The meeting at City Hall Thursday night (September 19) concerning updates in the city’s efforts to establish a comprehensive Sound Ordinance accomplished little—but showed that there is much work to be done if anything’s accomplished before the city’s December 1 budget deadline.
David S. Woolworth of Oxford Acoustics prepared a detailed report on issues and updates related to the ordinance at Thursday’s meeting. A few minutes into his update, Woolworth stated that we need to rethink how we hear our city and its citizens so that we can work together to create a workable solution to such a long-debated hot-button issue.
“Education and enforcement” are key components, Woolworth advises. Founder of Oxford Acoustics (and a familiar face as bassist for Southern groove-rock band, the Kudzu Kings), his contracted consulting role is to lend expertise in how we will listen to our city as we absorb its interstate traffic noise, motorcycle mufflers, sidewalk jackhammers and music, whether heard at a strip club, T-shirt shop, bar or second line. A final, approved Sound Ordinance would resolve a solution to the long-simmering debate that began after Kristin Gisleson Palmer took office as District Three City Councilperson in February 2010, and just after new NOPD police chief Ronal Serpas was hired. Suddenly the city began enforcing existing noise laws—in response to constituent complaint in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny. OffBeat readers will remember the controversy that stemmed from the silencing of the To Be Continued Brass Band at their regular spot on Canal Street.
The existing laws are admittedly a labyrinth of byzantine and outdated codes scattered across city agencies. The current ordinance has been cobbled together over a 50-year period, and has also been amended in a haphazard fashion. The ordinance was last updated in the ’80s, and has been heretofore enforced with typical local laissez faire approach.
Woolworth cites research that includes the gold-standard model established in Portland, Oregon and industry best-practices put forth at a recent conference on municipal sound policies in Denver by Larry Feingold, founder of the Institute of Noise Control. Feingold is an expert who contends that “permitting and sound ordinances go together” and “arbitration is an extremely helpful part of enforcement.” In Woolworth’s vision of these models, he proposes the establishment of a “self-regulating network” in New Orleans with a researchable database of cross-referencing records that “show who’s a good player and who’s a bad player”: which clubs, venues, retail outlets and events that create the most noise, as well as who complains and when (local pro-music factions have contended that the majority of citizens do not complain about noise, and that it’s only a very few who complain and are trying to make a sound ordinance that’s unworkable for an entertainment-oriented city like New Orleans).
But, Woolworth warned that “We need people power to get this off the ground and the city cannot just a cursory amount of money into this.”
“I think we’re a lot more like Honduras than Portland,” interjected Ashlye Keaton, whose efforts with the ELLA Project earned a 2012 Best of the Beat Award for Best Music Attorney. Keaton noted a lack of accurate measures in comparing programs’ effectiveness in the two drastically different cities (Portland and New Orleans).
The Oxford report discussed the fact that the NOPD, primary enforcers of the laws to this point, is underfunded to provide adequate enforcement; the department is currently operating with 800 officers less required. A pilot program to address noise issues is in review by city health commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who projected budget for the program of $500,000. This assumes that the Health Department partners with the French Market Corporation for two years of quality-of-life efforts in the Quarter and Marigny that focus on graffiti, sound issues, etc. The fact that the Mayor’s Office is the only entity that can actually spend money in the proposed city budget; the deadline for Mayor Landrieu’s signature is December 1.
The group eventually talked its way into a loose, though unanimous, over-arching goal to moving Sound Ordinance oversight out of the NOPD’s purview into the Health Department, with adequate resources approved in a budget to be signed by the mayor before December 1.
Woolworth says his proposal will be posted online next week. Stay tuned.