East Bay trees sacrificed for solar panels


A grove of more than 100 trees were chopped down to make way for, of all things, a solar system. The trees were cut down at the popular Point Pinole Regional Shoreline Park in Richmond.

The trees used to greet park visitors, but now people can see the West County Detention Facility. The clear-cutting surprised county supervisors and many long-term park visitors.

"Shock, horror. Where have all the trees gone? What's going to happen to the birds, the owls, and we heard nothing about it. No notification about it," said park visitor Denis Hetherington.

It began as a project to convert 13 county buildings to solar power. Most of the solar panels were installed on rooftops, but the county public works department, along with Main Street Power -- a green construction company -- felt the area was the best place to build the panels for the West County jail.

"I'm all for solar energy, but it seems to me there's more appropriate places," said park visitor Tracy Klem.

"The line level staff in general services, working with the contractor on this, felt they had the ability to do this without checking with the department director or people in a higher position in the department," said John Gioia, a Contra Costa County supervisor.

The project was approved by the county board of supervisors in June, so apparently the public works department thought it was OK to clear cut the trees without any public notice or oversight.

"This was an agreement to purchase power and install solar panels that had no plans about cutting trees down," said Gioia.

"I think as the department head I am ultimately responsible," said Julia Bueren, the public works director.

Bueren says her department may have gotten caught up with the political will behind the green project and overlooked the process of officially gaining approval to cut down the trees.

"The communication was happening at probably too low a level with not enough high level review. So yes, there was an assumption it was OK to do it. Nobody was out to do anything wrong," said Bueren.

Now the county wants to replant trees here which will ultimately cost the tax payers more money.

Now the solar panels will have to be put elsewhere. The irony is all of this was in an effort to go solar and be more environmentally conscious.

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