Mountain View Voice

News - August 31, 2012

More residents say PG&E will strip their yards

One gas line will be moved next year, but trees still have to come out, PG&E says

by Daniel DeBolt

A group of residents who live in a Rock Street condo complex are joining a chorus of complaints from Mountain View residents about PG&E's plans to strip backyards where major gas lines exist.

"It's never going to be as nice," said Kenneth Hauck, a resident of the condos at 1963 Rock St., as he looked at the view of eight trees that shade his second-story balcony, a hummingbird hovering nearby.

PG&E wants to remove all the trees that shade his yard and seven other households because they are over major gas lines 132 and 109, and could damage the line and cause an explosion.

The trees include two large pines and a redwood with a 3-foot-diameter trunk, all apparently ignored by PG&E since the 1970s.

"That one they are very anxious to get rid of," Hauck said of the 80-foot-tall redwood in the parking lot next to his unit. "It's right on the pipeline. PG&E clearly didn't pay any attention to this the whole time" the tree has been there.

What bothers Hauck even more is that PG&E insists on removing the trees even though next year it may relocate the section of gas line 109 that runs under the them.

"I want them to move the whole thing out to Middlefield and not destroy my backyard," Hauck said. "The trees are just gorgeous right now. They provide a sense of privacy, a sense of beauty."

Residents of 15 other households on San Lucas Avenue find themselves in a similar situation, and Hauck and his neighbors say they had no idea the lines existed under their backyards.

PG&E says the tree roots could disturb the line and cause a leak, like the one that caused a deadly explosion along line 132 in San Bruno in 2010. Trees also block detection of leaks by aircraft fitted with special laser technology, PG&E says.

Alex Dimitri, a Kaiser physician who lives with his wife and infant child next door to Hauck, said he will lose three trees in his backyard, and is now going to think twice about barbecuing there. He said the greenery was a big reason he recently moved in.

"I feel like at this stage of the game they should be making more concessions," Dimitri said of PG&E following the San Bruno disaster.

Another section of line 109 is in the process of being moved from under nearby Crittenden Middle School. "If it can be moved from Crittenden, it can be moved from my backyard." Dimitri said, noting concern for his own child.

PG&E says the section of line 109 is actually on a list of lines to be relocated in 2013. Until then, PG&E spokesperson Monica Tell said, PG&E needs to do something to ensure the safety of those nearby as part of its new "commitment to safety" following the San Bruno disaster.

While the section of line 109 is being looked at for relocation, Tell said it's not urgent. The lines have passed a hydrostatic pressure test, she said.

"There are no issues with the line that currently runs under that specific area," Tell said. "When a pipeline is strong and functioning there is no reason to relocate that line."

Tell said line 109, built in 1973, needs to be replaced and relocated only because it doesn't have a consistent diameter and would not allow the use of a new leak detection device called a "smartpig."

Hauck, Dimitri, and the Telleria household on San Lucas Avenue expressed interest in working together to try to keep PG&E from stripping their yards, and to have the gas lines moved out to Middlefield Way, which isn't planned for the section of line 132 that runs through backyards on San Lucas.

Beto and Eileen Telleria say they have been working with Public Works Director Mike Fuller to arrange a neighborhood meeting with PG&E instead of the individual meetings that have occurred so far, in which "it seems like some people are hearing different things." One neighbor said he was told he could plant new fruit trees after some work was done on the line, Beto Telleria said.

Fuller confirmed in an email that a meeting was in the works, but no date has been set.

"The city is arranging a meeting with PG&E with those affected by this, and until that meeting, all paperwork signings and work (have) been put on hold," said Eileen Telleria in an email. "The meeting will be announced."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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