A group of around 25 demonstrators gathered in Pioneer Cemetery in Nevada City Monday to protest PG&E’s plans for tree removal throughout the city, while PG&E employees worked in a portion of West Broad Street adjacent to the cemetery.
Some of the trees within the cemetery are designated for removal, including six pine trees. Two demonstrators climbed into the branches of the tallest of these Monday morning, perched above a banner reading, “I stand with the trees.”
Jennifer Long, a resident of Nevada City and retired county employee, said she has been showing up regularly to support the group of Nevada City tree advocates since seeing last month that they were sitting in a Broad Street blue Atlas cedar — a stop on the Nevada City Tree Tour — which has been designated for removal by PG&E.
“These trees embody our history,” said Long, going on to describe the area’s foliage as “lifesaving” in its effect on the community.
She said she is in favor of measures taken to protect Nevada City from potential fire danger, but that PG&E is unwilling to negotiate in good faith regarding balancing that effort with the preservation of nature.
“I don’t know why they’re doing it this way,” said Nevada City resident Nancy Newman, who joined the group for the first time Monday.
Newman said she believes the tallest pine tree in Pioneer Cemetery, which stands 160 feet from the nearest power lines, is not within hazardous proximity to the power lines and shouldn’t be removed.
Regarding that tree, Matthew Osypowski, a resident of Nevada City and founder of the “Saving Nevada City’s Trees” Facebook group, which has accumulated over 1,300 members, said, “We feel like we’re guided by science in our choice to try to protect it.”
He said that, during initial efforts to protect some of the Nevada City trees designated for removal, he was hopeful that PG&E would be open to discussing the matter to a greater extent than has been available. “Instead, we’ve been forced to protect (the trees) physically,” he said.
Osypowski emphasized that the efforts in Nevada City are being conducted with other areas of California in mind, as he and other demonstrators feel that what happens in Nevada City will set a precedent for how PG&E moves forward with tree removal elsewhere.
Former Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum was present during the demonstration, and said she has been a regular participant. She said the ideal outcome of the efforts Monday would be to gain public awareness and slow down the tree removal process as long as possible.
Of the tree removal planned by PG&E, she said, “(They’re) destroying our peace, our aesthetics, the beauty of our neighborhood, and the sanctity of our neighborhood for (their) bottom line.”
A PG&E representative has said the company has a legal mandate to remove trees it deems hazardous.
Nevada City police were present throughout the morning, observing from a distance as PG&E employees worked and demonstrators remained gathered in the cemetery. Around noon, PG&E workers vacated the portion of West Broad Street adjacent to Pioneer Cemetery, a development which was met with cheers from the tree advocates.
“The work today didn’t end, we just moved job locations,” PG&E spokesperson Brandi Merlo said in reference to the crew seen leaving West Broad Street. “We’re working closely with local officials to ensure the work can be done safely, and we want to warn people to respect the work zone for their safety.”
On whether the change in plans was caused by the demonstrators’ presence, Merlo said, “It was a safety issue, essentially.”
She said Monday was the first day of work after a temporary stay on Nevada City tree removal was issued last month. PG&E set up several work locations for the day as it resumed work on the approximately 120 trees still designated for removal when the stay was issued.
A local judge has since rescinded the stay he issued, saying he had no jurisdiction over a claim that PG&E’s abatement of hazardous trees was excessive.
“At this point, we are planning to move forward on work on those trees,” said Merlo. “We are waiting to conduct work on the blue Atlas cedar in the downtown area as well as work on four private properties.”
She said those private properties have each sought additional arborist assessments for their trees, currently designated by PG&E to be removed, and PG&E will wait for the results of these assessments to evaluate a path forward.