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Emergency generator rules before commission


The Bulletin

Emergency generators that are self-enclosed by sound absorbing casing may be allowed within the 5-foot side yard setback from property lines in Manteca.

Such whole house generators could not exceed 76 decibels at 23 feet — roughly the same noise a passenger car creates that is traveling at 65 mph at a point 25 feet away — providing the Manteca Planning Commission embraces the concept and the City Council subsequently adopts it.

The Planning Commission will take up potential changes to the zoning ordinance to accommodate emergency generators within the 5-foot side yard setback when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

More than 60 Manteca households are interested in installing whole house emergency generators that cost at least $3,000 to purchase and well over $1,000 to install so they won’t be at the mercy of PG&E’s wildfire liability solution to possibly cut off electricity for 2 to 5 days. The PG&E induced emergency — if and when it occurs — is designed to protect the for-profit from incurring liability if their equipment starts a wildfire. 

Even though Manteca and most of San Joaquin County that has been advised by PG&E to prepare to go up to 5 days without power is as much as 60 miles from high risk wildfire areas, the same transmission lines serving those areas also serve the local area.

The proposed zoning change would allow backup generators to go within the 5 foot setback under certain conditions. Those conditions require it to be behind a fence, retain enough space so solid waste carts can be moved past generators so that the carts aren’t left in front yards in violation of zoning ordinances, emergency egress is retained, and that during periods the city hasn’t declared an emergency that the generator’s test cycle noise doesn’t exceed allowable decibel levels under city code.

The emergency generators would only be allowed to operate during power blackouts that are beyond the homeowner’s control.

Most people who have approached the city want to install the emergency generators in side yards where electrical boxes as well as natural gas lines that are needed to power the emergency generator are located. City zoning doesn’t allow mechanical equipment within a five foot setback from the property line. A large number of homes do not have a setback much larger than five feet in the side yards that are next to electrical boxes.

The current city rules place the allowable maximum noise levels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. in residential areas at 60 decibels and between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. at 50 decibels.

Those limits would be tossed aside in an emergency situation with the new cap of 76 decibels being put in place. A staff report notes that virtually all brands of whole house generators come with sound proofing casing that makes sure that decibel level is not exceeded.

The process that would make it legal for the city to issue permits for emergency generators to be placed in  side yards is expected to take four to six months to complete based on the process state law requires cities to follow when making zoning changes.

Meanwhile, people can still get permits for the emergency generators if they do not place it within the 5-foot setback.

Permits are not needed for standard portable generators.