Currently making its way through the legislative process, SB 396 poses serious risks to California’s environment. It would allow utilities such as PG&E to fell any “Overstrike Tree” along 25,500 miles of power lines in High Threat Fire Districts, any distance outside their right of way, without review by an arborist, and without clear procedures for appeal or compensation for damages. A 200-foot tall redwood tree 199 feet from a power line is an “Overstrike Tree.” By PG&E’s estimates, there are over 10 million “Overstrike Trees” in its service area.
SB 396 legalizes a ‘taking’ of private property and makes utility easements on private property or a public right of way meaningless. Utilities have long had good alternatives to faulty or outdated equipment, such as replacing bare wires with insulated conductors rather than clearcutting trees. Southern California Edison is already doing just that. Sponsored by Senator Brian Dahle, SB 396 permits clearcutting, heightening wildfire risk and climate change. Clearcutting creates wind tunnels that propel flaming brands, quickly spreading wildfire, and produces drier vegetation under power lines, weakening trees once sheltered by the larger trees targeted by PG&E’s Enhanced Vegetation Management (EVM). These trees are more vulnerable to winds and at greater threat of falling.
Disturbingly, SB 396, introduced in 2021 and amended this year, removes previous protections given by Public Resource Code (PRC) 4295, which required utilities to give notice to property owners of tree felling, and did not absolve them from damage liability. SB 396 further states that the CA OEIS is not required to hear landowners’ complaints and fails to identify any redress.
This bill provides no meaningful benefit while undermining the rights of individuals as guaranteed under the California State Constitution, Section 1. Legislators should reject SB 396.
Kristen Sandel, Ben Lomond
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