Sept. 18–LAFAYETTE — An alternative plan may be in the works for PG&E’s highly debated pipeline project that calls for uprooting hundreds of trees in the city.
Lafayette Vice Mayor Cameron Burks directed city staff to collaborate with Pacific Gas & Electric, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Save Lafayette Trees preservationist group and a citizens advisory committee after a packed, emotional Sept. 10 meeting.
The pipeline project comes back before the Lafayette City Council at its Oct. 22 meeting.
“It was a very constructive meeting,” said Burks in an email. “When I called for this meeting, I felt strongly that the community deserved the opportunity to engage directly with PG&E — with PG&E’s regulator, the CPUC present — and I believe we accomplished this. My hope is that PG&E and Save Lafayette Trees will keep the dialogue going (involving the CPUC as appropriate) and will bring back to the council a solution; one that balances both safety and citizens’ concerns, so that the council can act in the best interests of all Lafayette residents.”
In the meantime, Burks said that the 2017 agreement reached by the City Council and Pacific Gas & Electric to allow the utility to take out hundreds of trees as part of its pipeline safety initiative still stands.
However, Councilman Mike Anderson said at the meeting: “We really need to start looking at a new process for this situation with the city.”
A PG&E vice president said it was “very humbling” to hear the criticism from more than 30 Lafayette residents about the pipeline project, safety concerns and tree removal.
“Clearly the way we have engaged in this community has not hit the mark,” said Sumeet Singh, a Pacific Gas & Electric vice president. He said he wanted to hear more from the public.
“We are committed to working with you. I sincerely mean that,” Singh said.
The utility had planned to remove 113 trees on public property in Lafayette and 245 trees in Briones Regional Park as part of its $500 million Community Pipeline Safety Initiative. In addition, an undetermined amount of trees would be cut down on private property.
Michael Dawson, who founded Save Lafayette Trees with wife Gina Dawson, said the public has lost trust with PG&E after a series of events, including June’s deadly fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, in which Cal Fire blamed the utility. In addition, PG&E was fined $97.5 million earlier this year in connection with the deadly San Bruno natural gas explosion in 2010.
“Over 30 speakers gave impassioned and insightful demands that PG&E do what they’re supposed to do — ensure the safety of the community, not force unregulated statewide programs that don’t address the integrity concerns of our pipeline or the safety of our community,” Dawson said in an email.
He said that Safe Lafayette Trees would work to end the pipeline project agreement, and move to form a citizen advisory committee and for the committee to work with PG&E, the CPUC and Lafayette.
More than 150 separate concerns residents submitted were answered by PG&E in writing at the Sept. 10 meeting. The questions were on such topics as safety risk, tree roots, first-responder access, pipeline testing, exposed pipelines and other pipeline infrastructure.
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