Jan 062014

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.

  • Finally someone is standing up to this French Gutter noise contest that’s so self-destructive to the very bars that are causing the problems.

    By the way, notice how Freret Street is rising out of the ashes even with a noise ordinance, closing at midnight, and no TOGO cups….who would have predicted that financial success?

  • Owen Courrèges

    >>Contrary to Internet buzz, the sound decibels are not being changed all over the city…<>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.<>[The ordinance] 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.<>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.<>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.<<

    These words are so hollow and empty that I think I'd hear an echo if I bothered to read them out loud. You people hate music and you're laying the groundwork to destroy it, and all you have to cover it up is Orwellian newspeak. For shame.

    • Changing the measurement standard?

      It’s Bourbon Street in the FQ which means the street width from wall to wall is like 24 feet…

      So what would be the db difference between the property line and receiving land use? Would it really matter?
      The distance from the wall to the curb is like 6 feet?
      The distance from the wall to the center of the street is 12-16 ft. The NOISE is so loud, the db’s measured at the wall, the sidewalk, curb, middle of the street and even the opposite side is going to be almost the same db’s anyway.

      Bourbon St with it’s buildings walls on the opposite side of the street are close together that it amplifies and reflects the NOISE anyway making it miserable for everyone. It’s like a room that is like 24 feet wide…(and that narrow street width makes it LOOK like there are lots of tourists when there really isn’t)

      And FREE SPEECH and Impact? Ha. You walk down on the public side walk, you should be able to listen to who you are talking to. Not shouting to the person a foot away from you cause the bar’s speakers are trying to drown out the bar across the street. So what good is your free speech argument when the bar with speakers are turned up so loud no one on the side walk or the opposite side walk can free speak without screaming just to say hello.

      Oh, and by the way, in regards to grandfathering and the “they should have have known argument”, the bar KNEW for decades that there was a side walk outside where people should be able to speak to each other in a normal tone of voice.

  • jltnol

    Once again Owen… if you’ve NEVER been affected by noises from clubs, I’d suggest that you move next door to one and then make your comments. Please don’t say that the noise has always been there, and the neighbors should have known better… that too, as you like to say.. .”is a lie”. And if you don’t care for the proposals passed by the Council, may I suggest you try to pass your own set of proposals like all of these groups have done.

    • Owen Courrèges


      It’s kind of the point. I don’t want to have problems with noise from clubs, so I decided *not* to move next to one. If I had, and then I complained about the noise, I’d have nobody to blame but myself.

      There is a club down the street from me, and a while back somebody blocks away complained about the noise. I went to a neighborhood association meeting to point out that I lived far closer than she did and had no problems. It showed me that noise complaints are often forged by the hypersensitive, or people with ulterior motives.

      As for competing proposals, I’d be fine with the current scheme versus what is being proposed. It’s not the pro-music crowd that’s clamoring to change municipal ordinances vis-a-vis noise, so the onus doesn’t rest with them to propose competing ordinances. That said, I do understand we’ll be seeing just that in the near future.

      • Overbrook

        This gets to the nut of the issue. People move next to a bar, and then complain when a bar does things that a bar does. People move into the Tulane neighborhood and complain about the students and the things that universities do. I believe one of the self-appointed neighborhood leaders said Tulane had the “privilege of existing in a residential neighborhood” when the truth is closer to the inverse of that statement. New Orleans needs more growth, not less.

      • best_in_show

        As I said too often before, there are some who just want to dumb-down and restrict our lives to their narrow idea of what “quality of life” means. Quite simple, actually: reduce the soul of New Orleans to a standard of boredom acceptable to a few goody-goody types.
        Granted, there are bars and music venues that DO make life miserable for the neighborhood with VERY LOUD music, fights, cars, and even shootings, but that is not the NORM. Conscientious and civil music club owners try hard to soundproof their businesses or otherwise respect the areas affected. Again, it is usually not the clubs that cause the problems, but the noise generated from the OUTSIDE.
        I would not want to penalize the struggling street musicians who, often, develop their skills by playing to the street crowds, but it is the extremely LOUD bands that result in complaints, not only from the neighbors, but from the clubs themselves. Some cannot even have their patrons enjoy THEIR music by the overpowering bands playing right outside their doors.
        I don’t know about the uptown areas (I consider Iberville the Garden District) and only know about MY little area around the Marigny Triangle. From what I can tell it is not the music in the clubs that is the problem.
        But, having said that, what do I know? I only live here and made the choice of returning to New Orleans after 30 years somewhere else and missing my beloved music that is so much a part of our wonderful city. That city’s CHARACTER is under attack and that is what worries me.

    • BFREI

      Everybody who lives in cities has been affected by noise. Everybody. From a bass drum to a pile driver, we all know what noise is. It is not a reason to make bad law when good law can be written and passed.

  • Owen Courrèges


    So, pursuing a noise control scheme straight from Baltimore in the 1970’s is a recipe for financial success? That sounds unlikely.

    As for Freret, the city has so severely limited new areas zoned commercial that its resurgence was a given. It has come back in spite of restrictive zoning, not because of it.

    • L-A-W-Y-E-R….
      Are you saying Freret was the only place left in Orleans Parish?
      If that was true, there are still plenty of places, lots, blight and even the CBD,that are still up for grabs and also plenty of the OUT OF BUSINESSES on Bourbon that keep changing hands as they start to realize, hmm, not much money on Bourbon St.

      And the “noise control SCHEME” as you call it as SCHEME, it’s not just Baltimore, it’s NY, LA, SF, Dallas, Austin and the list goes on and on.

      And you know that meeting for the bar owners tonight, at Barcadia? Well guess what? That Barcadia has a location in Dallas and Fort Worth. What do you think those Noise SCHEMES in those cities are?

    • How can Freret’s resurgence be given?

      I thought the noise SCHEME, crack down on TOGO cups and no more 24/7 alcohol was going to destroy New Orleans and especially the French Quarter?

      Well, since I guess since you admit that Freret is coming back, the noise SCHEME, no more togo cups and midnight closing time are NOT as destructive as you make it to do be, are they?

  • Write all we wish, but it’s enforcement that counts- and selective = corruption.
    As a Freretian- I beg all to walk, run, and yes even drive at Jane Jacobs 101- just because it worked in neighborhood “X” does not mean it will in “Y”- Demand what’s best for the people who live there, and be on gaurd for the loudest shouts and hidden legislation of special interests that will exploit for $.
    As to Freret, this was all drudged through when our blight outnumbered our bloom, and our wagons were circled to ban banning. That said- JJ101 was at play, so what we have today is what folks wanted-
    As for me at 5110 Freret in 2014- looking forward to Mint Vietnamese Bistro opening, but what about my vision impaired neighbor who struggles to make groceries? She works early and not into the nightclub scene. Then look at the age and Neighborhood demographics
    like we did here- http://uptownmessenger.com/2013/03/freret-neighbors-discuss-security-district-proposal-live-coverage/
    before we shout Friar Tucks BEER PONG YHEA!!!
    I say lets recruit those “Prime Workers” Forbes Magazine says we have- http://www.wwl.com/pages/18057326.php?contentType=4&contentId=14432472
    to buy and live in our vacant houses/land on the Lake Side of Freret- Then ask the same questions again in a few years….
    BFF (Best From Freret),
    p.s. I still liked the experts hired concept of an officer devoted to the noise enforcement. And to those who want to see how noise abatement works- visit Gasa Gasa, what they did is Fantastic!!!!

    • janramsey

      Andy: good points, as well as Owen. This piece by Ms Hoffman was a regurgitation of the email that was sent out by the Brylski Company that works as a PR firm for Stuart Smith, who bankrolls the “anti-Noise” campaign. So she has no credibility as far as I’m concerned. Ask Brylski (better yet, let puppetmaster Stuart Smith) to explain the impact of the 30-40 lawsuits Smith or his firm have filed against bars and restaurants in the Quarter (some of which are Antoine’s, Court of Two Sisters and Pat O’Brien’s). If these businesses cannot successfully defend their lawsuits a few of things will happen: 1) the judgments against them will accrue to the property owner, not the bar operators, if they close their businesses, and 2) If the property owner cannot pay the judgments, their properties may be taken over the people who are filing the lawsuits (all anti-music people who use Smith as their attorney). Then what do you think will happen to music in the Quarter? Additionally, currently the lawsuits against these bars in the Quarter (and Marigny) are being defendfed against by insurance companies. If ONE suit is successful, what do you think will happen to coverage provided by insurance companies for noise issues? It will probably be excluded on liability policies.
      So then who is going to either ake a chance on getting even on complaint from someone? Thus…music is effectively shut down.
      Get real people: There’s a long-term, well-thought-through strategy here.

      • BFREI

        Great summary, Ms. Ramsey.

        May I add, there is reason to suspect that the proposed bill of 12/19 was brought into council through Stacy Head’s office, but written by or for Smith.

        Wouldn’t that be called a conflict of interest? If – repeat: if – a law firm engaged in lawsuits against a number of parties writes the legislation under which those suits would be adjudicated, and the council allows the bill to be entered in the record without noting the potential conflict . . . Is there a breach of ethics warming up here?

  • Suzanne-Juliette Mobley

    Oh, cool. Ms. Louise Chapman Hoffman is on the Board of VCPORA and President of St. Charles Avenue Association. I didn’t know you could be part of two neighborhood associations at once! I’m going to join one uptown and one downtown too!

  • EthanE

    It’s funny how this reads exactly like the other ‘editorials’ that are
    written by Nathan Chapman’s marketing firm and Cheron Brylski’s PR firm.
    And that in addition to being president of the St. Charles Avenue
    Association, Louise Chapman Hoffman is also on the board of VCPORA. Not
    exactly an independent voice here.

    Owen does a good job of
    debunking most of the spin in this ‘editorial’ but it should be also
    pointed out that the two of the 20 neighborhoods orgs. have already
    dropped out of the ‘coalition’–FMIA and WHSE (Marigny and Warehouse
    District). Also, very few of the organizations in the coalition
    actually helped draft the legislation, they were actually asked to sign
    on to the 7 points well after the fact.

    If you want to gauge
    support for the proposed legislation, check out the Gambit poll, where a
    whopping 83.71% of respondents oppose it. And, thank goodness.

  • Owen Courrèges


    You’re wrong; noise is not going to be at a comparable decibel level from 25 feet away (the current standard) versus right up against the wall of the venue (the proposed standard). Combine that with ridiculously low decibel standards (around 60 dBA after 10 p.m., or the level of a quiet conversation) and you have a set of standards which is ridiculously onerous and will make it impossible for venues to operate.

    And this is a free speech issue, because if you’re setting decibel standards at levels that aren’t disturbing by any stretch of the imagination, you’re violating the First Amendment.

    • Why not do a db sound test on both sides of Bourbon St and settle it once and for all?

      Regardless, I still think the narrow street and the buildings being built right next to each other makes French Quarter streets like a small hallway.

      Hence, the sound has got to go somewhere and it’s not absorbed by a brick wall. FQ streets are almost like a megaphone.

      • Owen Courrèges


        We don’t need to. The city already spend a huge chunk of money to have an expert map the soundscape of the French Quarter. This ordinance ignores virtually all of his recommendations.

        • Didn’t

          Karen Sepko recommend that you buy the iPhone “dB Meter Pro” for $0.99. and ask you to test out the readings yourself, as well as others?

          Yet Sepko states “Sound dissipates quickly as you move from the source.”

          But does sound really dissipate? Maybe in a completely open grassy area with no walls.

          But If you are in a room with walls or say a patio with an open roof that’s like 25 by 30ft, and the volume is turned to low-medium, is it really going to dissipate? No it’s not, it’s going to be loud as the sound bounces around in the room and it’s the same for Bourbon St where the walls on opposite of the Bourbon St are about 24-30 feet…which isn’t much. By the way, 30 feet is exactly 10 yards. The same yardage for a new set of downs in American Football.

          And since you have been to parades and if you stand underneath the Claiborne Overpass and Canal St, then you should know how much louder it gets when a band passes underneath the Claiborne Overpass versus when the band is not under the Claiborne Overpass. Big Difference. The band doesn’t play any much louder, but it does sound a LOT LOUDER. Why not do a dBA reading there under the overpass and two blocks away do see the difference?

          Lastly. You see those HIGH POWERED speakers on Bourbon St. What room size do you think those speaker were DESIGNED FOR? You can bet that it can easily do a 25ft x 25ft room at low power.

    • (around 60 dBA after 10 p.m., or the level of a quiet conversation

      And what would be wrong with having a nice quiet conversation outside a bar or club just like in other cities? And doesn’t that 60db seem to work on Freret St and these bars don’t seem to be out of business?

      • Owen Courrèges


        It’s unconstitutional to restrict ordinary noise levels. So there’s that. And to my knowledge, the 60 dBA level is hardly actively enforced anywhere.

  • Owen Courrèges


    I mean that the city has artificially limited commercial space to where it can usually herd new businesses into a given corridor. In the case of Freret, the zoning was already commercial, but the city opted to loosen certain zoning restrictions to allow bars and live entertainment under narrower circumstances. There was still enough demand to where businesses were willing to accede to these rules, but that hardly shows that the rules are wise or proper.

  • Jeffrey Holmes

    SO, how is it legal for an unlicensed street musician to use a 2′ amplifier, when a legally licensed tour guide is not allowed by law to use any amplification??
    As a historian this is tantamount to Jim Crow Laws.
    All I want is equality… nothing more , nothing less.

    • kmsoap

      Jeffrey, you remind me of a spoiled child who keeps asking the same question over and over again hoping to wear the respondent down and get their desired answer, Tour guides have been unfairly restricted and should seek legal counsel. Equal oppression is not an option.

    • BFREI

      Street musicians are not required to have licenses. Test cases have ruled it unconstitutional to require licensing.

      Your comparison to Jim Crow is pretty shameful, don’t you think? I’ll let you live with it, but if it were me, I’d be embarrassed to have said anything so ridiculous.

  • rick

    this is insane. You expect business to have log books of sound levels for every night? – what if the police rolled by every month to your house and expected you to record the volume of your garden parties and debutante parades? These new ordinances are a waste of time and money for both the NOPD and Business, all so you unemployed housewives can act like you’ve done something with your time.


    Mon cher AhContraire

    Stop with the “SCHEME.” You are being parochial. In many literate dialects of English, scheme means the same as plan or proposal. It does not only mean a criminal plot. Widen your horizon; it might help your argument. But not this argument, because you are wrong.

    • So I guess it would be OK to use the word “scheme” at all the city planning and neighborhood meetings instead of the words, “proposal or plans”?


    Don’t forget that Broadmoor dropped out first, implying that VCPORA and their eminence grise who shall go nameless (at least for this comment) listed them without consultation.

  • best_in_show

    Some more astute and aware individuals state this problem in much simpler terms: there are those who can’t abide the idea that other people are having a good time. Live music, dancing and (gasp, smoking) are all evil and godless activities and must be stopped. One way to accomplish the ending of such awful activities is to create more and more “ordinances” and punitive laws. After all, what are our police for, but to enforce and arrest or fine people for wanting to be happy? A more effective ploy is to intentionally move to an area where these sins are committed. To many, noise is any sound that can be heard, unless it is, to quote one individual, “I would not object to some nice music.” She actually used the term, “nice music”. What IS “nice music”?
    There is not one music venue on Frenchman Street that does not have excellent soundproofing or does not self-police its music….not ONE! The “noise” comes FROM the street, not the other way around. We are legislating ourselves to death. It is not “everyone” who is doing all the complaining, but a handful of overly sensitive types who want ONLY peace and dullness.
    I converse with hundreds of tourists who ENVY the “noise” we have. Many want to move here BECAUSE of our music.


    Is there really ANYONE left in this debate that does not sense what is going on here?

    It is really very simple. If you have a sensible, “sound” sound law, composed in the interests of the city, the culture, the life of the community, including residents and businesses, with compromise expected on both sides, then it can be adhered to, it can be enforced, it can be respected – it can work.

    But if you enact a sound law full of traps and tricks, a proposal written by an interested law firm, a law firm engaged in lawsuits against entertainment venues (am I the only one who sees conflict of interest here?) and supported mainly by the organizations of privilege, some of them clients or beneficiaries of the aforesaid, then you have suppression of art, life and public pleasure in the interests of people with an almost ante-bellum outlook on what New Orleans should be.

    Nobody is asking for Dodge City. Sensible people – I do not mean Ms Hoffmann, or Chapman, or Stuart Smith or VCPORA Or St Charles – are willing to support a sane and sensible ordinance, with sane and sensible dB levels and measurement criteria.

    The city commissioned the Oxford Acoustics study. Ms Hoffmann et al: stop fussing and understand it. Or read Drew Ward’s letter to Uptown Messenger. Stop fussing about your sacred property and learn how cities are sensibly managed.


    Ms Hoffman

    The voices are quite clear. They are raised in protest against a bad bill. I think we can all hear that.

    The previous ordinances were bad too. That is why they could not be fairly enforced. In order to achieve an ordinance that works, the council commissioned a study, by Oxford Acoustics. The study was thorough, sensible, logical, inclusive, realistic. The proposal council is considering is not.

    The answer is not to go back to 1997, or 1989 or 1859. The answer is to allow reason and logic to guide us in writing a new, better law, with better parameters and measurement methods.

    Nobody is recommending a free for all. Just sound law. The bill proposal in council is not sound law. It is a recipe for conflict and lawsuits.

  • kmsoap

    And let me guess. If people cannot hear each other’s every breath and utterance in the midst of an urban environment, they should be able to sue the pants off whomever or whatever is behind the noise, be it fawn or fowl. And I bet you know just the lawyer to handle such a suit, right?
    This brazen insurance/extortion scam is over. Time to find a new game.

  • Wait one second.

    I don’t see these neighborhood groups against the new noise ordinance like MACCNO either.

    And I don’t see any neighborhood groups supporting the current noise levels or lack of enforcement.

    So just because you say they don’t support the new noise ordinance, doesn’t mean they support the current status quo.

    • kmsoap

      Nobody objects to a fair, Constitutional law based in science except those who are in it for personal gain. Over 83% of the citizens recently polled by Gambit think the proposal is a dreadful law.

  • Thanks to all for exposing the special interest groups- I have limited time for now read let alone understand,
    Do I need to call/Email Latoya Cantrel and Stacy Head and ask for a delay?
    Freret is not Frenchmen, but we are zone similar/same, they have their issues, we have Public House and Gasa Gasa- both spent big$ on sound abatement and need to be rewarded and protected from those in the future who don’t play by the rules.
    + My special interest- I want families and working folks to return and live in all the blight we have above Freret to Claiborn . NOT MORE LA. TAX Subsidized COLLEGE RENTALS!!!!!! Any suggestion?

    • Yvonne

      Funny that you’d mention those 2 bars. I recall someone comparing gasa gasa, formerly breezy’s, to an illegal casino operating, up until those poor guys got strong armed into signing a “good neighbor” agreement that forced them into spending, what, $40,000 on soundproofing? Now, they are perfect neighbors. I wonder if they’ve recouped all the crazy buildout. I also remember being encouraged to file complaints against them, by a certain board member, AT a meeting. Then, my bar, that didn’t receive a complaint for 6 whole years, suddenly got a rash of complaints alleging that I was the “NEW friar tucks.” (We were literally open 2 nights a week at that time!!!) After 6 YEARS. Now I have, what, 6 cameras trained on me because I refused to sign that stupid thing, as I am a good neighbor and always have been, having bought my building in 2003 and dealing with all the thugs while the others left broken down cars on their lots until they felt “safe,” and in charge of the rest of us. What a load of crap! Just my opinion, of course! Not naming names or collecting signatures.

      I WAS the first night time activity. I got looted, robbed, and messed with so that your property values could go up, as did all the old timers. You’re welcome. Quit bossing everyone around and acting like you speak for everyone. You speak for YOU.

  • Owen Courrèges


    We’ve already had a professional hired by the city address these issues. Yes, noise does reflect somewhat close to surfaces, but only very close and then by a few decibels — it still dissipates a great deal over distances. The observations in the Woolworth report were based on sound acoustical science,

    You’re not an expert on this, and your arguments don’t comport with those of the city’s expert. Thus, I take them with a grain of salt.

    • it still dissipates a great deal over distances.

      So if noise dissipates a great deal over distances would someone be able to have a normal or quiet conversation on the sidewalk that is on the “opposite side” of a Bourbon Street bar? That is, across the street, ~16 to 20 feet away, from a bar playing it’s music/noise at the current noise levels?