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AB-448 Fire safety: electrical transmission or distribution lines: clearances: notice and opportunity to be heard.(2021-2022)

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Date Published: 04/26/2021 10:00 AM
AB448:v97#DOCUMENT

Amended  IN  Assembly  April 26, 2021
Amended  IN  Assembly  March 25, 2021

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2021–2022 REGULAR SESSION

Assembly Bill
No. 448


Introduced by Assembly Member Mayes

February 08, 2021


An act to amend Section 4295.5 of the Public Resources Code, relating to fire safety.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


AB 448, as amended, Mayes. Fire safety: electrical transmission or distribution lines: clearances. clearances: notice and opportunity to be heard.
Existing law authorizes any person who owns, controls, operates, or maintains any electrical transmission or distribution line to traverse land as necessary, regardless of land ownership or express permission to traverse land from the landowner, after providing notice and an opportunity to be heard to the landowner, to prune trees to maintain clearances, as provided, and to abate, by pruning or removal, any hazardous, dead, rotten, diseased, or structurally defective live trees. Existing law authorizes this abatement at the full discretion of the person that owns, controls, operates, or maintains the electrical transmission or distribution line but existing law prohibits this discretion from being less than specified law relating to clearances. Existing law does not exempt any person who owns, controls, operates, or maintains any electrical transmission or distribution line from liability for damages for the removal of vegetation that is not covered by any easement granted to that person for the electrical transmission or distribution line. Existing law provides that the willful or negligent commission of any acts prohibited or the omission of any acts required by specified laws relating to fire safety is a misdemeanor. Under existing law, the Public Utilities Commission has regulatory authority over public utilities, including electrical corporations. Existing law provides that a violation of a rule or order of the commission is a crime. Rule 35 of the commission’s General Order 95 establishes vegetation management requirements with respect to overhead conductors, as provided. Existing law authorizes this abatement at the full discretion of the person that owns, controls, operates, or maintains the electrical transmission or distribution lines, except for certain applicable minimum clearance requirements for those lines.
Under existing law, the Public Utilities Commission, which has regulatory authority over public utilities, including electrical corporations, has established additional vegetation management requirements. Existing law provides that a violation of a rule or order of the commission is a crime and provides that the willful or negligent commission of any acts prohibited or the omission of any acts required by specified laws relating to fire safety is a misdemeanor.
This bill would instead authorize revise and recast those provisions related to electrical lines and abatement activities for a person who owns, controls, operates, or maintains an electrical transmission or distribution line to traverse land as necessary, regardless of land ownership or express permission to traverse land from the landowner, after providing notice and an opportunity to be heard to the landowner, to fell, cut, or trim trees to maintain clearances as provided, including pursuant to the general order, and to abate, by felling, cutting, or trimming, any hazardous, dead, rotten, diseased, leaning, or structurally defective live trees. line, specifying that abatement activities covered by this law include felling, cutting, or trimming trees. The bill would prohibit the person’s discretion, with respect to the felling, cutting, or trimming of these trees, from being less than what is also required in the general order. explicitly require all these line clearance and tree pruning and abatement activities to comply with the commission’s vegetation management rules. By expanding the scope of a crime, the bill would create a state-mandated local program. The bill would repeal an explicit statement that this electrical line access authorization provides no relief from liability for the removal of vegetation, unless that removal is covered by an applicable easement. The bill would require the identification of hazardous, dead, rotten, diseased, leaning, or structurally defective live trees that are to be felled, cut, or trimmed to be accomplished by using a tree evaluation tool or method, as provided. The bill would require make any trees that are felled, cut, or trimmed, if valuable timber or wood, to remain the property of the landowner, as provided. By expanding the scope of a crime, the bill would create a state-mandated local program. The bill would instead not exempt a person who owns, controls, operates, or maintains an electrical transmission or distribution line from liability for damages associated with collateral property damage caused by their negligence in felling, cutting, or trimming trees or vegetation in accordance with the above provisions. unless the landowner requests removal of the wood.
The California Energy Infrastructure Safety Act establishes the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety within the Natural Resources Agency and provides that, on and after July 1, 2021, the office is the successor to, and is vested with, all of the duties, powers, and responsibilities of the Wildfire Safety Division of the Public Utilities Commission.
The bill would require the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety, on or before April 1, 2022, to develop standardized content to be used to satisfy the landowner notice requirement for vegetation abatement and trimming activities, and standardized content to be used by a landowner to request the removal of wood, as specified. The bill would also require the office, on or before April 1, 2022, to develop a process for a landowner to exercise the opportunity to be heard, as specified, when challenging the proposed traversal of land and any felling, cutting, or trimming of trees.
The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement.
This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this act for a specified reason.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: YES  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 Section 4295.5 of the Public Resources Code is amended to read:

4295.5.
 (a) (1) Notwithstanding any other law, including Section 4295, a person who owns, controls, operates, or maintains an electrical transmission or distribution line may traverse land as necessary, regardless of land ownership or express permission to traverse land from the landowner, after providing notice and an opportunity to be heard to the landowner, to fell, cut, or trim trees to maintain clearances pursuant to Section 4293 and Rule 35 of the Public Utilities Commission’s General Order 95, and to abate, by felling, cutting, or trimming, any hazardous, dead, rotten, diseased, leaning, or structurally defective live trees. The felling, cutting, and trimming of these trees, and the clearances obtained when felling, cutting, or trimming the trees, shall be at the full discretion of the person that owns, controls, operates, or maintains an electrical transmission or distribution line, but shall not be less than what is required in Section 4293 and Rule 35 of the Public Utilities Commission’s General Order 95. This section shall apply to both high fire threat districts, as determined by the Public Utilities Commission pursuant to its rulemaking authority, and to state responsibility areas.
(2) Identification of hazardous, dead, rotten, diseased, leaning, or structurally defective live trees that are to be felled, cut, or trimmed pursuant to this section shall be accomplished by using a tree evaluation tool or method, developed or approved by an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. Any trees that are felled, cut, or trimmed pursuant to this section, if valuable timber or wood, shall remain the property of the landowner unless the removal of the wood is timely requested by the landowner, in which case the person who owns, controls, operates, or maintains an electrical transmission or distribution line shall remove the wood at no cost to the landowner.
(b) Subdivision (a) does not exempt a person who owns, controls, operates, or maintains an electrical transmission or distribution line from liability for damages associated with collateral property damage caused by their negligence in felling, cutting, or trimming trees or vegetation in accordance with this section. The Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety shall, on or before April 1, 2022, develop the following:
(1) Standardized content for a letter that shall satisfy the landowner notice requirement described in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a).
(2) Standardized content for use by a landowner to request the removal of wood as described in paragraph (2) of subdivision (a).
(3) A process for a landowner to exercise the opportunity to be heard, established in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a), when challenging the proposed traversal of land and any felling, cutting, or trimming of trees.

SEC. 2.

 No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution because the only costs that may be incurred by a local agency or school district will be incurred because this act creates a new crime or infraction, eliminates a crime or infraction, or changes the penalty for a crime or infraction, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code, or changes the definition of a crime within the meaning of Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution.