PG&E Displays Complete Inability to Cope
With Safety Issues Due to Aging Pipeline Infrastructure

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Due to public and political attention following the recent San Bruno pipeline explosion, PG&E has come under intense scrutiny and increasing demands to improve safety. Unfortunately, PG&E has demonstrated that it is completely unable to cope with these demands, due to its lack of quality management and due to the terrible, antiquated condition of its existing pipeline infrastructure.

PG&E behavior during its pilot project in Mountain View has clearly demonstrated that PG&E's constant public display of interest in safety and its claims that it has been rehabilitated from its sordid past are nothing more than attempts by its Public Relations department to hide its desperation and its complete inability to cope with the situation in which it now finds itself. Society can no longer afford to allow PG&E to flounder around desperately in its attempt to find a way out of its predicament.

PG&E has stated repeatedly, on public record, that it cannot allow trees on the land within its pipeline easements, due to safety concerns. This seems like a valid statement to make. It may well even be true. It certainly deserves consideration.

However, at least in the case of the agreement with the citizens of Mountain View, the fact of the matter is that the current agreement that grants this pipeline easement does allow trees. The agreement explicitly lists those things that are not allowed on the easement, and trees are not on the list. Furthermore, the very presence of trees on easement land, everywhere on easement land, some 100' tall and others 6' in diameter, is clear evidence that trees are allowed and have always been allowed on easement land, according to the easement agreement currently in force, and is clear evidence that PG&E has always been fully aware of this fact.

The PG&E stated requirement that trees cannot be allowed due to safety considerations is at odds with the fact that trees are allowed under the current easement agreement. The only way to align the PG&E goal with the easement agreement reality is to amend the existing agreement in order to disallow trees. This is no minor amendment. This is a life-altering amendment. Back yards that homeowners in some cases have spent decades sculpting and falling in love with are to be completely leveled, and control of this land heretofore under direct control of the homeowners is to be taken over by PG&E.

The document that PG&E has been requesting that homeowners in Mountain View sign after it destroys their yards is quite clearly meant to constitute a legally binding amendment to the easement agreement, an amendment that will allow PG&E the right to do what PG&E claims that it had the right to do even before obtaining their signatures.

Does PG&E have the right to force homeowners to accept such a life-altering amendment to their current easement agreement? This is a valid question to ask. It deserves consideration.

Do homeowners deserve compensation for signing off on such a life-altering amendment to their current easement agreement? This is a valid question to ask. It deserves consideration.

Rather than making good faith contact with homeowners, where PG&E could state its concerns and its requirements, and where homeowners could state their reservations, PG&E choose to approach the homeowners with heavy-handed intimidation backed by repeated lies. The PG&E goal has been to coerce homeowners into signing an amendment to their easement agreement that includes no compensation other than paying for the actual yard destruction and performing some cosmetic clean up.

An important goal of PG&E and its heavy-handed tactics has been to stifle any consideration of the legality of or compensation for its extreme behavior. PG&E has claimed repeatedly on public record, including all relevant recent appearances on television news, that it has been working closely with the homeowners involved. The notion of “working closely” should involve more than just leaving messages on the telephone. It should involve two-way communication.

In the case of several of the homeowners in Mountain View who have not yet signed, there have only been two instances of two-way communication. The first was a meeting involving several homeowners in one of our back yards, where PG&E adamantly demanded that we have no rights, we deserve no compensation, and that we are completely at PG&E's mercy. The responses to all of our questions at that time concerning legality were very blatant lies delivered in a very aggressive and intimidating manner. In reaction to this, we asked the city to arrange a meeting with PG&E, where PG&E could lay out its case and respond to our questions in a more civilized and less intimidating manner. Instead, at that meeting, a bigger bully went on the attack. He aggressively and adamantly claimed that PG&E has decided what it must do, and our opinions and concerns are not relevant in its decision-making process. The only homeowner questions that he responded to were those expressing concern for safety, all of which he dismissed as not even being a consideration at all in PG&E's decision-making process. As for all questions that we had relating to the legality of PG&E's plan, he stated that among the army of PG&E representatives present there was “no one authorized” to address such questions, and to all such questions that were asked, he responded with nothing more than “no comment.” In other words, PG&E has made it quite clear that it does not feel compelled even to address our concerns about the legality of its plan. This is the behavior that PG&E has been portraying to the Bay Area public as “working closely” with the homeowners involved.

It is possible that PG&E does have the rights that it claims. Still, the city and the citizens should have the right to have our concerns addressed and our questions answered. How does PG&E's claim that it cannot allow trees within the easement land mesh with the fact that trees clearly are allowed on easement land, according to the agreement that PG&E signed?

PG&E has demonstrated very bad faith in its interaction. Its reports to the press belie the fact that PG&E is not really interested in safety for safety's sake, as it implies, but instead that it is interested in small improvements to give the appearance of safety, at the least possible cost to PG&E.

This is not just a story involving a few isolated homeowners. Mountain View is part of a pilot project, and once this project ends, PG&E will repeat this behavior throughout the entire length of its pipeline. Thousands of homeowners will be affected. PG&E's plan has not included encouraging a public discussion about how it will upgrade its aging, decrepit, and antiquated pipeline infrastructure, but has instead been to approach isolated homeowners one at a time, and to bully and lie its way, home by home, into amendments to its agreements that will grant PG&E the right that it claims it already has even without their signatures.

This is wrong. All independent reports claim that the PG&E pipeline infrastructure is in terrible condition, and that it is a series of terrible accidents waiting to happen. In the case of San Bruno, it has already happened. Not all of this is PG&E's fault, of course, since pipes do age, but PG&E mismanagement over the decades has certainly been a huge contributing factor. We as a society should address the issue of pipeline safety throughout the state together, to reach a comprehensive solution, rather than letting PG&E follow a policy of bullying individual homeowners one at a time, a policy where the only guiding principle is corporate greed and the bottom line of its shareholders.

PG&E claims that it has rehabilitated itself after the well-documented decade of incompetence leading up to the San Bruno disaster. The evidence in the case of Mountain View homeowners makes it clear that this claim is false.

We as a society should move forward from the experience between PG&E and Mountain View in two ways. First, PG&E must be severely disciplined for its current unethical and inappropriate behavior toward the citizens of Mountain View and others. Second, we as a society should have a group discussion to address the issue of pipeline safety in light of the aging infrastructure of existing pipe, and in light of the fact that the existing pipe was laid at random and long before the current reality of urban development. The layout of modern cities is complete now. Existing pipe should be upgraded to be safe within the current urban environment, and not be allowed to remain antiquated even from the perspective of its initial state of being safe for a 1940's rural environment, and existing pipe should be relocated in such a way as to enable maximum safety respecting the layout of the modern cities through which it passes.

PG&E's behavior should serve as a wake-up call to all of us. Pipeline safety is everyone's concern, as it affects us all. We simply can no longer allow corporate greed to dictate the factors in the cost benefit analysis that affects us all. We cannot allow even one more disaster of the scope of the San Bruno disaster due to decisions made by the board of directors of PG&E solely in consideration of the economic benefit of its shareholders.

Society cannot afford to allow PG&E to continue to flounder around, desperately searching for a self-serving solution to a problem of its own making, given the clear evidence that PG&E management is completely unable to cope with the difficulty of maintaining the safety of its aging pipeline infrastructure and given the well-documented historical evidence and continued clear evidence that PG&E management is far better suited to focusing on shareholder profit than on societal safety.