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Lincoln resident angry about her trees being cut

PG&E cleared area around power lines; residents can't shape their own trees
By: Richard Myers, The News Messenger
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The way Roberta Giles sees it, Pacific Gas & Electric "butchered" the two mulberry trees in the fr ont yard of her home on S. Herold Avenue. Her neighbor down the street agrees. "I wouldn't let them come onto my property to cut my trees," Bud Duncan said about the tree pruning service contracted to trim tree branches that are too close to PG&E electrical lines. "I saw what they did to Roberta's trees and I didn't want them butchering mine." Duncan said he also saw how some of the larger branches that were cut from Giles' trees broke smaller branches as they fell, and how they dug huge holes in Giles' yard. "There are a lot of 'hangers,'" Giles said. "They didn't take down all of the cut branches." Duncan didn't want that to happen to his trees and yard. So concerned was Duncan that he contacted PG&E and worked out a compromise so his trees will be trimmed in a different way than Giles'. "They agreed to shape the trees," Duncan said. That's not totally true, said Craig Kelly, a forester with PG&E. "Our agreement was that the sides of the trees would be pruned, not rounded," Kelly said. "We want to make sure there still is enough shade over the house." While she would have preferred her trees not be trimmed, Giles would have at least liked them to look aesthetically pleasing. They don't right now, she stressed. "It's a 'bench cut,'" Giles said, pointing out the tops of her trees. The limbs closer to the house look like the back of a bench, while the rest of the tree looks like the bench seat. A PG&E representative told her that from the house, the trees look normal, Giles said. It's what passersby on the street notice that looks like a big mess, she added. "Imagine what this does to property values?" Giles asked. Kelly said the tree pruning crews that PG&E contracts with to do the job follow standards set by the International Society of Arboriculture. He added they also must be cut in accordance with Public Utilities Commission standards. Trees must be cut so that limbs maintain at least an 18-inch space from lines and conductors for a full year, Kelly said. That's why trees are trimmed farther from the lines than 18 inches. "Any mulberry trees grow back fast," Kelly added. Giles said she first learned about her trees being destined for cutting in March, when a crew came by and marked her trees. Because of all of the rain that month, she kind of forgot about it. But then, on June 5, when she came home from work for lunch, she was greeted by fallen tree limbs and the butchered treetops. Giles was hurt, livid. "I've lived here for 18 years," she said. "I've been growing these trees for 18 years." She said that after she complained to a couple PG&E representatives, one of them offered her a couple of solutions. One was to have a tree-trimming crew come in and try and re-shape her trees. Or, he said, they could remove the trees and give her a $50 gift certificate to buy new trees, Giles said. "You can't replace them for $50," Giles said. "Look at all that shade." Without that shade, Giles said her current $400 PG&E bills would skyrocket, because she would be paying more for electricity to run her air conditioning. Giles added her husband used to trim the trees. But because of the recent "treegate," she learned something. "We're not even allowed to trim our own trees," Giles said. "We can't hire someone else to do it unless they are line certified," Duncan said. According to Cal/OSHA, a division of Occupational Safety and Health, it's against the law for residents to trim their own trees from around power lines, Kelly said. Kelly added he plans to be out at Giles' house Friday to talk about her concerns again, and also talk about what crews will do to tidy up the cuts made by the tree trimming crew.