NEVADA CITY (CBS13) — A small group of determined people has forced the largest utility company in the state of California to settle.
Brandon Jonutz, dubbed “Tarzan” by the group Save Nevada County Trees, climbed up in a tree last Friday and created a makeshift treehouse. The group was trying to prevent Pacific Gas and Electric from cutting down the tree for fire safety purposes.
The utility slated nearly 300 trees in Nevada City for removal to protect their power lines and the city from potential wildfires. PG&E spokesperson Brandi Merlo said safety is the utility’s most important responsibility.
“We do have a lot of constituents who are more concerned about fire safety than trees and so we also have to work with PG&E as a city,” Nevada City Councilmember Doug Fleming said.
The Nevada City group led by Tarzan stopped PG&E in their tracks, demanding a compromise, asking PG&E to trim the trees instead of cutting them down. In an effort to convince the utility company to do so, Tarzan took his protest to new heights. Refusing requests from local law enforcement to get out of the tree.
“The hardest part about it was getting woken up at 4 a.m. to policemen threatening me with a felony,” Jonutz said.
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As he started to run low on food, PG&E finally agreed to negotiations.
“Think about the trees you take. Don’t come in like a steam roller, cause we’re going to keep doing this,” Jonutz said.
PG&E said it will continue its tree removal work to mitigate fire hazards, but has agreed to remove only the top part of the tree Tarzan protested in, reducing the height of the tree to 90 feet.
The utility has also agreed not to press charges against Jonutz for protesting in the tree. As a result of the agreement, Tarzan agreed to leave the tree on Thursday.
It was a very sweet victory for Tarzan, who was actually proposed to by his girlfriend as soon as he got down from the tree.
“Everyone got them to compromise, it’s the public support that did it. I just had to hold the space enough for people to get mad enough,” Jonutz said. “Now I get to marry that beautiful woman.”
PG&E says they’ll still be able to mitigate fire risk and protect their power lines in Nevada City. They have about 50 trees left they still plan to cut down.