Can we get a little quiet here?

Couple’s long fight against generator noise is no joking matter

Wayne Deese points toward the source of generator noise that has troubled him and his wife for a decade.

Wayne Deese points toward the source of generator noise that has troubled him and his wife for a decade.

Photo By Ken SMith

In 1998, Wayne and Michelle Deese moved from the Los Angeles area to southern Butte County in search of a little peace and quiet, and for a brief while they found it.

“We took great measures to ensure it was what we wanted,” Wayne said of the property they bought and live on at the graveled east end of Cox Lane outside of Palermo. “We looked for over a year, and we even camped out here a few nights before we bought the place. It was wonderful then, pristine and perfectly quiet.”

Until 2000, the golden silence the Deeses sought to enjoy during Wayne’s retirement was broken only by the occasional bleating of a sheep or neighboring children playing in the distance. Then one night, while enjoying a dip in the hot tub they’d installed on the back patio, they were bombarded by the grating noise of a generator running from across Honcut Creek, noise that has continued intermittently ever since, mostly late at night.

“The noise is so loud and grating, it can’t be overstated,” Michelle Deese said during a recent interview in the couple’s home. “It usually starts up around 9 p.m. and goes until the early morning hours.”

The Deeses initially appealed to the neighbor himself, whose name is Mike Fisher, and came to a compromise early on.

“I went to Home Depot and bought some concrete blocks and three-quarter-inch-thick plywood to help him build a U-shaped, temporary shelter to help cut back on the noise,” Wayne said. “He seemed fine with it and said he’d build a more permanent shelter.”

But the quiet was short-lived. After a few months, Fisher moved his generator out of the shelter, saying his cord had burned out and he needed to use a shorter one. Then the muffler on the generator broke. The Deeses claim their noisy neighbor then started running multiple generators, and refused further attempts at communication and compromise.

“We don’t communicate with him anymore,” Wayne said. “He’s become very mean, inconsiderate and hateful.”

Since attempts at neighborly communication went south, the Deeses have appealed to everyone from the Butte County sheriff to the Board of Supervisors for help, with no relief.

The Deeses produced years’ worth of emailed communications chronicling their efforts, and Michelle has become a regular speaker at Board of Supervisors meetings—most recently on Oct. 9—pushing for changes to the county’s noise ordinance to protect citizens from generator noise. Several of the Deeses’ neighbors have also appeared at the supervisors’ meetings, signed complaints and filed statements.

Michelle explained the current ordinance allows for 55 decibels of noise at the property line. The Deeses bought a noise meter and say they’ve regularly received readings of 62 decibels at their home, several hundred yards from the neighbor’s property line.

The Deeses and their neighbors have further alleged that Fisher shoots guns carelessly, and Wayne alleges he once told responding deputies that he runs his generator late at night “out of spite and to annoy people.” They say he has been reprimanded only twice, fined for code violations in 2004 and warned by California Department of Fish and Game officials in 2008 for using a generator to pump water out of Honcut Creek, which the Deeses say he has continued to do in subsequent years.

“It used to seem like people were at least willing to listen and try to help, but not anymore,” Wayne said. “The last time I went to the Sheriff’s Office they were downright hostile.”

Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly

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The Deeses have considered selling their property and relocating to escape the noise, but fear they won’t even be able to sell the land after disclosing the noise issue. Furthermore, it has spread, and now two other neighbors have begun operating generators late at night.

“It’s like a cancer,” Michelle said.

“I am within the county’s noise ordinance and am tired of fooling with these people,” Fisher said by phone Wednesday morning. “Their complaints are irrational and unwarranted and there is no justification.

“The only problem is with some clown that lives on top of the hill over on Cox [Lane] that has been hassling me for 12 years. There’s absolutely no way that sound at a nuisance level is traveling a quarter-mile from my property.”

Fisher said county officials measured the noise level of his generator several years ago and found it to be under the 55-decibel limit. Michelle Deese also acknowledged the visit, claiming the readings were just below the limit and that noise has worsened since.

Fisher said three neighbors on his side of the creek whose property abuts his have never complained. He also claimed he was never warned by the Department of Fish and Game about pumping water from the creek, and said when he did so four years ago it was with permission from the owner of the upstream Dunstone Quarry. He also denies having made statements to deputies about wanting to antagonize his neighbors.

Fisher said he uses the generator only to pump water from his well since installing solar panels over the last few years for other energy needs, but contradicted himself when asked why he operates it late at night: “I’m not here during the day, and am actually only here on weekends. If I come home Friday night and it’s cold, it takes two to three hours to warm the house up. I’m not doing this to annoy people, I’m doing this to live.”

When asked if he would be willing to house the generator or take other steps to abate the noise, Fisher was very direct: “No. I’m not willing to do anything for these people. They’ve cost me over $40,000, and their bullshit requirements and crap, and I’m not going to do anything for them.”

Fisher said the $40,000 was spent on legal fees resulting from a 2004 civil action filed by the Deeses.

On the morning of Sept. 30, after listening to Fisher’s generator run “late into the night and early in the morning,” Michelle Deese sent a brief email to all five supervisors summarizing the couple’s decade-long struggle, which concluded with the line, “Will you buy our house?”

Presumably joking, Supervisor Bill Connelly responded with a message reading, “Yes for the right price.” When Michelle furnished a figure, Connelly again responded: “I would but the generator noise is just to (sic) bad out there on Cox Lane.”

The Deeses say that, though they have met Connelly, they don’t believe their relationship with their neighbor—or their noise problem—is ripe for joking.

“This is not funny. This is our life,” Michelle said.

It’s not the first time Connelly’s sense of humor has been questioned. As reported earlier this year (“Connelly’s ‘funny’ email,” Downstroke, March 29), Connelly forwarded a politically questionable e-mail “joke” about Muslims being killed by a truck driver.

Off-color jokes and problem neighbors aside, life on Cox Lane may be a lot less quiet in the not-too-distant future. A proposed development would add 28 houses to the area, which is currently rural homes and agricultural land.