They can be seen on TV.
Now the undergound, survivalist bunkers are emerging in the southwest Riverside County market, but not without questions from local building authorities.
Hemet-based Down Low Bunkers is at least one local contractor attempting to attract its share of survivalists—or "preppers"—who want to be prepared in the event of a catastrophic disaster.
Down Low Bunkers was started by 26-year-old Nick Boernsen after his father, 56-year-old Donald Boernsen of Boernsen Construction, died in November 2011 following a traffic crash. Partnering with Boernsen is Bob Spurling, 51, a former employee of his father's custom home building company.
Not So Fast
While Down Low Bunkers is completing work on its prototype that would sell for $55,000, one local city has placed a moratorium on permits for the structures.
The city of Menifee in June enacted a temporary 45-day moratorium on bunkers and underground storage facilities after it received at least one permit inquiry.
The city's current land use ordinance does not provide for the location of underground storage facilities or bunkers, wrote city of Menifee Community Development Director Carmen Cave, in a staff report.
"Staff is concerned, due to recent inquires, that there are no planning standards regarding the location or documentation...this lack of documentation may lead to inappropriate location within a property or substandard construction of such facilities, which in turn could be considered a threat to public health, safety and welfare if there are structure failures," Cave wrote.
Cave indicated staff is still working on an ordinance since the June 5 council meeting during which the moratorium was enacted.
"...We will be asking for an extension to the moratorium on July 17 since 45 days is not physically enough time to process an ordinance change," Cave told Patch, in an email.
The city of Murrieta has not received any inquiries about bunkers, according to Building and Safety Director Allen Brock.
If the city was to be approached, Brock said it would likely become more of a zoning issue. Additionally, he said the party would need to provide an independent engineering design, as well as a report that it had been tested and passed.
"They would need to explain (the safety) because there are other concerns beside design, there is fresh air...It is a concern with the seismic safety more than anything," Brock said.
He said Murrieta planners have spoken with Menifee since the matter arose.
"The big question is that maybe it is more of a zoning issue and that is what is happening," Brock said.
Menifee City Councilwoman Darcy Kuenzi said she has familiarized herself with the concept by watching the TV shows and doing online research, and is not entirely opposed to the idea.
"It is fascinating," Kuenzi said, during a recent phone interview with Patch.
"For Menifee, we have a lot of 1-, 2-, 5-acre properties," Kuenzi said. "We want people to enjoy their property rights, we just want to be able to monitor it so that they don't affect their own safety or their neighbors'—it's for public safety."
Boernsen said he supports Menifee's efforts.
"Safety is our No. 1 concern so the moratorium is actually a good thing," Boernsen said. "They don’t have any permitting set up for this at all. There are no fundamentals. The moratorium is so they can figure out what codes apply, what standards to use.
"As for permitting, I don’t think it is really right that people are just doing it on their own. There are people who are burying school buses to make bunkers, and storage facilities. Those things are not meant to be underground.
"If it is happening in Menifee, it is soon going to be hitting other cities. We want to involve the cities; we want to be the guys who shake hands and have them know their residents are going to be safe."
Boernsen said he and his team have studied what existing bunker contractors are doing, and believes Down Low Bunkers has designed a quality product. From the get-go, this has involved architects, engineers and good old construction know-how, he said.
"We are taking our knowledge of custom homes and putting that into bunkers," he said.
The structure is 20 feet long and 11 feet, 9 inches wide, and is 100-percent self-sustaining, he said. Sixty percent of the bunker space is for storage—water, food and other necessities—while the remainder is living space and a bathroom. A stationary bicycle powers the bunker and provides exercise for occupants.
Their prototype is protected by 12-gauge galvanized, corrugated steel. It can house up to four people for up to six months underground, Boernsen said.
Their aim is to design it to withstand a 10.0-magnitude earthquake and a nuclear blast closer than 10 miles, he said.
The base unit was designed to be affordable for the general population, while Down Low Bunkers will also offer custom-built ones, Boernsen said.
Survival of the Prepared?
Patch was not able to locate anyone willing to go on record about owning or installing a bunker.
"The No. 1 rule about a bunker is you don’t tell people where it is," Boernsen said.
"People are rushing to buy these things. The whole Mayan calendar ending on Dec. 21, that is kind of putting a rush on this and is probably why the whole craze started," he said.
"But in my mind I think there are other more logical things that could happen, like a big earthquake. Supplies couldn’t get to places, inflation happens, people start rioting and nobody can get supplies because they don't have any money."