Nevada City Council prepares for pushback over tree removal issue
The Nevada City Council this evening will weigh its options for pushing back against PG&E’s plan to remove around 250 trees that could be a danger to reenergizing during Public Safety Power Shut-off events.
The council meets remotely at 6:30 p.m. today.
According to PG&E representative JoAnne Drummond, the company has a legal mandate to remove trees it deems hazardous, even without approval from the City Council — but the city has not confirmed that opinion.
Nevada City Planner Amy Wolfson during its Sept. 1 meeting told the Planning Commission that PG&E had a mandate to remove trees it deemed dangerous. However, Nevada City Attorney Crissy Hodgson said she could not say whether PG&E actually had the authority to remove the trees without approval from the council, but suggested previously there may be alternatives.
“The issue is looking like it’s going to be less that we don’t have an option, but that we assume liability and the insurance company needs to weigh in,” Hodgson said at the last council meeting. “It’s looking like it’s coming down to assumption of liability: either PG&E does their work or we assume liability.”
The council will review a list of about 20 trees that an arborist will examine to determine if there are alternatives to cutting them down. About 100 of the 250 trees are on city property while the remaining are on private property.
Despite the fact the mitigation has not been completed, parts of downtown Nevada City and the 7 Hills district were still reenergized Tuesday.
The city during today’s meeting could ask PG&E to work with it to develop an undergrounding plan, reconsider the trees they identified, and to work with the city on a mitigation plan.
Drummond said she should would field requests like mitigation funding, but reiterated that legal counsel determined it has no obligation to entertain them.
“I am not confident (about the requests) as it sets a dangerous precedent that any time we seek to remove a tree under the law as our moral duty and obligation that we would be paying you for it,” Drummond said. “That is a contrary concept to the legal authority and moral duty that these are hazard trees and therefore have no value.”
Nevada City Councilman Doug Fleming said the council is exploring multiple options for dealing with the company, including looking into whether other jurisdictions have had success challenging PG&E and what a successful challenge might mean for Nevada City.
“We’ve heard that other jurisdictions have been successful in challenging them. We don’t know what success means exactly,” Fleming said. “The citizens have spoken and they really, really care about this issue. It’s really important to the public, and rightfully so, but we have to strike a balance between what the public wants in saving the trees and working with PG&E to get a good outcome.”
Nevada City resident Kathy Dodson said she agreed to allow PG&E contractors to remove about seven trees on her property, but now regrets it.
“I felt kind of compelled for the safety of our street and our property that I had to sign the paperwork. Now I’m having second thoughts,” Dodson said. “It’s going to change the landscape of my own property but also of our small neighborhood here and the entire community.”
Dodson said she wants the city to push for alternatives like undergrounding.
“I feel like I’m being kind of held hostage, you know besides the fact that we have no power,” she said. “I feel like my rights as a property owner have been cut down.”
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, call 530-477-4229 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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