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.

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  • 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.

  • 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

      jltnol,

      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

        OWEN:
        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

    AhContraire,

    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.

  • http://www.brottworks.com/ Andy Brott

    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 $.
    http://uptownmessenger.com/2012/07/uptown-university-area-slated-for-tax-free-art-sales-historic-renovation-tax-credits/
    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),
    AB
    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?

  • Owen Courrèges

    AhContraire,

    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.

    • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

      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

        AhContraire,

        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.

    • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

      (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

        AhContriare,

        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

    AhContraire,

    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.

    • 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.

  • BFREI

    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.

    • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

      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”?

  • BFREI

    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.

  • BFREI

    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.

  • BFREI

    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

    AhContraire,
    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.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

    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.

  • http://www.brottworks.com/ Andy Brott

    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?
    BFF-
    Andy

  • Owen Courrèges

    AhContraire,

    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.

  • http://www.brottworks.com/ Andy Brott