Mountain View Voice

News - January 25, 2013

PG&E threatens residents with legal action

Some say they will fight to keep backyard vegetation

by Daniel DeBolt

Residents who want a large Pacific Gas & Electric gas pipeline removed from their backyards have received a letter threatening legal action if they do not comply with efforts to strip their backyards of trees and bushes that sit over the pipeline right-of-way.

The Dec. 6 letter from PG&E to residents of San Lucas Way says that PG&E's legal department will become involved if residents do not cooperate with the utility company's plans for clearing a path over the pipeline to allow monitoring using laser-equipped aircraft. PG&E wants to remove trees and bushes over 18 inches in height to prevent root damage to the pipeline, which runs under 16 backyards in the neighborhood behind San Veron Park.

A segment of the same pipeline exploded in San Bruno in 2010, with the resulting fire destroying nearly 40 homes and killing eight people.

Resident Dennis Goldwater says he plans to not cooperate with PG&E, calling the letter an effort to get residents to "give up" on their fight to have the 67-year-old pipeline moved away from their homes.

"He wants to meet people to talk about how they are going to give up," Goldwater said of the PG&E official who wrote the letter. "I plan to just not even talk to them until I see what happens. My plan is try to fight this."

San Lucas Way resident Eileen Telleria said some residents have already given in, sacrificing their landscaping to help prevent a disaster. It would also mean little or no backyard tree shade — the 15-foot-wide easement takes up most of the space in the 16 affected backyards.

"San Bruno was safe, until it wasn't," Telleria said. "They will take legal action against us if we do not support having a potential bomb in our backyard, in our neighborhood."

"When I bought this property I saw trees everywhere, so I decided this a good place to live," said Goldwater, who stands to lose four trees. "Then they come in here and they are just going to strip them all down. I'm planning on re-landscaping everything this year. Now they are going to control how I'd do that. Nothing above 18 inches?"

When he bought his home, he said, "I was under the impression I would have certain rights."

Safety issue

PG&E officials say there's an urgent need to remove the trees.

"When the wind blows that tree over and the roots are around that pipe, what do you think is going to happen?" PG&E official Mike Falk told residents at an October meeting. "It is not going to be a pretty sight."

Falk insisted the pipeline would be safe once trees are removed above it.

According to the letter, "the removal of trees and vegetation from the easement is necessary for PG&E to safely operate and maintain the pipeline. We are also committed to undertaking that effort in a way that recognizes and respects your property as much as possible under these circumstances."

"In the event you are unwilling to to meet with us to informally resolve this issue, PG&E will have no alternative but to take this matter to the next level," the letter says. "If we do not hear from you to schedule a meeting by Dec. 19, 2012, we will have little choice but to refer this matter to our Law Department for further action."

Goldwater questions whether the pipeline easement agreement allows PG&E the legal right to remove trees from people's properties. The agreement, which Goldwater has posted on his website, stoppgelies.com, restricts the construction of structures and wells above the pipeline, but does not mention trees or rights to monitor the pipeline from the sky.

"I don't think it allows what they are trying to do," Goldwater said. "Otherwise they would have come in here and been nicer about it." Instead, "they lied and they intimidated us."

Goldwater and some of his neighbors say PG&E officials initially told residents that it would cost $1 billion per mile to move the pipeline and that if neighbors didn't agree to remove trees in their backyards, PG&E would "trench" their yards and their trees would die anyway.

Goldwater says that if PG&E were to install the pipeline today, it would not be allowed to be so close to his home. He believes the pipe is likely in poor condition and poses a serious danger.

"This pipe was laid 20 years before there was any state regulations at all," Goldwater said. "Now state regulations are strict about laying pipelines where people live."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by MV-Refugee, a resident of The Crossings
on Jan 28, 2013 at 8:19 am

Upon hearing reports that PG&E was threatening to take action against homeowners in MV for offending vegetation over a pipeline, I hit a personal "PG&E Trifecta." Last weekend while taking one of my routine walks in Grass Valley in the Gold Country, I noticed once again the dozens of pine trees at road's edge that had been topped. Their straight, upward growth truncated abruptly. Some of these cuts had been made recently, while some had been made a few years ago. I think PG&E calls it "vegetation management." "Tree Disfigurement" would be a better term. I value my electrical service, and I know that trees and electrical lines don't always coexist well, especially during storms. Pruning needs to occur, but topping or hacking a pine tree across the trunk makes little sense - even if it's adjacent to a residential type power line. A truncated tree seeks to grow upward again, and often does so randomly by shooting bushy growth toward the lines the utility seeks to protect. Even worse, some of the topped trees aren't even close enough to the line to warrant the topping. Strategically pruning branches would make more sense, leaving the tree and generating less slash to haul away -- assuming the pruning crew hauls all of it away. Often, they don't... The second leg of my personal "PG&E Trifecta" was the "Oakland Gnome Controversy" described in the Sunday Chronicle. Someone is painting pictures of gnomes on boards and screwing the boards to the bases of utility poles. Of course, PG&E is upset. A PG&E spokesperson claimed that screwing the boards into the power poles affects their "integrity." (I think the spokesman was referring to the poles and not PG&E.) However, that same spokesperson didn't comment on yard and garage sale placards or postings for lost pets stapled or nailed to the poles... Finally, my trifecta was complete when I read about the conflict between MV homeowners and PG&E regarding the vegetation over a pipeline. PG&E appears to have regained its footing after the San Bruno Pipeline Explosion and is ready spin the resulting safety momentum in its favor. It's a clever move against folks who want a section of aged pipeline moved. PG&E claims the offending vegetation prohibits aerial monitoring of the pipeline's integrity. I can't comment on the efficacy of moving the pipeline, but I think PG&E could monitor that section -- and others -- from the ground. But, I see the problem. Not only would PG&E have to abandon the fly-overs, but it would mean getting off its high horse...


Posted by Maria, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 31, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Hi,

I have been in litigation with P G & E since 2005.
The main issue was where they put the service line extension on my property.
They refused to move it unless I paid for it. I refused and it has been before the California Public Utilities Commission for more than 2 years.

As a result of the initial issue there have been 2 more issues.

They forced me to sign a contract in which they charged me Income Tax Contribution. That is for developers with new lines.
They turned off my gas service for more than a month. No stove, hot water for washing.

P G & E wants to put their gas service line extension in the middle of my driveway where it will be cemented over. They will not be able to inspect and maintain it.

I can be of help please let me know.

By the way, P G & E actually put an overflow control valve on the wrong end of the gas pipe. The bell hole and trench had to be re-excavated to correct the problem.

Regards,
Maria


Posted by David, a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Will someone please post the website to Stop PG$E and protect the trees? I looked and can't find it.
Thank you.


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