Students Join Opposition to Tree Removal

Annette Ungermann, News Editor

The Lafayette City Council held a 3-hour-long town council meeting on September 10 at the Lafayette library with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in response to community inquiry concerning PG&E’s proposed Pipeline Safety Initiative.

Seniors Emily Tamkin and Claire Sebree co-drafted an e-mail forwarded to all Campolindo staff informing them of the council meeting on September 10, which stated their goal to ““filibuster” the meeting to ensure that Lafayette citizens are adequately represented and insist upon a second meeting” to further community discussion on the issue.

The e-mail added, “As educators, your voices hold weight within this community. We’d truly appreciate your continued support of student activism.”

The meeting devoted 1 hour to public comment, with PG&E representatives both initially presenting and concluding with a rebuttal.

The initiative between PG&E and Lafayette has focused on the removal of trees or brush throughout California that the company has deemed to be blocking pipelines, and was prompted by a 2008 pipeline rupture in San Bruno that resulted in 8 fatalities.

When an initial proposal calling for the removal of 1200 trees was rejected, the company scaled it down to 272 trees along the Lafayette-Moraga tail and over 200 in the Briones Regional Park. This sparked the creation of the nonprofit Save Lafayette Trees in 2017, which now has a standing lawsuit against the city of Lafayette.

Community members Michael and Gina Dawson, who founded Save Lafayette Trees, were in attendance along with other community organizations like the Lafayette Homeowners Association.

Campolindo students representing the Environmental Club, sponsored by nonprofit Global Student Embassy, and over 30 additional community members delivered passionate speeches overwhelmingly in favor of scrapping the city’s current tree-cutting agreement.

Tamkin’s speech called out the role of the city of Lafayette in the proposed agreement.”This is an issue that sets a dangerous precedent for the behavior of a city, and the cooperation with a corporation. This is about constituents asking our elected officials, and the 2 different corporations that are supposed to be protecting our public safety, to stand up and make a difference,” said Tamkin.

Seniors Kelsey Levante and Sydney Bagley also spoke in opposition of the Tree-Cutting Agreement.

Other community members took their 3-minute speaking window as an opportunity to share letters from 3rd party experts the California Sierra Club and background-check company Accu-facts, who were barred from attending the meeting. Additional attendees ceded their time slot to community speakers, allotting the maximum amount of speaking time of 6 minutes per person.

Michael Dawson, who spoke at the forum, noted the large number of speakers and community members in attendance, and said he was “extremely disappointed in PG&E’s response.”

“They didn’t definitively say whether or not they wanted to engage with the citizens. In fact, they seemed to avoid that issue. So that, in my mind, is an irresponsible utility. They should be working with us, not just the city, not just CPUC. So we’re wanting to work with them, and they seem to be not wanting to work with us,” said Dawson.

At the end of the council meeting, both PG&E and the CPUC cited willingness to continue working with the city of Lafayette and host “further workshops” as a community forum.

PG&E representative Sumeet Singh said, “Clearly, the way we have engaged with this community has not met the mark. So as opposed to us dictating what that should be, we want to hear some input, and what your suggestions are. Because we’re committed to working with you.”

CPUC representative Lee Palmer echoed the sentiment, stating, “We are nothing without our local community.”

The next steps for the City Council, PG&E, community members, and concerned Campolindo students will be further outlined in a future City Council meeting, currently slated for early October.

Tamkin concluded her speech by citing students’ willingness to participate in future community discussions. “We will continue to fight the tree-cutting policies until each and every one of [the councilmembers and PG&E board] can honestly look at me in the eye and tell me that you’re working in the best interest– factually –of myself and my fellow constituents, my fellow students, and our trees,” she said.