By Louise Hoffman, St. Charles Avenue Association
All the discussions about how to – and how not to – change New Orleans’ sound management efforts is much like being in a bar with too much noise: A lot of raised voices, so you have to strain to understand what’s going on. So here is some context and additional information I hope you’ll find useful.
On December 19, 2013, the City Council introduced some amendments to the city’s current sound ordinances. All seven of the City Council members signed on as co-sponsors. No one, including and especially any New Orleans’ politician, wants to kill our local music scene as has been alleged on the Internet. If all the City Council members signed on, they don’t believe this will change music as we know it. It won’t.
For over two years, citizens concerned about our decades-long problem of lack of enforcement for excessive nightclub noise have been working on the issue through a multi-neighborhood coalition. That coalition now numbers 20 organizations from all over the city, including several groups from Uptown.
From the beginning, the neighborhoods came up with a few criteria:
- They wanted something incremental but meaningful and passable.
- They did not want to target street musicians, instead focusing on the few bars in our city which may be bad neighbors repeatedly.
- They wanted to leave it to the individual neighborhoods to debate zoning and live entertainment locations, so any amendments would focus more on sound levels.
To that end, the coalition suggested 7 Essential Items to Make New Orleans Sound Ordinance Fair and Functional. To date, items 1 and 2 have already been passed via City Council resolution, and funding has been allocated to enable the city health department to set up a sound management program. Excessive sound is recognized as a health issue, and the police have better things to do with their time. The Health Department is now tasked with recommending how to implement such a program.
The December 19 amendments to the sound ordinance deal with “essential” items 3, 6 and 7. (Again, see the link above for the list.)
Contrary to Internet buzz, the sound decibels are not being changed all over the city – only in the French Quarter where they are to be rolled back to 1997 levels. The changes are quite modest – not strict as some have editorialized.
If you look at decibel levels across America, you’d be hard pressed to find places that are more lenient, even with these changes. And, even with the proposed change, Bourbon Street will remain louder than the rest of the city and nation.
Since this is a column for Uptown, let’s look at the one change proposed on December 19 that is citywide: It allows for sound measurements to be taken at the property line of the place making the sound. Why? Our laws should regulate behavior, not impact.
Many people would be surprised to learn that if you currently call the police about an excessive sound problem, they typically do not investigate whether a nightclub is above the allowed decibel levels by going to the nightclub itself. More often, they ask to stand on your stoop or porch, or even come inside your home, to see if you have the right to complain. Frankly, it’s an intimidating system to many of our citizens.
While of course New Orleans is unique in many ways, it’s still worth noting that Austin measures from the property lines of their nightclubs, so this is not an anti-music idea.
So, that’s it. These amendments, if adopted, will not end music as we know it in New Orleans. And, thank goodness. The people who love and work for our neighborhoods, well, they love our music, too. We believe we can sing, play and live in harmony.
Louise Hoffman is president of the St. Charles Avenue Association.