San Francisco neighbors hot over EV cooling fans causing noise nuisance

Stephanie Sierra Image
Thursday, July 11, 2024 10:10PM
EV cooling fans pushing SF residents out of SoMa neighborhood
San Francisco's SoMa district residents say Electrify America's EV charging station cooling fans are so loud and it's making their lives miserable.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Electric vehicle charging stations are everywhere in the Bay Area, and with them come huge fans used to help cool the equipment. But one neighborhood station is already pushing long-time residents out of the city.

Imagine waking up, going to sleep, or working from home to a constant, incessant buzzing noise. That's the reality for people living on Clara Street in the city's SoMa district after an electric vehicle cooling fan was installed across the street.

It's one of the EV charging stations owned by Electrify America.

"We didn't know what it was until it started spinning and we started hearing this really loud hum," said Matt Babinet, who lives down the street. "Our reaction was really negative, like we hope this is temporary."

Neighbors say it's been there around six to nine months now - making it hard to work or even sleep.

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ABC7 News reporter Stephanie Sierra and photojournalist Mackenzie Stock went out to the neighborhood to test the decibel levels based on guidance from the city's noise and sound code.

According to Article 29 in the police code, ambient noise exceeding 50 to 60 decibels outside a residential property is considered past the acceptable threshold.

That figure is defined by assuming the minimum ambient noise is between 45 and 55 decibels and the threshold is defined as anything 5 decibels over current ambient sound.

We tested outside neighbor Chuck Zhou's home based on those guidelines.

"Chuck, we're testing the decibel reading right outside your apartment and it says it's 70," Sierra said.

"Yeah that's crazy, it's like this 24/7 non-stop," said Zhou.

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The San Francisco Dept. of Public Health told the I-Team results do vary depending on individual investigation. For example, the city's noise standards differ depending on the type of property, and where the measurement is taken.

We checked all areas inside Wilma's house and found the decibel reading was over the required limit for multi-unit residential properties measured three feet from any wall, ceiling, or floor.

Our decibel checks are not reflections of any city or county level investigation from the health department or SFPD. But we followed city guidance using a Radio Shack sound level meter.

For example on the street, our decibel reading showed 85, which is over the 53-63 decibel limit for outside an industrial and commercial building. That figure is defined by being eight decibels over the minimum noise level tested by the exterior of the building, according to the city's code.

Electrify America sent us the following statement saying: "While our charging station meets all the city permit requirements, we have tried several options to mitigate the complaint of one resident regarding fan noise."

But residents argue that didn't happen.

"Electrify America told us they had fixed the problem but they had not. They didn't even attempt to fix the problem," said Wilma. "They just two days pass and turned it back on."

Electrify America says although the fans have been part of the building for a long time, the increased demand from EV drivers has increased use in the evenings, and the fans cannot be shut down because they're critical to keeping the stations operational.

The company added they're exploring an option of relocating the fan exhaust but that requires a new permit and review.

Meanwhile, residents are considering moving while some neighbors have already left.

"I'll actually consider it, it's unfortunate but I can't handle this," Zhou said.

"I hate it. And I feel like it's diminished the value of our property," said Babinet.

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