PG&E destroys 20 palm trees at The Graduate

December 18, 2014


After a large eucalyptus tree crashed into a power line, PG&E destroyed 20 older palms trees located at The Graduate Restaurant and Nightclub in San Luis Obispo, even though the removal appears to violate city and state laws.

During last week’s storm, a large eucalyptus tree toppled during the storm, taking with it a palm tree that tore down power lines and impacted service. PG&E crews then went to the location and their arborist determined 20 palm trees needed to be destroyed because the palms “presented future potential hazards,” PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said.

Crews cut the tops off 20 healthy palm trees leaving just the trunks. Removing the top of a palm kills the tree.

The Graduate Restaurant

PG&E crews then left the tops of the trees and debris scattered on the ground.

The Graduate 2More than 35 years ago, Bill Everett built The Graduate Restaurant and Nightclub and planted the palms.

“I watered them and took care of them for 35 years,” Everett said his voice cracking. “We could have trimmed the palms, if they had asked I would have trimmed them immediately, but they cut the tops off. They just killed the trees.”

According to PG&E’s website, when a palm tree is located within 10 feet of a power line, the electric company gives the tree owner two options, either let them cut the top off the tree or let them cut the tree down to the ground.

However, Everett said PG&E did not attempt to contact him about the trees.

PG&E Spokesperson Blair Jones said PG&E received signed permission from Everett’s representative to remove trees directly next to the power lines. When asked for a copy of the permission and the name of Everett’s representative, Blair emailed that PG&E would not disclose the name or provide CalCoastNews with a copy of the permission form.

Everett has not been able to determine the identity of his alleged representative.

Nevertheless, while California Public Resources Code Section 4293 permits power companies to clear vegetation from between 4 to 10 feet of a power line depending on the voltage, at The Graduate some of the palms PG&E destroyed were planted 25 feet from the closest power line.

“The trees are directly next to the power lines,” Blair said in an email response to questions about the 10 foot California code requirement.

In addition, San Luis Obispo’s Tree Ordinance requires PG&E to contact a city arborist before removing trees. According to San Luis Obispo Ordinance 1544, if a tree creates an “imminent hazard to life or property,” it can be removed without a permit, but a city arborist must approve the removal.

City Arborist Ron Combs is looking into the removal of trees without contacting the city which Combs said could result in fines to PG&E.

“It is a slippery slope,” Combs said. “Millions of trees could be potential hazards.”


I would like to expand on my comment below about taking PG&E and the tree company to court. We had a 50 plus year old beautiful ash tree in our front yard and we paid to have it professionally trimmed every 18 months. One day we got a notice on our front door that PG&E was going to be doing tree trimming in the area in the coming weeks. I don’t trust them at all so contacted the tree service that I use and had them trim it since it was almost at the 18 month mark. I then contacted PG&E and the sub contracting tree company that was on the notice. They both said what I did was fine and they wouldn’t do anything to my tree. WRONG!!!! I came home for lunch a few weeks later to find some idiot hacking up my tree. When I told him to get out of the tree stop what they were doing and get their supervisor over there immediately, they both refused. I was furious to say the least, I then went into my garage and took out my own chain saw and told them to get out of tree or I would cut the tree down myself with them in it. That got their attention. Their supervisor showed up and gave me some crap about PG&E mandating the work and there was nothing they could do. I then called the city arborist who showed up immediately. When he got out of his truck he was amazed at how much they had butchered the tree and how awful it looked. Upon further inspection he told me that the tree probably would not survive. I then sued PG&E and the contractor for ALL of the costs for my trimming, the removal of the tree and stump and the value of the tree and the cost to replace it and all permitting fees. The city even sent both of them letters saying they were wrong and to comply with my requests. Neither of them even showed up in court so I won by default, even though the judge said I would have won regardless.

The bottom line is the contractors know exactly what the rules are and so does PG&E, they are both just too damn arrogant to care.


Did you get double or triple damages awarded? California law allows for double damages for negligent cutting of trees and triple damages for malicious cutting.


No I just wanted to be reimbursed for ALL of the costs. Since neither the contractor or PG&E showed up I received a default judgment. I didn’t even know about the treble damages and frankly I wouldn’t care. I’m not a litigious person.

For a city that is so concerned about their trees, other than the downtown area the city doesn’t do squat to enforce the rules in events like this, but god forbid if you “Joe Homeowner” went afoul of the rules you would be in deep city ordinance doo doo.


Every tree is a “potential” hazard. You’d think they could figure it out, without destroying trees that take 20+ years to grow. No respect.


PG & E always think they are the bad boy on the block. In my experience, their arborist is nothing but a stupid desk jockey that doesn’t give a crap about property rights. Per the Public Utilities Commission’s General Order 35, P G & E must maintain an 18″ clearance 365 days a year between vegetation and their conductors in LRA (Local Responsibility Areas). Once you get out into the country, SRA (State Responsibility Area), there is a four foot minimum. Yes, palm trees are a bad problem when they are growing directly under the lines as there is no way to trim them and direct the growth away from the lines like you can with other species. If these trees were 10 feet off to the side, I am calling bs on P G & E. Most likely that form had a bogus signature because normally the property OWBER must sign for a removal. How do I know these things? I was a pre-inspector many years ago and have been there and done that. Ron Combs needs to grow some and fine P G & E just like he would any other tree trimming contractor or property owner that does not go through the proper channels. If he doesn’t, then he has just opened the door to illegal removals without consequence. Davey Resource Group who does the pre-inspection knows better. Those inspectors have to know the local ordinances to do their job. If those trees were not in danger of falling that day or night, P G & E screwed up and will have to pay not only the Graduate but also the city fines.


PG&E should be required to pay the Graduate owner for each tree, “current market value”, they should be required to pay to have the job finished of removing the rest of the now dead trees along with any and all remaining debris, and they should be fined by the city at the cost of at least double the value of each tree. The arrogance shown by PG&E is astounding; perhaps they should have been required to bury those power lines so there would have been no concern about trees encroaching on the safe operation of those transmission lines.


I do believe those palms were planted before PG&E put in those two lines. It seems like it’s PG&E’s fault for choosing a poor location for them.

Those were also mature trees when they were planted during the last major remodel at The Grad and I’ll bet they weren’t inexpensive.

Sue them.


Those trees are right below the lines. They caused an outage. If a person got hurt because the power went out or from the downed line, we’d all be angry at the Grad.

Put in some lower vegetation.


I highly doubt that PG&E did the actual work themselves. They usually contract with a local tree service. The reason I say this is from direct experience. I was in a similar situation and in the end I sued the tree company and PG&E and won. The bottom line is the tree service should have known the rules, but the money they charge in an emergency situation like this is way too tempting.


Some of the trucks I saw had “DAVEY” tree service or such on the side. You are right you would think someone at that company would know the rules. If they don’t or claim it’s not their problem I certainly would not use that company for any work.


Davey Tree Co is currently the sub-contractor that is charged to do all of PG&E’s v3getation management and line clearance. Though they’ve been doing it for well over a decade, they are not a local firm. Davey is one of, if not thee, largest tree contractor in the world and runs an international operation and last I checked quite a number of years ago, had well over 25,000 employees. They know what’s going on! As the article states, somebody appears to have represented themselves as an agent for the owner. I know from personal experience, it is highly unusual to ever know or even get close to an “owner” of such a facility like this industrial unit. It would be very typical to have a property manager or grounds maintenance supervisor to oversee such an operation.


What I don’t understand is why only The Graduate gets punished? There are other trees down Industrial Way which are touching the power lines in front of Poly Performance and Goodwill that are hazardous. PG&E should have talked the owner of The Graduate instead of someone that is not in charge of making those kind of decisions! If PG&E would of made the effort to talk to the owner, I’m pretty sure he would of done anything to save the palms. PG&E doesn’t know the value of those palms! They were probably over $150,000!


Valuations are subject to many criteria, one of them location. These trees would rate very low in that evaluation but given that the debris is still on site, perhaps an arborist was able to perform some forensic evals that might aid in a reasonable valuation. It’s very hard to make a responsible valuation after the fact.


Probably lots more than $25K — that would be just over $1K per tree, which is ridiculously low. Palm trees are the easiest trees in the world to move. They could have been moved and planted further from the lines, if that is actually an issue. There’s a huge industry in moving mature palm trees. The owner should sue the heck out of PG&E, and demand triple damages for the landscape value of those trees. What PG&E did is just plain malicious and stupid. Unfortunately, the city’s tree “fines” amount to zilch — maybe $500 per tree at most.


Actually Bob, an appraisal can easily be done after the fact by a certified arborist. A proper appraisal would use The Guide for Plant Appraisal, 9th edition, I believe and it’s pretty simple for those in the know such as myself.


I’ve been there for 25 years. A valuation can be done but without prior inspections, evaluations, photos, etc of the trees prior to their removal, it would be reckless and unethical to make high percentage evaluation assumptions on the conditional aspects of the evaluation.