A Brief History Of Mountain View
PG&E has been under tremendous pressure to improve safety since the San Bruno gas pipeline accident 2 years ago that killed so many and destroyed an entire neighborhood. The same gas pipeline that destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes in San Bruno, and that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, passes through Mountain View. The final report of the Independent Review Panel concluded that the explosion of the pipeline in San Bruno was "a consequence of multiple weaknesses in PG&E's management and oversight of the safety of its gas transmission system."
PG&E realizes that it now must actually begin to fulfill its legal obligation to monitor its pipeline by patrolling it. But patrolling is expensive. The cheapest way to patrol is aerial patrolling. But aerial patrolling is most effective when the land being patrolled is completely barren. Therefore, PG&E decided that the cheapest way to deal with its current predicament is to implement a scorched earth policy, removing all trees and much else within all of the pipeline easement land.
Much of this land belongs to private homeowners. Land that homeowners have, in many cases over decades, carefully and lovingly sculpted into their own private oasis of peace and relaxation in our otherwise chaotic world is to be completely leveled, and homeowner expectations of control of their land heretofore taken for granted are to be completely shattered.
PG&E faces a problem, however, in that its current easement agreement does not grant it the legal right to enforce its new plan. An important challenge facing PG&E is therefore how best to induce homeowners with land on which PG&E holds an easement to accept such an extreme amendment to their easement agreement at the minimum possible cost. PG&E settled on a plan that involves deception, intimidation, and other extremely unethical behavior. Mountain View is part of a pilot project to test PG&E's ability to implement its plan. PG&E began to approach homeowners in Mountain View in July, 2012.
The land covered by the easement in Mountain View includes a few dozen trees visible from Middlefield Road around San Veron Park, including a beautiful row of majestic redwoods at Linda Vista, and including many trees in several homeowner backyards. As well, the pipeline runs directly under Crittenden Middle School and through properties on Rock Street.
PG&E handled the introduction of its plan for Mountain View with the ultimate display of arrogance and bad faith. In order to pull off its plan, PG&E decided against the good faith route of calling a public meeting in order to present its case to the homeowners involved in a group environment so that it could ask for cooperation in allowing PG&E to amend the current easement agreement, which has been in force for almost 70 years, since PG&E realized that such a significant and life-altering amendment would not be very popular.
PG&E also decided against the good faith route of presenting to homeowners any actual evidence of its legal right to enforce its new plan. In fact, in all contact with homeowners to date, PG&E has repeatedly refused, point blank, even to discuss any legal right that it might have. It certainly seems that PG&E in fact has no legal right.
Instead PG&E chose to sneak up on Mountain View, and try a divide-and-conquer method of meeting with involved homeowners one at a time, before most even knew that we have a pipeline in our back yards. These meetings were designed to overwhelm homeowners in their homes, one home at a time, by sheer number of representatives, and to bully, to intimidate, and to deceive us, demanding that we believe that we have no choice but to accept our new fate, in order to coerce us to accept its amending of our agreement. While there were a couple of homeowners who welcomed PG&E's offer of free yard work, most did not. Several homeowners are old, and when approached alone in such numbers felt stressed, intimidated, and isolated.
PG&E representatives have shown absolutely no respect for common decency or for ethical behavior. It is shameful how bold their attempts at deception have been. At our homeowner meeting back in July, the first time that any of us learned anything about PG&E's plans, there were 3 PG&E representatives in attendance. The primary representative, a PG&E Gas Maintenance Supervisor, was very much a bully. He was very aggressive, and he dismissed all of our concerns with blatant lies. There were 5 of us homeowners in attendance, and we all heard him, so there was no mistake in understanding his words. For example:
1) When asked about other options, he told us, quite clearly and adamantly, that it would cost $1 million per foot, in other words 5 BILLION, 280 MILLION DOLLARS per mile, to relocate the pipe. Does anyone believe that? In fact, on multiple web sites, the price has been quoted, even by PG&E in one case, as being about $1 million per mile. It might seem like a good idea to give him the benefit of the doubt, and to assume that perhaps we misheard or that he misspoke, accidentally saying per foot instead of per mile, but that would be a mistake, since we challenged him on his claim and he quite adamantly repeated it.
2) He also claimed that the question was not really even relevant, since it would be next to impossible to get an easement from the city to relocate the pipe. This was a lie, since the city has repeatedly implored PG&E to work with it to relocate the pipe.
3) When asked if a 70 year old pipe was perhaps too old, and if a newer pipe wouldn't be safer, he told us that, given the drastically lower quality of material that PG&E uses for new pipes today, the existing pipe is, even at 70 years of age, much safer than new pipe would be. Does anyone believe that? He even told us, with a straight face, that we should consider ourselves fortunate to have the higher quality, ancient pipe in our yards instead of a newer pipe. Perhaps he has never read any of the numerous reports on the extreme danger to society posed by the aging of the national pipeline infrastructure.
4) When asked if it is not dangerous for homeowners to have a pipeline running through our backyards, so close to where we and our children sleep at night, he said that we do not understand PG&E priorities. Yes, access to a fenced-in yard in the event of an incident can be difficult, and yes, safety for the few unlucky homeowners is certainly reduced, but PG&E cannot take that into consideration at all. On the contrary, PG&E considers homeowner backyards to be the best possible place to locate their pipelines. It is simply cheaper and easier for PG&E to control a large number of small and divided homeowners than to control one unified city if the pipeline were moved onto public land. This is perhaps the only true statement that he made during the entire meeting. Perhaps he is simply unaware that all modern guidelines recommend a setback too large for location in such small backyards.
5) He stated that there is no reason for PG&E even to consider compensating homeowners for its drastic change to our easement agreement. He even claimed that our property values would not decline at all once all of the beautiful trees are removed and potential buyers are informed that a 2' gas pipeline runs though our yards, something that we did not know when we made our decisions to purchase. Surely he cannot be so ignorant as to believe his words, so this is another lie. The lack of compensation is just one of many PG&E violations of the spirit of the Pipelines and Informed Planning Alliance's (PIPA) Final Report of Recommended Practices.
6) He also stated that after almost 70 years of adequate maintenance of the pipeline within the easement land, PG&E has now developed cheaper monitoring technology, and he emphatically demanded that PG&E's easement agreement grants it the right to upend our lives, simply because aerial monitoring will save PG&E money. We challenged him that a 70 year old agreement could not have forseen or provided for the need for aerial rights, but he was adamant. At that point, the other technical PG&E representative in attendance, a mild-mannered and seemingly honest PG&E Land Agent, actually admitted to us that we were correct and that the bully was wrong about PG&E having aerial rights.
7) Faced with this, he quite smoothly abandoned his lie and continued with intimidation. He changed the focus of our conversation from being all about PG&E's right to kill our trees in order to enable cheaper aerial monitoring to a conversation all about the danger to the pipe of tree roots. Up to now, he said, PG&E has maintained its pipeline using men to "regularly" walk the line. (Based on the condition of the back yards, it is clear that it is not physically possible for anyone to have walked the line on at least a couple of properties for at least a decade or two.) Aerial monitoring is cheaper, so much so that PG&E actually intends to do it regularly. Look at that tree over there. It is more than 100' tall, and has a very mature root system. It is located inside the easement, almost on top of the pipeline. We might think that if the roots were going to damage the pipe, they would have already started. However, PG&E tested the pipe, and he guaranteed that there is absolutely no problem now, so we should all feel safe. However, perhaps in the future the roots of this 100' tree might eventually reach the pipe next to it. How could PG&E ever know? PG&E will not have people walk the line, since aerial monitoring is cheaper. If we refuse to allow aerial monitoring, then there is only one way to know for sure that the roots are not affecting the pipe. He told us that he would personally take it upon himself to trench the entire yard, expose the entire pipe, and visually inspect it in order to be sure that there was no root encroachment. Of course, in his experience, he noted, such trenching tends to kill all trees anyway, so either way the trees are going. When we told this last part to a senior engineer with the Department of Public Works for the City of Mountain View, he concluded that this was nothing more than an attempt at intimidation. Surely, a Maintenance Supervisor is smart enough to know that if he intends to expose the existing pipe, even if the pipe were in perfect condition, it would still be much cheaper, much simpler, and much safer just to dig a new hole and lay a new pipe.
8) The bully aggressively and repeatedly claimed that PG&E has the complete right to demand that we allow it to remove trees from their easement. He repeatedly waved a copy of the easement agreement in our faces, and claimed that it gave him the right to do anything he wants, for whatever reason. He claimed that he has the right to remove all of our trees simply because it will save PG&E on the expense of patrolling.
After the July meeting, PG&E did a follow-up call just to ask if we had any questions. However, we had no interest in dealing with PG&E as isolated, individual homeowners. After our visit by PG&E, several of us got together to discuss our fate. There was quite a bit of fear in the air, fear of PG&E representatives and fear of the pipeline. There was also confusion. Did PG&E really have the rights that it claimed? Perhaps. Even if so, why did it need to lie to us, so blatantly and so repeatedly? Why did it choose to meet with us separately, and then bully us with threats and intimidation? That made us suspect PG&E's actual rights and motives. Furthermore, we examined the original easement agreement, the one that the bully waved repeatedly in our faces. It certainly does grant PG&E rights. It also seems to contain language that represents a significant restriction, one that disallows PG&E from making such a significant change to our lives. Perhaps PG&E had hoped that we would not recognize or defend our rights under the intense pressure of its bullying representatives. We wanted comment from PG&E and discussion on that. As well, the agreement clearly lists those things that are not allowed within the easement, and trees are not on the list. According to the agreement, trees do seem to be allowed, which explains why there are now so many trees everywhere throughout the easement, some more than 100' tall and others 6' in diameter.
The homeowners wanted to meet with PG&E, as a group, in a more civilized and less intimidating environment, where PG&E could lay out its case and also address our concerns about safety and about PG&E's legal right to force us to accept its plan. The City of Mountain View requested on our behalf that PG&E meet with us as a group, which it did on October 2, 2012.
In a complete surprise to the homeowners, PG&E's goal at the meeting had nothing to do with information exchange, which had been our expectation, but was instead to present a propaganda campaign, where men would strongly lay out PG&E's demands and women would display insincere sympathy with our concerns. Once again, at this meeting PG&E came with an army of representatives. However, when asked direct questions about topics such as costs and alternatives, we were told that there was "no one authorized" to address such questions and provide any actually useful information.
The leadoff speaker talked about PG&E's rights granted by the easement. He purposefully attempted to deceive us. He said that our easement agreement does not allow structures within the easement. That much is true. In the same breath, he also said that PG&E cannot allow trees within the easement. His wording was clearly intended to imply that our easement agreement does not allow trees, which PG&E representatives maintained throughout the meeting. This is not true. If trees are not allowed in the easement, then why is it that there are in fact now a large number of trees throughout the easement, some a hundred feet tall, which have been allowed to grow for the past 70 years with PG&E's full awareness and approval? PG&E demands the unilateral discretion to overturn 70 years of precedent, which PG&E itself established and supported, in spite of clear language disallowing this within the agreement itself.
PG&E's main speaker was a poor choice. Of all of the speakers who could have tried to sweet talk us, PG&E chose one who came across as a complete bully. While the PG&E customer relationship representative, in response to concerns about safety, repeated again and again and again how she "feels our pain," and merely came off as insincere, the bully kept saying that PG&E has an easement, and it has no need to care about anything else, such as any personal concerns about safety. He complained repeatedly that we were forcing him to repeat himself, and yet all he did was repeat himself, again and again. Why should PG&E care about us if it does not have to? His point was clear. The homeowners and the citizens of Mountain View are not PG&E's concern, because it feels that it has the right to ignore us. There seemed to be no real point to the meeting for PG&E, other than to let the homeowners know that it was serious about its threats and that we should expect no concern for our concerns. Whereas he responded with total disdain to all questions about concerns and fears for safety, when it came to questions about PG&E's legal right to implement this plan, in each and every case his response to the entire group was nothing at all beyond "no comment."
PG&E representatives insist, and demand that we accept, that the restrictions built into the easement agreement for the protection of homeowners against PG&E are completely subject to PG&E reinterpretation in any fashion, no matter how life-altering, and at no more than a moment's notice, whenever PG&E happens to decide that it is in the best financial interests of its shareholders to reinterpret them.
State regulations require that gas transmission pipelines located in urban areas adhere to additional design requirements, which have become increasingly strict over the past 50 years. PG&E would have us believe that its almost 70 year old pipeline, built in the 1940's when this area was completely rural, built almost 20 years before there were any federal or state regulations at all in place governing the building of pipelines, was nevertheless built to satisfy 2012 regulations as required for urban areas. Would you take PG&E's word on this?
PG&E is tempering its arrogant demands with offers of free cosmetic yard work. In return for this, it wants us to sign a simple acknowledgement of completed work. This is a devious ploy that disguises what is really going on. In its sneaky and underhanded manner, PG&E is asking us to sign what actually amounts to an amendment to our current easement agreement, one that grants it the right to do what it claims it already has the right to do, but which the current easement agreement clearly and specifically does not allow.
Almost no one at the October 2 meeting even knew that there is a 2 foot gas pipeline in our backyards until our first contact in July, since PG&E has made no attempt over the years to inform us of its presence. The deeds and title reports do not indicate the presence of a 2 foot gas pipeline. Some people sleep less than 10 feet from this major gas pipeline, the same one that blew up in San Bruno. If it were your children going to Crittenden Middle School, would you care that there is a major, high pressure gas pipeline running under your children's school? The city asked PG&E to think of the safety of the children and move the pipeline, but PG&E responded that it does not have to, so it will not. How willing are you to accept a "sorry about that" if there were an "accidental" explosion where 600 of our children go to school every day, perhaps after an earthquake or after another weakness in PG&E management or oversight?
This is not simply a dispute between PG&E and homeowners over an agreement, as PG&E would like everyone to consider it. Our state is under attack, as PG&E tries to get out of its recently discovered responsibility for safety in the cheapest possible manner. PG&E is displaying no commitment to ethical business practices or legal responsibilities.
PG&E clearly is only concerned with money. It only wants to do what is cheapest. PG&E considers bullying and deception to be legitimate business practices. If PG&E is willing to lie to us homeowners so simply, so repeatedly, and with such conviction, how could any reasonable person concerned with safety possibly believe that PG&E would not lie in other situations as well, whenever it seems to suit its interests?
The city of Mountain View has shown a desire to work with PG&E, and has encouraged it "in the strongest possible terms" to move the pipeline to somewhere that is safer and better for all, given the current urban environment.
At the October 2 meeting, another sincere request was passed to PG&E on behalf of the mayor of Mountain View, requesting yet again that PG&E reconsider relocating the pipe. While the homeowners waited for PG&E's response to the city, there was only one attempt at contact from PG&E, 6 weeks later, requesting a phone call if we had any questions. However, PG&E completely ignored the city, and never responded to the mayor's request, or to subsequent emails from the city asking for a response, just as PG&E never addressed the legality of its actions as per the easement agreement or any of the legal concerns or other objections raised at the October 2 meeting. The next homeowner communication came as a letter in early December that threatened PG&E lawyer involvement during Christmas week if homeowners did not concede before then. PG&E wanted to play Scrooge for Christmas, and seemed to hope to ruin our holidays, as a way to increase the damage inflicted by its threat.
PG&E CEO Anthony Earley recently commented yet once again about how he "hopes PG&E can regain customers' trust through an intense focus on operational excellence." While he is saying beautiful words to the press, his representatives are attempting to enforce PG&E's plans through purposeful deception, intense bullying, and a display of total arrogance and lack of concern for anyone else. PG&E actions are a disgrace, and PG&E needs to be called out for it.
Even with all its bullying and deceit, PG&E should not be able to succeed as long as our current easement agreement remains in force. PG&E's threats and intimidation have frightened and coerced many homeowners into signing away their rights, but some holdouts still remain. PG&E management seems to believe that its team of lawyers and its financial clout can overwhelm and simply steamroll the remaining homeowners. Most likely, they are correct, and that is the motivation for this web site.
Meanwhile, homeowners continue to sleep next to a time bomb, with PG&E's history of dishonest dealings and poor history of safety as our only assurances that the unthinkable will probably not happen in our own backyards. The entire city must now live with awareness of this danger. While on the one hand PG&E was lying to us homeowners at our own homes, and at the same time telling us that PG&E's commitment to safety should be beyond question, PG&E was quietly firing 19 inspectors for claiming inspections that were never performed, and PG&E was forced to express doubts about more than 1,500 inspections falsely claimed to have been completed in the Bay Area.
With PG&E's disgraceful display of deceit, dishonesty, intimidation, and greed toward the citizens of Mountain View, how can any customer of PG&E ever consider that PG&E truly cares foremost about our safety, except insofar as statistics happen to indicate that the estimated cost of addressing safety in a given circumstance comes out cheaper than the potential cost of paying off in case of accident? Instead of instilling greater confidence and trust in PG&E, which has been the CEO's stated goal to the press, this interaction with the citizens of Mountain View has only caused lack of sleep, extreme stress, and outright terror as people have come to realize the lengths to which PG&E is willing to go for its bottom line, with PG&E showing as its new face unyielding, intimidating, unconcerned bullies who freely admit that to them the ends justify the means and we citizens are nothing but statistics in PG&E's cost benefit analysis.
Please realize that this story is not only a story about the past, and it is not only a story about the citizens of Mountain View. If we do not take action now, while PG&E is still in the Pilot Project stage, then how many thousands of our fellow citizens of California are we dooming to similar brutal treatment at the hands of PG&E, with its aggressive lies and intimidation, once PG&E moves into full-scale implementation of its plan across the state?
This is an issue that concerns all citizens. The citizens and government of the great state of California have a major decision to make. We can allow PG&E to continue its behavior of focusing on nothing but corporate profits, while ignoring common decency, the law, and accepted standards of ethical behavior, or we can stop PG&E now, and not reward it by overlooking the means toward its ends.
PG&E is one of the most basic and important of the corporations that are entrusted with the public good. Public safety, and the perception by the public of its safety, are of paramount importance to society. For this corporation to commit such egregious acts of unethical behavior, illegal acts, vile acts, which instead of instilling feelings of safety instill terror, panic, and extreme distrust among our citizens serve only to undermine the public good.
An example must be made of PG&E, in order to restore confidence among the citizens of California that such behavior will not now or ever in the future be rewarded or overlooked, but that such behavior will be punished with the severity that it deserves. Society cannot tolerate large corporations exhibiting such ill treatment of the common man simply because they can.
Is the top management at PG&E aware of the unethical, illegal, irresponsible, and completely unacceptable behavior of its rank and file? If so, then it must be held accountable and replaced with people who hold a commitment to follow acceptable ethical standards of behavior and common decency, as well as the law. If not, then it must be held accountable and replaced with people who not only talk nice to the press but are able to establish and enforce socially accepted standards of corporate behavior and responsibility within the PG&E rank and file.
If we allow PG&E to continue with this behavior, or if we allow PG&E to escape punishment for this behavior, then what message are we sending to PG&E and other large corporations of the boundaries that society sets on their behavior and responsibility? For the public good, for the perception of the public to be that corporations are in fact held responsible for their behavior, PG&E must be disciplined!
The Independent Review Panel determined that multiple weaknesses in PG&E's management and oversight are what created its current predicament. Multiple weaknesses in PG&E's management and oversight must not be tolerated in order for it to find its way out of its current predicament!
Please lend your voice to the common cause of requiring ethical behavior and social responsibility by California corporations toward California citizens!!
This website has been set up as a place where concerned people can come together on this issue. Much relevant data is available here to help you become familiar with this situation. If you have any advice, opinions, or interest in this matter, if you would like to express words of support for our situation, or if you have your own issues and frustrations with PG&E regarding gas pipelines that you would like to share, please feel free to comment here.
Thank you for reading this.
Dennis Goldwater and Other Concerned Residents of Mountain View