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Nevada City, Calif. September 22, 2020 – Nevada County Superior Court Judge Tom Anderson issued an injunction on the morning of September 22nd, effectively halting all tree removal in Nevada City city limits by PG&E and its contractors, pending further judicial review set to begin on November 6th. The legal action was filed by attorney Lorraine Reich on behalf of “Save Nevada County Trees,” an unincorporated association with more than 1100 members, including many downtown property and business owners impacted by the proposed cuts.
The proposed tree removal plan was already in process at the time the injunction was issued, but the majority of the 263 trees slated for removal have not yet been cut. All trees on city property remain standing at this time. Although PG&E has claimed that SB901 and various state and federal mandates and PUC regulations leave them immune to municipal law, City Council authority, property owner objection, and all relevant environmental and historical site reviews, Judge Anderson made it clear in his injunction order that he found these claims to be insufficiently persuasive.
“Save Nevada County Trees” (SNCT) is a locally rooted grassroots campaign which began with a petition and a Facebook group, and has in the past weeks pursued a multi-faceted strategy of activism which has included legal appeals (like this one), political advocacy on the local, state and federal level, and direct action including treesits and a steady physical presence in the Pioneer Cemetery, a registered California Site of Historical Interest and the location of some of the most contested proposed cuts. The group advocated early on for the city to hire an objective third-party arborist to review PG&E determinations regarding many of the trees on city property marked for removal by PG&E. That arborist (Zeno Acton) identified sixteen trees which he thought were candidates for retention, and local activism has been focused on those sixteen for the past several weeks.
SNCT has been clear throughout its brief existence that it understands the dangers posed by fire, and the necessity of targeted tree removal to mitigate those dangers. It has advocated for full transparency regarding the processes and standards used by PG&E to mark certain trees for removal. It has further advocated for alternative methods of mitigation to be used in certain cases when the trees involved are of great historical or community significance, including underground lines, moving poles and lines away from trees, and installing existing breaker technology which can deactivate lines immediately when they are struck by trees or limbs. SNCT has further advocated for property owners to be adequately informed of their rights to retain their trees, and to demand due compensation in cases in which trees must ultimately be removed.
Adds Kathy Dotson, Nevada City resident impacted by the proposed cuts, “In a 250-foot stretch of our street in downtown Nevada City, 26 mostly large, 100ft+ trees are marked for removal. We understand that PG&E feels like they need to protect the area from fire and power shutoffs, but this is beyond excessive. Will next year even more trees be removed? If these trees, plus the many more marked are removed, our street will forever be changed,” adds Dotson.
The terms of the injunction do allow for tree removal to move forward in situations in which all parties are in written agreement, and SNCT considers itself to be a willing party in any such conversation, ideally allowing for a mutually satisfactory solution to be found before November, thus eliminating the need for further judicial consideration of the matter. More information about SNCT and the wider dispute in Nevada City can be found at savenctrees.org.