In the News
Thank you to California Media for covering this story as it unfolds.
Here is our Archive of most of the news stories that have been done on this issue.
Are we missing anything? Email us the link to the story!
There has been so much media coverage the past week, it will take us some time to document it all here. You can always search "News, Nevada City Trees" in any search engine and get a good sample of the most recent stories. We even were mentioned in Cincinnati Local News this weekend! With COVID cases at an all time high and the election, its incredible to have such an interest spreading across the USA. That's because our cause and message are important. PG&E HAS GOT TO STOP AND LISTEN TO ITS CUSTOMERS!!! Thank you for your interest and support. Reach out anytime.
Bye Bye Beloved Bella Blue
A beautiful vigil was held on October 21, and the next Day PG&E crews stripped Bella of her limbs and leveled her to an inches tall stump. Media covers some of the sentiments, and this has been a difficult loss for our community. More details will be posted, but for now attention and energies are on the trees in the Pioneer Cemetery that still live. The fight continues. Join us there.
October 28th Update and Requests
We've enjoyed a long stretch of relatively peaceful occupation of the Pioneer Cemetery. Supporters build a platform in a tall pine that has been occupied around the clock for over two weeks not with support from campers on the ground. PG&E equipment resources were sent elsewhere last week, and the power outages prevented any action from being taken so far this week.
But I've been warned we have heavy police action on the way to clear the grounds for the removal of approximately a dozen old pine trees, most more than 100' from PG&E lines and most evaluated by a Master Arborist as representing extremely low risk. This is the tip of the iceberg of a plan that is scheduled to remove tens of million of healthy, low-risk trees from PG&E's entire service area in the coming years based on haphazard, biased and insufficient examinations. Our town has put up a hell of a fight but time's short and we really need your help.
--Your presence at the graveyard, any time but especially in the mornings. If police do arrive they will give warnings before making arrests, so you will have an opportunity to disperse. Know that your presence protects those who are willing to face charges. Large groups hold power, even when peaceful and still.
--Money really helps too. Lots of expenses in this project.
--Write a letter to attorney Mark Filip, who is the court-appointed Monitor supervising PG&E’s compliance with the Court’s Orders: He's the guy they're desperate to impress.
Kirkland & Ellis
300 North LaSalle
Chicago, IL 60654
...and to CPUC Supervisor Mary Beth Farley, who for the record has already been to town to inspect the work site and so far seems to think PG&E's doing all the right things:
Choose your own words (and especially tell your own stories about PG&E issues), but here are some detailed requests and talking points to draw from at your discretion.
As a Citizen of Nevada City I am asking you to use your influence over PG&E in the following ways:
1- Advocate for an injunction to stop cutting of remaining contested trees on public and private property in Nevada City.
2- Encourage PG&E to consult and conduct their inspections with certified arborists hired independently by municipalities *before* marking trees as hazards, a designation which is often being issued arbitrarily and which has effects that seem to be irreversible.
3- Encourage PG&E to conduct tree inspections with full process transparency. Using proprietary methodology to mark trees 150+ feet from power infrastructure is a clear abuse of power and prevents necessary dialogue between PG&E and the communities it serves.
4- Encourage PG&E to take seriously homeowner refusals of cutting, and to revoke hazard and cut designations from trees if a licensed and certified local arborist hired by the property owner rates a tree as low risk (the lowest standard designation).
5- Encourage PG&E to give clear and public cost estimates for technological solutions and to shift funds from tree cutting to these programs if the city/county can afford to pay the balance. These tech solutions include undergrounding, synchrophasors, and insulated power lines.
It has become apparent to citizens and officials that PG&E is more focused on the number of trees felled rather than conducting appropriate felling that truly enhances fire safety.Citizens are protecting a tree that is 130 feet away from power lines, marked by a local certified arborist as lowest possible risk, and yet PG&E will not remove their designation or their plan to cut. As citizens we stand against these extreme cuts and the inability for local oversight over unbridled corporate power.
Last week, PG&E erroneously cut down one of Nevada City’s most valued heritage trees, known as Bella; a century-old Blue Atlas, originally from North Africa. After felling, it became apparent that this tree was very healthy and still had a long life ahead. PG&E crews are causing irreversible destruction through a community that depends economically on robust tourism largely driven by our natural beauty. PG&E has not been willing to compromise or work with the community at all.
We thank you for your time in this matter, and hope that you understand this is a timely issue.
October 16th Update
A lot has happened in the past week, and here are the important bits.
After being granted a temporary Injunction by Nevada County Judge Anderson on September 22nd, PG&E filed an ex parte in court October 2nd, including a 300 page document on October 6th supporting their claim that only the CA Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has jurisdiction over them. Judge Anderson examined the documents and threw out the case due to jurisdiction limitations 3 days later, on October 9th. This means PG&E is not limited by municipal, civil, or property law, and THAT IS AN UNACCEPTABLE AMOUNT OF POWER.
This means the only body that we can appeal to is the CPUC, and we are working diligently on this course.
Working Group Meetings
That same morning we hosted our second Working Group Meeting including representatives from City Council, Nevada County, PG&E, Private Property owners and SNCT leaders, plus attorneys. This meeting made little progress, as PG&E asserts that all contested trees on all properties (public and private) represent an unacceptable level of risk, even if it is "low risk". They refuse to pursue alternatives to decreasing their liability to save trees that are extremely important to us. Again, at this point we are only fighting for a dozen trees out of 263.
Watch Meeting Number Two October 9, 2020 (2 hours)
Read our TERMS FOR CONTINUANCE here
Some important points that came out of these two meetings:
The removal is paid for and organized from two different accounts/programs: regular line safety maintenance, and the brand new Enhanced Vegetation Management (EVM) project. Thus far we have only been contesting the EVM methods, especially as a pilot town for California. If they plow through all community and official City resistance with absolutely no repercussions, it sets the precedent for their entire service area. This is a part of why this fight is so passionate on both sides.
Nevada City is officially an "underground district" with specific plans in place to underground the lines along West Broad street: exactly the lines that are the hazards PG&E are trying to mitigate with tree removal. As part of the filing, we sued the City for not adequately fulfilling its duties to underground lines.
The money for this project was just shy in 2017, and since then the undergrounding has been delayed. Interestingly, this fund has already been paid for by Nevada City residents as customers of PG&E, as a part of Rule 20A. We literally have been paying an additional fee/tax that goes into this account for our town. PG&E "invested $80,000" to draw up the plans and quote for this project, and set the price just out of reach of the funding we had available in the account they manage, so then the funds were not touched...
CPUC just released the results of an audit to the Rule 20A funds, finding a $120 Million discrepancy for 2019 where PG&E had funneled funds into other areas of the business, which were then untraceable. Interesting note, that is also approximately the amount paid in executive bonuses.
Nevada County has extra 20A funds they have now gifted Nevada City to use towards its projects, meaning we now have all the funds needed to complete this project, which if started soon will take a year or so to complete.
The urgency to work on these particular stretches of lines is because they power the County Jail and Rood Center/Sheriff's Office/Library. However, it was revealed that the County just completed its electrical back up system and is fully buffered from any future PSPS events. The County has no need for PG&E to keep these lines electrified during outages. Folks from PG&E seemed genuinely surprised by this information, as they had been pressing to prioritize these lines above the other sections of town (which will also be significantly cut over the next couple years).
The PG&E attorney asserted that the designation of the "underground district" prohibits them from upgrading the lines, hence they claim they cannot install synchrophasors or "harden the lines" to reduce their liability in the short term while the undergrounding eliminates it in the near term. In the first meeting we asked both PG&E and City Council to look into ways around this, as rules can be written and overwritten. By the second meeting, no one had.
There is also the issue that PG&E pays for all tree removal but will not pay for undergrounding or moving lines. This system is set up this way to keep costs down and profits/dividends maximized. It is outdated, unethical for a Utility, and needs to be changed.
There are 26 huge pines marked for removal along 250 feet of the one block road, Orchard Street. All these are on private property and many have been contested by the owners. There are reports of very unscrupulous behavior by Joanne Drummond on behalf of PG&E in relation to these property owners, from threats to call the police if they don't agree, to offering up to $2000 to comply, to reducing the $500 stipend to $200 as punishment for not. We have reports that the newly certified (<1yr) arborists who designated these trees that Drummond (who is not an arborist) demanded they mark these trees no matter their health. This sheds significant doubt on the methods used to determine risk and illuminates more of the ethical issues for arborists under PG&E contracting positions.
To this day, Master Arborist Zeno Action, hired and trusted by locals, is the ONLY arborist to examine the trees with an Individual Tree Risk Assessment Certification. SNCT trusts his scientific integrity, and take his reports as guidance for our activism.
One property owner on Orchard street is slated to lose every single tree on his property (six large trees) and is asking for help fighting to save them. All the property owners on this street will see significant loss of property value. Unfortunately, this section of line is not a part of the imminent undergrounding plan, but we are exploring alternatives and future undergrounding here.
PG&E has been staunchly unwilling to negotiate on any front, and asserts that due to liability, low risk is still too high of risk and once they have designated a tree a hazard, they cannot leave it standing. Again, because of liability. To us, this is unacceptable, as it is a death sentence to millions of healthy trees across the region.
Our argument is that, though liability is an important element, it cannot and should not be the ONLY reason for action. When valuable trees of cultural significance are in place, there MUST be alternative options to preserve those assets while reducing liability.
Especially because the LINES ARE THE HAZARD, not the trees. Lines cause fires, not trees. Birds, Squirrels, Wind blowing lines around.... all these cause sparks that can blow into dry grass and bushes below lines. The only reasonable long term solution is undergrounding. Short term, permanently destroying millions of healthy trees no matter what their value is not reasonable. There MUST be room for negotiating alternatives in special cases.
Things got pretty tense this week, as Protectors immediately set up camp around the contested trees. We set up a platform 40 feet up in the pinegrove in the Pioneer Cemetery and have had a continual presence there and in the Blue Atlas, lovingly named Bella Blue, with professional and dedicated tree protectors. Cranes and work crews continued to encroach, removing tall trees in the neighborhood. As we prepared for the final fight, with threats of arrests and aggressive removals, we changed the rules of the game and made lemonade from lemons, literally.
On October 15th, Leslie Pitts, Loraine Webb, and Reinette Senum set up a beautiful and generous bounty of fresh squeezed organic lemonade and an abundance of pastries, cupcakes and donuts to serve the Police and PG&E crews in front of the Pioneer Cemetery. They even included alternative sweeteners and gluten free options with compostable cups, hand sanitizer, and latex gloves for COVID safe self serve. Media and legal observers were ready to report.
What was the response? After working close by in the morning, edging towards the Cemetery, the crews entirely packed up and left the scene, taking their cranes (which had been parked for weeks there) with them. Rumor has it, the red flag winds were the likely the cause of retreat, but we also suspect the PR would have been pretty bad to have the police and private security forcibly remove grandmothers serving sweets with kindness to their oppressors.
We now have slated donations from Briar Patch and will use funds from our GoFundMe to keep this table of generosity flowing for the foreseeable future. (Please consider contributing to help us out, as much of what we have earned has already been spent on legal fees and other support).
You can also support by coming by the Cemetery to spend time with the trees and act as a protector. Sustaining numbers of folks onsite from here on out is necessary. Bring snacks, coconut water, and food for the tree sitters. If you want to, take a moment to connect with leadership onsite to find out how you can help more.
Now for the Sad News... determining the fate of Bella Blue Atlas
During last week's Working Group Meeting, PG&E attorney informed us that they had completed core samples of the contested trees (we did have witnesses keeping an eye on this process as it was performed). They claimed that the Blue Atlas, Bella Blue is what we call her, has Heart Rot. Not to take the word of PG&E contractors conveniently supporting their stake at face value, we bought ourselves a week stay of execution to have Master Arborist Zeno Action assess the tree. Tuesday October 13th he performed an ultrasound on the tree, as the most reliable form of collecting the relevant data to make the call. His report just came in this morning.
"I believe the atlas cedar is in fair health and has poor structure. The fact that the tree has stood as long as it has, with slowly degrading structure, is testament to the strength of tree tissues and is proof of the challenges of determining when a tree might fail or die. It is my opinion that whole tree failure is probable given a one-year time frame. If failure were to occur, I believe the tree would have a high likelihood of striking a car or home [[added: this means falling away from the lines]]. The consequences of the tree impacting a car or home would likely be severe. To mitigate for this risk, a crown reduction could be performed that would reduce the stresses applied to the lower trunk and root crown by expected winds and precipitation.
It is my opinion that given the characteristics of the defect, proximity of targets, and health condition, the crown reduction required to reduce risk to a moderate level would severally affect health. In addition, it would likely be a short-term mitigation option from a risk perspective as the rate of tissue degradation would likely increase. In a location where targets could be moved or access limited, allowing this tree to live out its life would be a low risk proposition. We should celebrate this tree as an urban forest success. It will have lived in close proximity to many generations of people, providing its abundant aesthetic and functional attributes while, to my knowledge, not significantly damaging its surroundings. That is the story of the perfect urban tree.”
Matthew Osypowski Responds:
"This is a tree that has outlived most of its species by decades, a long, beautiful life in the center of our town. We did everything right to protect it as far as we have--insisting that we don't allow PG&E superficial first examination to stand, fighting hard for a second and then a third evaluation. Zeno thought it was viable on his first look but a deeper inspection told a different story.
It hurts, but I don't see a case that can be made for retaining this tree. My suggestion is that we give it a loving goodbye and focus our energies elsewhere (while also allowing the owners of the Broad St. Inn to get back to their business and their lives, after their patience and civility with us over these past couple of months). All of us must make our own choices, but given this report I no longer see an ethical argument for maintaining a presence on that corner. Sadly we can't pick and choose when to follow the science.
Resistance continues in the Pioneer Cemetery, and on two private properties on Orchard Street. I'm sorry to be the bearer of hard news. So much love to all of you who have been occupying and standing alongside and learning to love this tree."
We are now in the process of planning a Vigil/Ceremony for Bella Wednesday October 21, to fare thee well in a good way. Please stay tuned for timing. As always, the quickest way to stay in the loop is to join the Facebook Group, set up notifications, and check it daily.
Once again, Judge Andersen did not "rule they could remove the trees:, he ruled he had no jurisdiction over the case.
October 15, 2020
To correct this reporter, Judge Andersen did not "say they could proceed" he ruled that he had no jurisdiction over the case.
October 12, 2020
What do you think? Read about his campaign funds and our response for a bigger picture.
September 29, 2020
This is especially relevant as the particular stretch of lines pG&E is aggressively removing trees around is the same stretch that was just short funds for undergrounding in 2017.
September 30, 2020
September 22: Nevada County Judge Anderson grants Injunction, halting PG&E's tree removal within City Limits.
This injunction has halted all PG&E tree removal and launched a California Public Utilities Commission Investigation into our situation.
You can read the Official Nevada County Injunction here.
We have initiated an official invitation to all parties (PG&E, City Council, CPUC) to meet this week to negotiate ASAP. We are not asking them to stop all cuts, although this injunction does that for now, we are asking them explicitly protect the 16 trees our Master Arborist say are not a hazard, and find alternative safety measures in the instance of the Blue Atlas Cedar. We are inviting the conversation that is required for a promise to protect these contested trees while continuing with their work cutting non-contested trees as planned, to respect property owners rights, and to make progress towards our shared fire safety goals.
City Council Member and PG&E Attorney have responded willing to meet this week to discuss. Time TBD.
We would like to thank Attorney Lorraine Reich for her excellent pro-bono work which led to this legal stay.
Also a big thank you to everyone who came to sit with the trees last week. These peaceful sit-ins stopped these trees from getting cut while Judge Anderson deliberated, and got us on TV and in the paper every day!
Please consider making a donation to our GoFundMe to help pay for legal fees, which we will have more of!
Official Statement from SNCT Founder:
Every bright and shiny victory has its shadow side, and the shadow side of this one seems pretty clear: the injunction was sweeping in its scope. We are still in the peak of fire season, and some of the trees that were designated to be cut should genuinely be removed for fire mitigation and other safety reasons. There is no doubt that PG&E and others will try to blame us activists for the increased risk to our town posed by those trees remaining uncut. Should PG&E choose to shut our power off when the wind and heat pick up again, its likely there will be efforts to blames us for that as well.
I'd like to make it very clear that we in the coalition (SNCT Plaintiff) are immediately available to begin a good-faith negotiation with those other two parties to find a comprehensive agreement regarding the fate of our trees. We're trying to preserve sixteen trees on city property—all identified by an experienced arborist as viable candidates for retention. We're also trying to ensure that private property owners are fully informed of their rights and have the resources they need to both argue for the retention of certain trees and to push for reasonable restitution when their trees must be cut to accommodate PG&E's chosen high voltage line routes.
It's not a huge ask. As long as all parties arrive willing to listen and compromise, I think a deal could be made tomorrow or Thursday, and PG&E could resume their grid hardening project by the end of the week, while allowing all of us to know that certain of our trees have been protected and that further court action and other organizing work is no longer necessary.
Should PG&E instead choose to wait until November to have their day in court, I think it's important for all of us to remember and communicate to others that this was a choice made by PG&E, not by the city and not by the citizen activists who have been working on this issue.
We'll be figuring out more details about the path forward soon. Please keep tuning in, and thank you all so much for your involvement and support.