Residents fight PG&E to save trees near power lines

February 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A South Bay neighborhood is fighting to save more than 100 trees. PG&E has the chainsaws ready to go and says chop them down or risk the loss of power and even lives.

The trees are in T.J. Martin and Jeffrey Fontana Parks. The problem is PG&E says some of the trees are way too close to those power lines.

Dave Poeshell loves the parks that surround his Almaden Valley home. There is plenty of room and lots of trees, but now these same trees are causing serious safety concerns for PG&E.

"It was just determined this past year based on the growth of these trees, based on the height of these trees, and that they are standing too close to these lines that these would be a hazard," says PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian.

PG&E plans to cut down 140 trees over the next two years; 62 will be removed next month and residents are outraged.

"It seems extreme and for a problem that's never been a problem, it seems like we could easily figure out a solution to this," says resident Stacey Winters.

That is why more than 100 people packed a community meeting Thursday night, to understand why the decades-old trees have to go now.

It all stems from the massive black out on the East Coast in 2003. An investigation showed overgrown trees hit power lines.

As a result, in 2008, the federal government created safety guidelines and tree-free zones for wires and towers that supply power to large populations. And the wires running through T.J. Martin and Jeffrey Fontana parks carry power to San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties.

Still, frustration filled the room. Most branches are not even close to the lines. Many called PG&E reps over cautious and felt the tree-free zones are too extreme. Their response was "better safe, than sorry."

PG&E did agree to do walk throughs with residents who want to make a case to save certain trees. PG&E says they will evaluate the feedback, and even replant smaller trees in some areas, but cutting is still set for March 22.