They’re the first such changes in a decade, and are intended to make it easier to prosecute complaints.
The police now can cite revelers, musicians and other noise makers for bass notes that officers can feel from the sidewalk. In addition, police and prosecutors were given legal language to describe how loud is “too loud.”
Previously, the vagueness of the “plainly audible” standard made it difficult to enforce in court, according to a memo by the city’s sound regulators.
The revisions also double the fines on violators to $1,000.
Wednesday’s action does not change the legal levels of acceptable noise – 75 decibels with a permit and 65 without. Nor does it change the practice of using sound meters to support charges of exceeding those levels.
The city, however, cannot afford enough $800-to-$2,500 sound meters to investigate all complaints, according to the Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs. In other cases, department aide Christopher Newport said, a mechanical measurement may not fairly assess whether a violation is occurring – for example, barking dogs, pounding on walls or the revving of a motorcycle.
Therefore, the city will continue to use the “plainly audible” standard for non-bass noise, which it now defines as sound that “unreasonably disturbs” others. The new standard continues to give police officers leeway to make judgments based on volume, time of day, whether the sound is intermittent or constant, and whether it can be controlled easily.
Rocks Off has some of the specifics. The main objection to the revised ordinance was that it was too vague and and would be harmful to live music venues. I don’t have a good enough feel for this to make a judgment for myself. I sent an email to CM Melissa Noriega to inquire about this, and was told that Council has committed to a task force review of the revisions in six months’ time, so there will still be plenty of opportunity to give feedback on it. CM Noriega said they need to discuss entertainment districts going forward and that she would welcome any concerns or specific issues at firstname.lastname@example.org or 832-393-3003. You can always contact your district Council member or any of the other At Large members with your questions and comments as well.