June 15, 2001
Forget Black Gold or Texas Tea ...
From Malibu to Beverly Hills, they all want a personal generator.
Remember that television show from about 20 years ago called "The Beverly Hillbillies"? A humble family from the "backwoods" hit it rich when pappy Clampett was out hunting, shot at a rabbit, but hit oil instead. Before you know it, they had "loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. ... Hills, that is ..."
The show followed the Clampetts through many different trials and tribulations of acclimating themselves to the "good life." They bought a mansion with all the comforts a family used to cooking over an open fire could ask for-air conditioning, a modern stove and refrigerator, a pool in the backyard, a diesel-powered generator. Wait, there was no diesel-powered generator in the backyard of the Hillbillies' home, was there? Probably not, but if the show took place today, chances are, you'd see one chugging along.
With the energy crunch Californians have been facing for the last year or so, and with no immediate relief forecasted, many homeowners out West are turning to alternative solutions to keep their homes cool in the summertime.
ERIC KESHISHIAN, A SENIOR PLAN REVIEW ENGINEER FOR THE CITY OF BEVERLY HILLS, told the Fortnightly recently that his department "has received a lot of questions about whether or not generators are allowed to be installed" in private residences. Many of the requests, he says, come from "large house owners. Not necessarily celebrities, but from the big homes with recording studios or screening rooms."
Keshishian says that to install a generator in Beverly Hills, a homeowner doesn't really have to jump through as many hoops as one might think.
"A site plan is required, showing the location of where the generator will be installed. ... We have to make sure the location is outside the sideyard setback ... and that it meets noise ordinance requirements. It can't exceed more than five decibels over ambient sound levels. ... Other than that, a building and electrical permit are required, but those are relatively easy to obtain," Keshishian says.
Beverly Hills homeowners encounter their biggest problem, according to Keshinian, when they apply for a permit and want to put the generator in their front yards. "That's when the issue becomes sensitive."
In Malibu, Calif., home of just as many if not more movie stars, the story isn't a whole lot different. Diesel-powered generators, surprisingly enough, can fall into the same category as pool pumps-depending on their size.
"OUR CODE ALLOWS POOL EQUIPMENT AND SIMILAR-SIZED MACHINERY TO BE LOCATED CLOSE TO THE PROPERTY LINE," says Florencio Signo, an associate planner for the city of Malibu. "The piece of machinery has to be shielded, in order to comply with noise ordinances, but if it isn't too large, it can fall under the pool pump code." He says that if the generator is more than six feet tall, however, it must be set back from the property line. And is there a restriction as to whether the piece of machinery has to sit in the front or back yard? Signo says no, due to the size of most homes in Malibu.
"Most homes are so large and sit on so much property, that many times, the front yard is what is hidden from sight, and the backyard is in plain view. So, it's up to the homeowner where they position the piece of machinery."
But just because you see your name in lights, don't think that city officials in Malibu are going to make installing a generator any easier for you.
"MOVIE STARS HAVE ASKED FOR VARIANCES IN THE CODE IN THE PAST, AND WE'VE TOLD THEM 'NO,'" says Signo. "Movie stars have to go through the same rigorous process as everyone else." That rigorous process involved not only following the city planning codes, but also having the plans for construction approved by the Coastal Commission. Signo says that the Coastal Commission does a three-part check to make sure the construction will have no negative effects on the environment in Malibu.
So, while it may not be the end-all, fix-all solution for the California energy crunch, many individuals have found that the use of personal generators is definitely worthwhile-particularly when it comes to keeping cool. And as the situation out West continues to escalate, Californians can look for more and more of these machines to pop up in a backyard near you.
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