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Noise issues trip up some generators
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PG&E’s plan to pull the plug on power to Manteca if extreme wildfire conditions exist elsewhere could end up disturbing the peace in city neighborhoods.

Those seeking to install larger generators capable of powering an entire house if and when PG&E goes through with its plans to cut electricity for 2 to 5 days create noise that exceeds allowable noise levels in residential neighborhoods have been a bit frustrated when applying for a city permit to do so.

Manteca’s allowable noise level for a single-family dwelling is 50 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. and 60 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Most generators exceed those noise levels with a normal running mode of more than 70 decibels.

The city has received a number of inquiries from permit applicants and contractors regarding emergency residential generators.

They want to install the whole house generators in side yards where power panels are typically located but the city does not allow mechanical equipment in side yards. Ideally they would go in a location in a back yard that is far enough away from surrounding property lines to allow the noise to dissipate.

It is creating a quandary that staff is bringing to the City Council for direction when they gather Tuesday, July 30, for a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

The four major issues are:

due to the large size and proposed locations some generators will be in outright violation of the city’s noise ordinance.

emergency generators are not exempt from residential noise standards meaning if they are operating in their normal mode in excess of 70 decibels they will be doing so illegally.

the larger generators require a weekly maintenance cycle that can last up to 30 minutes but operate with less sound than in normal running levels that go as low as 68 decibels. However if the emergency generators are located within 5 feet of a property line even that reduced level of noise for testing would be in violation of the noise rules.

a number of people want to place generators in side yards that typically have a 5-foot setback where mechanical equipment such as air conditioning units and generators aren’t allowed.

Based on issues contractors and permit applicants have raised, staff is presenting four options for the council to consider:

Don’t change anything. By leaving the General Plan and Municipal Code as it is, only generators meeting allowable noise levels that are placed outside of the 5-yard setback can be installed.

Amend the General Plan and Municipal Code to accommodate higher allowable sound levels and remove the setback requirements. This would allow generators to be used in any location within the revised sound level requirement at any time, emergency or not. This would potentially impact the quality of life for surrounding residents by increasing the allowable noise levels at all times of the day and night. The process to allow this to occur would take about 12 months and require costly studies.

For declared emergencies only, amend the General Plan and Municipal Code to accommodate higher allowable sound levels. The generators, however, would have to comply with noise levels during their maintenance cycle. The process to allow this to occur would take about 12 months and require costly studies.

Amend the Municipal Code to allow for the installation of residential emergency generators to be installed in the required side yard setback provided that the allowable noise levels are met as currently written. This process would take about 90 days.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email