CONCORD -- While bipartisanship is rare these days in the nation's capitol, the local Democratic and Republican parties have come together over trees.
The Contra Costa Republican Party and Democratic Party of Contra Costa County on Wednesday joined forces to urge Pacific Gas & Electric to work with local governments and residents on a plan to balance pipeline safety with the desire to preserve trees.
Party leaders gathered in Len Hester Park, where PG&E had proposed cutting down about 100 trees that border the Iron Horse Trail.
"We found that on this issue we had common ground" with Democrats, said Becky Kolberg, Contra Costa Republican Party chairwoman. "Foremost, this is a public safety issue, we all agree to that. Number two, it's an environmental issue, for the beauty of our trees, the health of our trees the beauty of our county."
Both parties are calling for PG&E to comply with local tree permitting regulations even though the utility has said it isn't legally required to do so; to inspect each tree; provide adequate mitigation and consider alternatives to cutting down trees, including moving the pipeline.
Concord Councilman Edi Birsan and Hal Bray, vice chair of the county Republican Party, brought the two parties together on this issue.
The utility's $500 million Pipeline Pathways project is a statewide initiative to clear obstructions from the utility company's 6,750 miles of underground gas lines from Bakersfield to Eureka. PG&E says it needs to remove the trees, shrubs and structures on private and public property to ensure pipeline safety.
"People live in Contra Costa County partially because of the trees and the quality of life, and PG&E came in a little strong, but realized the community has to be part of the discussion," said Chuck Carpenter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Contra Costa County.
City managers from Pleasanton, Pleasant Hill, Concord and Walnut Creek, representing 19 East Bay cities, have joined a committee with PG&E to hammer out an agreement on how to ensure pipeline safety without compromising the environment.
"We know how important the beauty of each community is and we're going to work hard with everyone to find the proper balance between safety and maintaining the character of each city," said Greg Snapper, PG&E spokesman.
PG&E hopes this approach will succeed, said Tom Guarino, who handles government relations for the utility. The company has already agreed to most of the parties' demands.
The tree-cutting plan had angered residents and city leaders across the East Bay. On Wednesday, Guarino said PG&E is trying to reach an agreement on the permitting issue that applies to multiple cities. Furthermore, he said alternatives, including the possibility of moving the pipeline, are being explored -- "Everything's on the table."
The parties plan to work together on other issues, Carpenter said; the next collaboration likely will involve water.
"This isn't Washington D.C.; it is possible for the two parties to discuss and agree on things we can agree about," he said.
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.