By Elizabeth Vaughn, Copy Editor, Valley Ag Voice
Ask anyone about Bakersfield’s early history and you’re apt to hear about a few key highlights like founder Colonel Thomas Baker, Sharktooth Hill, or the petroleum boom. Among these, one historical icon swaying high in the air are the over 200 palms off highway 58 on Rudd Avenue showing the last remnants of the Rosedale Colony.
Over the past few months, these 140-year-old palms have been an area of heartache for landowner Keith Gardiner after PG&E unabashedly cut down 13 trees in total, citing that the palms were interfering with the power lines and could cause safety concerns. Unfortunately, the electrical company’s reason was only given after Keith found several palms left cut down on the side of the road, leaving two-foot stumps behind. PG&E also stated that the trees are diseased and dying and that they “are in poor health and are at risk of failing and falling into the facilities.”
Concerned for his property and the history of these trees, Keith brought out an arborist to determine their health or any concerns. To this, the only determination was the fact that they are old – not diseased. “The only reason any died was because they cut their head off,” Keith stated. “After some news hit Facebook, we’ve had a lot of support. A lot of people similarly don’t understand why PG&E would act this way, particularly when everything is their fault. I would admit it if we did something wrong and if anything was our fault, but the claim that the trees are diseased is not correct.”
After much back and forth with PG&E through attorneys and showing records recognizing the trees as listed on the federal registry of historical monuments and some help from Senator Shannon Grove reaching out in support, it seems some head way has come at last.
On April 13th, Keith received a visit from Peter Kinney the new vice president of vegetation management based in San Francisco and an engineer to inspect and discuss moving some lines that they placed too close to the palms in the late 1990s. “It seems he feels that PG&E hasn’t done the right thing in serving their customers with previous actions, and they are considering placing the lines underground,” commented Keith. “He wants to try to work with me to put this issue to bed and get PG&E out from under the bad press they’ve been getting.” Gardiner also believes that PG&E sees they were in the wrong and possibly in violation of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. “We may be getting somewhere with PG&E. They have agreed to not cut down any more trees for the time being, while they are looking at rerouting and removing the problem power lines.”
Due to the history associated with the palms and the length of time they’ve continued to grow, it seems these trees take precedent over power lines placed in 1958. Gardiner has more work ahead with a goal to get the Cross of Palms recognized locally as representative of the old Rosedale Colony. Keith added that, “This property has been annexed to the City of Bakersfield and is entitled as a Master Planned Community in the future, and the palms are an integral part of the trails and landscape plan.”