PG&E is being a corporate bully by cutting down Oroville trees

I came late to community activism. At age 65, I’m a retired teacher and grandmother who plays violin and helps people with their family history. I never expected to be standing under century-old sycamore trees on winter mornings. But that’s what I and other members of Save Oroville Trees have been doing for almost three months.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. came in September and persuaded our mayor and City Council to grant an encroachment permit to remove vegetation along their gas lines. Weeks later, a couple of council members admitted they didn’t realize the 128-year-old sycamores by a historic cemetery were included. But the unnecessary destruction of 231 trees had begun.

Two older women ran across the street when they saw PG&E workers cutting the trees by the cemetery. They had already removed eight of them when the women confronted them. Thankfully, they stopped.

Within days, Save Oroville Trees was formed. Members have invested a great deal of time and money to save (at that time) 12 trees. We are a diverse group composed of liberals, conservatives, all nationalities, varying ages and socioeconomic levels.

After a sunrise rally on Jan. 26, protesters moved toward another area; PG&E workers were able to place a fence across the sidewalk to separate them from four trees. They were cut down and hauled away that night.

Our group appeared in court a fourth time on Jan. 28. The judge ruled on the side of “safety,” deciding that he would not stop PG&E. The corporation that caused the San Bruno explosion is now the “expert on safety” and doesn’t have to show any evidence there’s a problem. PG&E still has a restraining order against us, so the trees are in peril unless people are present.

Thursday, a group of us tried again to save the trees; two dozen were arrested.

We are dealing with a corporate bully. PG&E representatives have given misleading information to the public and to our elected officials. They don’t mention the trees were planted in 1887 and were 82 years old when the first gas line was placed there in 1969. PG&E returned in 1989 and 1996 and placed more lines.

Wouldn’t crews have observed problems with the tree roots then? And why should Oroville be responsible for PG&E’s poor planning, anyway?

PG&E’s Pipeline Pathway Project has affected most of our state. Eight Bay Area cities formed a coalition, forcing PG&E to examine pipes and decide about cutting on a tree-by-tree basis. Pleasanton was slated to have 200 trees cut down; it’s been pared down to eight. Unfortunately, Oroville has not been accorded such leniency.

If there were a verified risk to public safety, we’d cooperate in a transparent analysis of the risk factors and how they might be managed. PG&E has a “managed risk program” adopted for use in East Bay cities. This would end the debate; no tree, no matter how old, is worth someone’s life.

PG&E says, “Every tree matters.” I say cities such as Durham, Chico, Paradise and Redding should get ready: PG&E is coming for you next.

Linda McFadden Draper is a retired high school English and journalism teacher who lives in Oroville.