions over the line caused by tree roots, sheds, etc.

An earlier poster said this line runs under Ashton backyards. Is that true?

We're not talking about the little pipes to go into our houses. This is about PG&E Line #109, which enters Palo Alto from the south at Middlefield, along which it runs to Ashton, to Cowper, to Loma Verde, to Waverly, to El Carmelo, to Alma, then along Oregon/Page Mill out of PA to the west. Eventually it gets to San Bruno, where faulty welds blew out in 2010. The PG&E map is at: Web Link

#109 has been fully inspected through PA since San Bruno, and two leaks repaired near Alma & Oregon.


2 people like this
Posted by The Shadow knows.....
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 10, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Wow - PG&E gets ripped (and justifiably so) when they don't do enough for gas TRANSMISSION line safety, and now also when they do try to do something. Imagine the hysteria and recriminations if a San Bruno style explosion happened here in Palo Alto due to a problem with this line.

I think we as a community are by and large a bunch of self serving hypocrites. This gives a whole new meaning to the term "NIMBYs".

The saddest part of this story was watching the City Public Works Director - who had obviously sent out as the sacrificial lamb to the media - on the TV news last night. He had that classic "deer in the headlights" look. His suggested alternatives that the City supposedly wants PG&E to study were ridiculous.

Relocate the pipe line? To where? Who is going to approve having it move into their yard?

Install root barriers? Isn't it a little too late for that - like by about 50 years or so? Isn't that viable only when installed initially at the time of construction and/or planting, not after the roots have already grown?

One suspects that this is all just a carefully manged strategy pandering to the "politically correct" perspective, rather than dealing with it in a realistic and pragmatic albeit unpopular manner.

This sounds like a strategy developed by the City Managers office.


17 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 10, 2015 at 5:14 pm

@Shadow ... I think PG&E is getting ripped (and rightly so) for not making the case that this action, which is extreme, will provide benefit equal to the cost. The tragic explosion in San Bruno in 2010, certainly would have had the same outcome if there were no tree roots over or near the line, so this must be about access in some other kind of emergency.

PG&E needs to tell some real stories to make clear to residents and the City what risks would be averted by the actions they've proposed. People are reasonable, but need convincing when their little bit of paradise is about to be torn up. If PG&E wanted to tear down all the trees on University Ave. or Center Dr., do you think the good people of Crescent Park would just say okay?

It's unthinkable that the line in question runs under the back yards of 19 properties on Ashton Ave. I can't think of a valid argument in favor of that, and if ever NIMBY was a valid argument for change, this is it.


14 people like this
Posted by Ashton Avenue Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 10:50 pm


On thing about Ashton Avenue residents: we are not NIMBYs. In fact I would say we are just the opposite: IMBYs. Yes the 69 year old, 24-inch high pressure natural gas pipeline, owned by PG&E, runs through our backyards. It's not the only easement we have though. The first easement on my property, taking up 7-8 feet of my backyard, is the flood control creek (can't build or plant on that), the second easement is the high power lines (can't plant tall trees there), and then the last 15 foot easement is the gas line (can't build or plant on that either). That takes up quite a bit of my back yard. So no expanded house, no nanny quarters, no detached garage, no large storage shed, no hot tubs, no swimming pools and limited backyard designs (raised gardens, rock gardens, waterfalls) in our backyards. Our backyard takes a hit.

But we do supply quite a bit of community services from our backyard (telephone, comcast, electricity, flood control for southern Palo Alto, and natural gas to thousands of homes in San Jose). All of this is okay by me. Kind of feels good as a neighbor.

But I would like a safe pipeline. Don't think that is too much to ask for. I sleep 12 feet from this pipe. If it is safe, so be it. But if 69 years has taken its toll on this pipe, it would be nice to replace/reroute. Corrosion and rust does happen on these pipes. Something deteriorates them up to 100 years. Bruno's pipe only lasted 50 years due to welding issues I think. That 'something' has been working on deteriorating my pipe for 69 years already.

We have two great spots to reroute the pipe to (only 1/4 of a mile). Our street is nice and wide with no trees and no buildings on it EVER. Most of PG&E's transmission lines are under the streets in Palo Alto. Another possible option is under the flood control creek in our back yard (again no trees or buildings on it EVER). The pipe already goes under the creek at Cowper or any creek it has to cross so I don't think that deep is an issue. PG&E will have to reroute/replace in the next 10, 20, or 30 years when it starts leaking or when it becomes damaged. PG&E does give priority to pipes older than 60 years old.

So I'm hoping (wishful thinking I'm sure), to not clear cut the mature trees in our backyards leaving a 15 foot wide path and save around 250+ trees (the trees on Middlefield are in jeopardy too). If this isn't convincing, then I'm hoping to raise awareness to the City of Palo Alto to be pro-active in safe-guarding its residents. I don't know if there will be a long queue of aged pipes in 30 years that PG&E can't keep up with.


3 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 13, 2015 at 12:30 pm

@Ashton Avenue Resident ... It never occurred to me that a gas main might be routed under residential property. If we'd known then what we know now, they could have run the pipe straight across town next to one of the creeks and put a world-class crosstown bike trail on top of it

I admire your stoicism and community spirit, and share your wish that the trees won't all have to go. Good luck.


1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Tip to those homeowners who have an easement in their backyard but are wishing to install a jacuzzi/spa. You can install a jacuzzi type tub in the easement/setback and will be permitted by CPA. The reason why this is allowable is that a jacuzzi tub is considered "portable" and can be moved if easement access is required.

Would it be a PITA? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. My two cents.


7 people like this
Posted by ME
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2015 at 6:11 pm

It is important to note, that the San Bruno explosion which killed eight people was not caused by "bad welds". Welds are safe and reliable when properly inspected and maintained.

The San Bruno explosion was caused by an executive management team that ignored, or were ignorant of the importance, of inspection and maintenance.
The MBAs running PG&E grew bored with the regulated profit that come with running a public utility (it is kind of embarrassing when you run into your old business school classmates), and decided to diversify PG&E into more profitable businesses.

The executives that were brought into PG&E to carry out the diversification had no experience running a utility, and gave inspection and maintenance a very low corporate priority. After the San Bruno explosion it was discovered that PG&E management had been neglecting inspection and maintenance for years, and could not even find the inspection documentation for hundreds of miles of underground pipelines.


Like this comment
Posted by Michael Dawson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 3, 2017 at 10:43 pm

What happened with this agreement? Did PG&E cut down trees in Palo Alto, or was this rebuffed?


4 people like this
Posted by Newly minted Cynic
a resident of Barron Park
on May 4, 2017 at 9:04 am

@Trees for All and Tim,
Maybe someone in the Duveneck neighborhood got on the bad side of the destroy-PaloAlto-quality-of-life faction in City Hall? They talk out of one side of their mouths about urban canopy, but then when they had a chance to acquire the Maybell orchard noncompetitively for basically free, in a part of town where there are no community public spaces, where one is desperately needed, where there were at the same time many youth suicides and calls to support our youth, and where places for youth to go like the bowling alley were disappearing simultaneously -- the chastised CC gleefully ensures the sale of the property to a for-profit developer, after publicly warning such an outcome would be unsafe. The 90+ trees survived the drought and are still there, yet you hear not a peep about them from City Hall. I think that whole fiasco was geared to silencing the vocal critics of the Cal Ave tree cutting (in hindsight we see the Cal Ave changes were to decimate not support longtime retail). The Maybell neighbors had a history of working out compromises that would have ensured the affordable housing got built AND the trees saved, but the Cc wouldn't allow it. Instead, what was a majority for-profit development, benefitting only a for-profit developer, busting the zoning of the neighborhood with three-story skinny houses packed at more than twice allowed residential density, was glossed over with a propaganda campaign that so pitted neighbors against each other that supposed tree lovers were out with their chain saws to cut it down. Cc got what I believe they really wanted, which was no resistance to cutting diwn the ladt historic orchard in Palo Alto. Mountain Vw had almost exactly the same circumstance around then and opted to save the historic orchard instead of razing it (and their proposal was only senior housing, not the senior apartments on a minority of the project as a Trojan Horse for a dense for-profit development as at Maybell.). The CC reekof hypocrisy when it comes to trees. I would say any proposal related to trees or any other issue where the council might be able to manipulate blocks of the public in order to sneak in some overdevelopment or Palantir-takeover agenda, look for the real agenda behind the Trojan Horse.


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