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Nevada County Superior Court judge rules tree cutting can continue

A court ruling Friday gave PG&E the green light to continue cutting more than 260 trees in downtown Nevada City, but activists say they aren’t ready to give up the fight.

Nevada County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson found the California Public Utilities Commission has sole jurisdiction over the utility company’s vegetation management plan, voiding a previous ruling that stayed the tree cutting until a hearing in which PG&E could establish its actions were authorized.

“This Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Petitioners’ claim that PG&E’s abatement of hazardous trees is excessive,” the ruling granting PG&E’s motion to dismiss states.

According to the ruling, an evidentiary hearing involving the other defendants — PG&E contractor Mountain Enterprises and Nevada City — will move forward Nov. 6.

The California Public Utilities Commission this week also submitted a brief in support of PG&E’s position.

The commission’s decision to weigh in comes after state Sen. Brian Dahle and District 2 Assemblyman Jim Wood penned a letter to the agency accusing them of shirking their responsibility to mitigate the company’s fire danger.

“However, in our estimation, the CPUC has often fallen short in its partnering role in mitigating wildfire risk by remaining silent on state and local actions that are interfering with utility wildfire mitigation efforts and vegetation management programs,” the letter states.

“The CPUC has exclusive jurisdiction over these utility vegetation management programs, yet time and again avoids exercising its role and authority enforcing the law.”


Activists for community group Save Nevada County Trees said they will continue their struggle despite the ruling, with some even willing to face arrest.

“Year after year after they’ve been trimmed, now all of a sudden this year they’re all hazardous trees?” said Orchard Street resident Tom Dykstra, who has several trees on his property marked for removal. “I really hope that other neighborhoods hear about this and find ways to not have this happen to them.”

Dykstra said while initially resigned to losing his trees, seeing the community rally in support — offering to defend his property and replant the trees — has activated and emboldened him.

“That’s really why I’m willing to go to jail,” he said. “I was pretty passive originally, once they said we have the right to do this, I felt like I couldn’t do anything against this big corporation… I was really depressed.”

Last Friday, while the temporary stay was still in effect, the group provided Nevada City and PG&E a list of 16 trees they were contesting, agreeing to let the others go.

“We’re not protesting that removal of every single one of these trees. We’re protesting a very small amount, and PG&E doesn’t have any room for that,” Orchard Street resident Kathy Dotson said.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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