Texting, tweeting and Instagram have shoved old-school communications into a forgotten corner of the messaging toolbox. But when someone's truly peeved, a harsh letter is hard to beat for conveying indignation.
A hissing match between East Bay cities and Pacific Gas & Electric -- let's call it The Battle of the Trees -- serves as a reminder that outrage is best delivered on a business letterhead. A smoldering pile of them landed in PG&E's inbox in response to the utility's Pipeline Pathways Project, which will improve access to gas lines, ensure public safety and, um, destroy hundreds of trees.
City officials from Pleasant Hill to Pleasanton have had their knickers in a knot since it came to their attention last month the region's natural gas provider planned to go Paul Bunyan on every oak or elm in its right-of-way without so much as a please or a thank you.
In a letter from Concord City Attorney Mark Coon to PG&E project Director Chauna Moreland:
"You acknowledged that the California Public Utilities Commission has not issued an order expressly mandating the project. Instead, you are pursuing the project pursuant to non-specific gas pipeline maintenance and testing authority which you contend flows from CPUC General Order 112-E."
Translation: Why are you suddenly cramming this down our throats?
From Dublin City Attorney John Bakker to PG&E counsels Grant Guerra and David Kraska, on behalf of Dublin, Danville, El Cerrito, Pleasanton, Livermore, Concord and Walnut Creek:
"While the cities understand and appreciate the safety concerns driving the Pathways project, PG&E's actions in pursuing it display an astonishing lack of respect toward the cities and to something the cities and their citizenry hold dear."
Translation: Everybody already hates utilities -- do you need more enemies?
From Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson to Moreland and PG&E Government Relations Manager Tom Guarino:
"If PG&E gets its way, over 700 trees would be removed in the city with virtually no oversight. PG&E's current posture, beyond being legally incorrect, is unacceptable to the city and the public.
Translation: Take a look at our logo -- it's a tree.
From Mayors Hank Stratford (Clayton), Tim Grayson (Concord), Robert Storer (Danville), Janet Abelson (El Cerrito), Rob Schroder (Martinez), Jerry Thorne (Pleasanton), Lawson (Walnut Creek) and Lafayette City Councilman Mike Anderson to PG&E President and CEO Tony Earley:
"We are prepared to take the necessary steps to ensure that PG&E complies with city ordinances and does not destroy city property."
Translation: Put down the chain saws and call your attorneys.
It never needed to come to this -- the utility hatching deforesting plans without input from communities; angry letters from municipal authorities at increasing decibel levels. The biggest annoyances for most city officials seemed to be that they (1) weren't given any voice in the process, nor (2) told why such drastic action was mandatory.
Apparently, their collective message finally penetrated PG&E's corporate hide. On Thursday, the utility announced it was willing to sit down with local representatives and talk this procedure through.
Never underestimate the power of angry letters.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.