The rocky road to achieving fairness and accountability in managing sound in the city’s largest entertainment districts continues to plug along. Before I describe the latest developments, I want to assert that once the so-called noise ordinance is revised, introduced into city council, and approved, it will apply to everyone in the city: all businesses, events, clubs and bars. The first step towards revising the noise ordinance is the provision on loudspeaker placement in the French Quarter. This could potentially apply in the rest of the city as well.
So it behooves any business or interested citizen to attend a public forum that’s being presented by the French Quarter Management District on Thursday March 29 at 1:00 p.m. in the North Ballroom of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, 300 Bourbon Street.
The French Quarter Management District is a state entity created by the Legislature as a means for the residential and business communities to work together to protect, preserve and maintain French Quarter as a safe, clean, vibrant and friendly neighborhood for residents, businesses and visitors.
In 2011, the Board of Commissioners of FQMD voted unanimously to approve the Bourbon Business Alliance’s (BBA) proposal to create a Loudspeaker Placement Ordinance. The purpose of the public meeting is to provide all interested persons an opportunity to comment on Loudspeaker Placement Ordinance, No. 28,967, and to reach a community consensus on the Ordinance and any amendment proposal(s).
It’s interesting to note that the BBA consists of a group of businesses in the six or so blocks of Bourbon Street that generate the most noise on the street. The noise issue has escalated to a level where it’s not only intrusive, but potentially dangerous to the employees on Bourbon, who endure loud sounds for hours on end. Because one dumb operator cranks up the music in his/her establishment, the noise on the street escalates into a noise war—to see which business can be louder than the other. Every clubowner I’ve ever spoken to asserts that you need to hear music before you’ll go into their club. So if your competitor across the street cranks it up, you have to crank it louder. It escalates from there.
And then, of course, there are the residents who complain vociferously about the noise on Bourbon Street; and the group who complains about the music on Frenchmen Street. Personally, I feel that these people are not the ones who are most affected by loud noise. The employees and musicians are. Maybe they don’t have as big a loudspeaker as the residents, but isn’t it interesting that they’re not screaming about the noise?
If you have a bar or club that’s not in the Quarter or the Marigny, you might very well be affected by what goes down when the loudspeaker ordinance is approved. It could very well be applied citywide.
Actually, the best solution to preventing harmful levels of noise is to involve the city’s health department, who should be enabled and authorized to issue citations to offending businesses, and potentially shut down businesses that don’t comply. That’s an idea that’s come up again and again.
The sticking point is, of course, what is too loud? Acceptable decibel levels are the real issue in any changes to the overall noise ordinance. Decisions on that is what’s going to be really controversial.
I’d suggest you visit “Save Our Sounds,” a project of the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation. It includes some very interesting information on how sound can potentially damage hearing.
There’s going to have to be compromise on the part of the residents who complain about noise and the businesses that produce it, whether it’s speakers in a club, or bad zydeco being blasted into the street from a daiquiri shop. The residents who live in or near entertainment districts are going to be required to tolerate some loud music and noise, because they live where they do. Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street and the other music-presenting venues in the city are arguably the most important part of any visitor experience. Their economic impact is going to have to be weighed against the complaints of a few residents who don’t like “loud.”