Tuesday, January 31, 2006

D.C. Blogger Inspects H and 8th

After reading “Quest for Quiet” during the past month, blogger Lonnie Bruner decided to get out from behind the keyboard and take a Saturday field trip to H and 8th Streets NE. He wanted to see for himself what all the noise was about. Here is Lonnie’s report.

Disclaimer: Lonnie’s views are not necessarily those of the residents in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE, who simply want the amplifier turned off.

Rivera’s Trial Date Set for October

The Voice of the Hill reports U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., has set an Oct. 10 trial date for my Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC6C) Anthony Rivera and two others who face charges of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Noise Duration Just as Detrimental as Loudness

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) The D.C. law renders police powerless to do anything about the blaring amplifier pointed at the houses. Traffic noise hums as amplified speech blares from the corner of H and 8th Streets NE on Jan. 28. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Many people, having read my “Quest for Quiet” blog, have taken a genuine interest in the noise issue at H and 8th Streets NE. For that, the residents in and around the 700 block of 8th Street are grateful. However, upon visiting the intersection and listening to the amplified speech for themselves, first-time visitors often conclude that the noise is not really “that loud.”

Loudness is only one factor. Duration of the noise also affects the neighborhood.

To understand what’s at issue for the neighborhood, try this: Take a steel pot and place it under your kitchen or bathroom sink. Turn the water on just enough so that a drop of water drips out every few seconds. Let this continue for four or more hours while you try to read, write, sleep or have a conversation. More than likely it will drive you bonkers.

One drop of water into a bucket may not be loud. But the continued dripping of water over an extended period of time can become annoying, distracting and aggravating—especially when one has no control over the sources of the noise. That’s what the neighborhood experiences each Saturday.

My example is supported by research from a publication from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It’s titled, “Noise Effects Handbook: A Desk Reference to Health and Welfare Effects of Noise.” It was published by the EPA’s Office of the Scientific Assistant, Office of Noise Abatement and Control in October 1979 and revised July 1981. Here are a few key excerpts:

What physical qualities of noise affect a person's subjective response?

The physical attributes of noise that can affect an individual's subjective response include: apparent loudness or intensity, spectral shape, presence of discrete frequency components, abruptness or impulsiveness, intermittency, duration, and temporal variations.

Besides the physical attributes of the noise itself, what other aspects of the exposure situation affect the individual's response?

Among the factors that affect an individual's response to noise are contextual factors such as: the time of day, the activity interfered with, the ability to control the source, and the information content of the noise. Response may also be affected by personal factors such as previous experience with noise exposure or socio-economic and educational status.

To what degree does noise cause neighborhood dissatisfaction?

The HUD Annual Housing Survey (1975, 1976) indicates that noise is the most frequently cited undesirable neighborhood condition, surprisingly ranking higher than crime. Noise is often given as the reason for residents wanting to move from their neighborhoods.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Downside of a Lovely Evening

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) From day to night. Traffic noise hums as amplified speech drones on into a pleasant Jan. 28 evening at the corner of H and 8th Streets NE. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Yesterday’s pleasant temperature, calm wind and brilliant sunshine was a welcome respite from the brisk, cold winds of the last four Saturdays. Gorgeous conditions that compound the detrimental affects of extended hours of amplified speech.

The day, too, was a peek at the neighborhood’s outlook for springtime, when most everyone will want to be outside gardening, chatting, and cooking on the grill. Open windows would be nice, but that’s not been a Saturday reality for anyone on our block because of the constant ranting from the corner.

It was exhausting yesterday—worsened whenever a passerby would challenge the preachers’ message. Yelling and screaming ensues, while cars, trucks and buses roar past. It’s a maddening cacophony of noise. The residents need relief.

The D.C. law renders police powerless to do anything about the blaring amplifier pointed at the houses. And apparently the D.C. city council doesn’t care—I’ve not received responses to my emails from any council representatives in three weeks.

I did receive my D.C. tax filing information, however.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Amplified Sound Truck in Downtown D.C.

The hot chicken noodle soup tasted good against today’s windy chill, as I spent my lunch hour catching up on the latest world news via the web. My office is on the sixth floor of a building in downtown Washington, D.C. We hear the daily city sounds of traffic, sirens, random shouts, and construction noise. But a different sound this afternoon sound caused me to put down my soup and look out the window.

It was a voice. It was a loud, amplified voice. It echoed off the sides of buildings and down the street. I peered down from my perch and could see a mini-van inching its way through traffic. A large, gray loudspeaker was mounted on its roof. A sign, which I could not read from my vantage point, hung on the door. I could hear the voice clearly up six stories and through sealed windows. The booming voice touted the virtues of Lyndon LaRouche.

Politics aside, this noise pollution, parading as “amplified free speech,” apparently is legal in Washington, D.C. How would our world be if everyone placed a loudspeaker on their car or on their corner? And what about the free speech rights of those who cannot afford an amplified loudspeaker?

The 1949 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in KOVACS v. COOPER directly addressed amplified speech on the street--including sound trucks. The court found that a municipal ban on the use of any sound system emitting "loud and raucous" noises on public streets did NOT violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Why does the D.C. city council continue to reject the findings of a long-standing U.S. Supreme Court case? It’s time for the lawmakers to listen to citizen’s claims for “comfort and convenience.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Whose Right is Right?

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Amid sprinkles of a chilly rain, the one who calls himself Yohanna yells into the microphone at the corner H and 8th Streets NE on Jan. 14, 2006. His voice is strong and loud—even without the amplifier. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Yohanna is the apparent leader of the noisemaking group that appears every Saturday at the corner of H and 8th Streets NE. He and I engaged in a quick, but cordial, conversation several weeks ago. Sunglasses Man had blocked my path when I tried to photograph the group from the public sidewalk behind their assembled stage. Yohanna intervened, and we briefly discussed what we each believed were our rights.

Yohanna said he believed his group has a right to be heard over the ambient street noise—including the cars, trucks and buses. He said the amplifier is necessary and legal. I reiterated that the neighborhood residents are not challenging the group’s right to gather or speak on the corner. We have a right to comfort and convenience, I said. We simply do not want the amplifier projecting speech into our living space along 8th Street.

Here is a great paragraph from the 1949 U.S. Supreme Court decision KOVACS v. COOPER, which found that a municipal ban on the use of any sound system emitting "loud and raucous" noises on public streets did NOT violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It was written by Justice Stanley Reed in the 1949 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Kovacs v. Cooper (1949):
The preferred position of freedom of speech in a society that cherishes liberty for all does not require legislators to be insensible to claims by citizens to comfort and convenience. To enforce freedom of speech in disregard of the rights of others would be harsh and arbitrary in itself.

It’s January now—the noise affects on the neighborhood will worsen when windows open, gardens bloom, and the community tries to venture outside. Let’s hope the D.C. City Council can warm up to a legislative fix before the spring thaw.

Monday, January 23, 2006

D.C. Has Anti-Noise Listserv

In my correspondence last week with the national group, The Citizens Coalition Against Noise Pollution, I was referred to a Washington-based listserv called “QuietDC.” It was “created to help people who are suffering from noise problems.” The yahoo group was founded in January 2003. Who knew?

An offshoot of a Cleveland Park Listserve, the creator said he started “QuietDC” after being awakened by illegal early morning recycling pickups.

The listserv description explains “QuietDC” has “morphed into a listserv that deals with all kinds of noise problems in the District of Columbia.”

“Feel free to post your problem--somebody may have a solution! Remember, people and business who make noise will usually continue to do so, unless they are pressured to stop,” it says.

“…noise has a real effect on our health and well-being, causing high blood pressure and reducing our immune system...only by working together can we stop noise polluters,” it continues.

For more information and to subscribe, check out QuietDC. I’ll post a permanent link on Quest for Quiet.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

What is a Hate Crime?

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) The neighborhood’s efforts have focused on reducing the amplified noise broadcast for hours nearly every Saturday from the corner of H and 8th Streets NE. The residents have defended the rights of free speech and assembly for one group. But a blurb in the Washington Post about a hate crime investigation causes me to ponder the difference between sound waves and wood crossing into one’s yard. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

I came across a news brief in the Jan. 22 Washington Post. It’s about a Montgomery County police investigation into what it called a “hate crime.” The incident involved a wooden cross found on the lawn of an African American family in Rockville, Md., on Jan. 21.

This deplorable act made me think about our current noise situation at H and 8th Streets NE.

Our goal has been to stop the amplified noise from projecting into our homes. The noise alone is stressful and bothersome. The residents living in the 700 block of 8th Street have defended the noisemakers’ rights to free speech, which often degrades people based on their race, sex and sexual orientation. But in light of today’s Washington Post story, should we call for a stop to more than just the noise?

Is an unwanted cross on a lawn different than unwanted speech carrying into one’s living space? Especially when that speech could be deemed offensive and hateful to those living in that space?

Here’s the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) definition of a “hate crime”:

Hate crime is the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability. The purveyors of hate use explosives, arson, weapons, vandalism, physical violence, and verbal threats of violence to instill fear in their victims, leaving them vulnerable to more attacks and feeling alienated, helpless, suspicious and fearful. Others may become frustrated and angry if they believe the local government and other groups in the community will not protect them. When perpetrators of hate are not prosecuted as criminals and their acts not publicly condemned, their crimes can weaken even those communities with the healthiest race relations.

Of all crimes, hate crimes are most likely to create or exacerbate tensions, which can trigger larger community-wide racial conflict, civil disturbances, and even riots. Hate crimes put cities and towns at-risk of serious social and economic consequences. The immediate costs of racial conflicts and civil disturbances are police, fire, and medical personnel overtime, injury or death, business and residential property loss, and damage to vehicles and equipment. Long-term recovery is hindered by a decline in property values, which results in lower tax revenues, scarcity of funds for rebuilding, and increased insurance rates. Businesses and residents abandon these neighborhoods, leaving empty buildings to attract crime, and the quality of schools decline due to the loss of tax revenue. A municipality may have no choice but to cut services or raise taxes or leave the area in its post-riot condition until market forces of supply and demand rebuild the area.

Based on that DOJ definition, I know for a fact that some of my neighbors, who are black, told me--when I tried to organize a meeting with the noisemakers--to “stay away from the noisemakers” because she thought they were “dangerous.” Others, who happen to be white, are outraged by the noisemakers’ words of “cracker,” “white devil” and the “white man's day will come.”

And now that I think about it, I never use the front door of my house or associate with my wife in view of the noisemakers. Why? I am, in a way, fearful that they, or someone who sympathizes with their message may do harm to my wife, me, or our home.

When the noisemakers are present, I’ve personally been called “cracker” and “faggot,” words that the amplifier easily projects over our fences and into our yards—the effects of which carry, to some, as much weight as a wooden cross.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Noisy Shade of Winter

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A man (left) confronts the amplified preachers today, asking why they didn’t do more to improve the community instead of what he called “spreading lies.” The man asked if the preachers knew the names of their grandmothers, in which the preachers answered via amplifier that their grandmother is named in the bible. At this, the man grew extremely irate, at times removing his hat and screaming. He continued to ask each noisemaker if he knew the name of his grandmother. They screamed back at him, the amplified speech drowning out his unaided voice. The man eventually stomped off, walking east on H Street. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

The noisemakers boast a perfect Saturday attendance record thus far into 2006. They were present again Saturday and use the amplifier throughout their four hours of ranting from about 3 p.m. until after 7 p.m.

The last amplified noise-free Saturday enjoyed by our neighborhood was on Nov. 26, when the noisemakers did not appear on the corner of H and 8th Streets NE. On Nov. 19, the noisemakers were present, but did not use the amplifier. Otherwise, they’ve been dedicated to their message and the use of the amplifier for more for about four hours nearly every Saturday afternoon of the year. If we apply simple math to these variables:

(average 4 hours per Saturday) x (average 50 Saturdays per year) = 200 hours of amplified noise blasting the neighborhood each year

The amplified noise can be less bothersome to the residents during the winter months, because cold and wind keep windows closed and people huddled inside more than during the spring, summer and fall. The winter’s winds act as an errant volume control, at times scattering the sound waves or blowing them farther south on 8th Street.

It will get worse for us as the weather improves.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Money Anyone?

Can this group legally solicit for donations on the street without some sort of permit? They have no apparent permit for anthing else, so on this account we're not sure. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Roll Call Covers PSA, Noise Issue

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call in its Jan. 18 issue mentioned, in a story about the citizen coordinator transition in Police Service Area 102, the continuing amplified noise issue at H and 8th Streets NE. My neighbor, Marc, and I are volunteering for that duty.

The article mentioned the noise because Marc and I told the reporter it was an issue to which we already were devoting much time—it’s the big reason we know so many Metropolitan Police officers.

An excerpt from the Jan. 18 Roll Call story, authored by reporter Elizabeth Brotherton:

Their effort [in reducing amplified noise] centers on a group of people who, armed with microphones and amplifiers, regularly spend their Saturday afternoons on the corner of H and Eighth streets Northeast, preaching their views of the world to passersby.

It gets really loud. In fact, Klavitter said he and his neighbors are able to hear the speeches in their homes, even with the windows closed.

Repeated attempts to convince the group to turn off the amplifier, or at least lower the volume, have failed. And police can’t force the group to quiet down because Washington, D.C., law allows for amplified non-commercial speech from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

So Klavitter rallied his neighbors. He started a Web log, http://questforquiet.blogspot.com, in an effort to raise awareness and put pressure on the City Council to change the law. And he has been in contact with various District agencies to reach a solution.

It is not the First Amendment that Klavitter and his allies want to quell. It’s just the noise.

”I do believe in the freedom of speech. However, I do not believe we must endure on (or inside) our own property someone’s loud ranting for three or four hours every Saturday afternoon,” Klavitter posted on his first blog entry.
Today’s “Roll Call” story is in addition to the Jan. 12 ”Voice of the Hill article and editorial in support of a fix to the D.C. law.

I believe one needs a subscription to access the entire article online.

The photo of the new—and possibly much-too-serious—citizen coordinators of Police Service Area 102. It appeared in the Jan. 18 edition of Roll Call newspaper. Yours truly (left) and Marc Lesnick are standing on H Street NE. (USED WITH PERMISSION. Copyright © 2006. Kara Bunte)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Another Commission to Support Noise Law Fix

I attended the Jan. 11 Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6C meeting held at the Mount Carmel Baptist Church at 901 3rd Street NW to ask the commission’s support of our neighborhood’s efforts to fix the District of Columbia noise law.

Our neighborhood is split along 8th Street NE so that the east side is represented by Joe Fengler’s ANC6A district, while the west side is represented by ANC6C Commissioners Anthony Rivera (north of G St. NE) and Mike Sherman (south of G St. NE). All three commissioners have been supportive and active in the community’s efforts to stop the noise.

Commissioner Fengler on Dec. 15 sent an official letter to Councilmembers Sharon Ambrose (Ward 6) and Jim Graham, chairman of the Dept. of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Oversight Committee.

My mission was to ask the ANC6C to officially ask the city council for a fix. Anthony Rivera introduced my letter (see below) to the commission, and I gave a 60 second summary of the neighborhood’s plight. The commission agreed to support our efforts with its own letter.

Meanwhile, our efforts received an added boost because Councilmember and candidate for D.C. mayor Linda Cropp attended the Jan. 11 meeting. After a few remarks, Commissioner Sherman brought the issue to her attention. She said she would follow up and I hand delivered the letter to one of her aides, Archie Williams, her director of constituent services.

DATE: Jan. 11, 2006
TO: Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C
FROM: David Klavitter
Resident, 700 block of 8th Street NE
RE: ANC6C support for fixing D.C. statute allowing amplifiers

I ask the commission to officially support amending the “Georgetown Project and Noise Control Amendment Act of 2004” in order to modify an exception currently contained in the noise ordnance that permits amplified free speech on our public streets.

ANC6A Commissioner Joe Fengler, whose district is the source of the noise, sent a Dec. 15, 2005 letter to Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose and Councilmember Jim Graham, chair of the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Commissioner Fengler’s letter requested an amendment to the D.C. law (SEE ATTACHED). The noise immediately impacts residents living in the districts represented by ANC6C Commissioners Michael Sherman and Anthony Rivera, and therefore warrants action by the commission.

Currently, members of the Israelite Church of God and Jesus Christ, Inc. gather on Saturdays at the corner of Eighth and H Streets, NE to exercise their right of free speech. This group often uses an amplifier to deliver their religious message. The use of the amplifier projects the sound to the surrounding streets in all directions disturbing the peace, order and quiet of our neighborhood. We have no objection to the group or their religious speech. Our objection is the use of the powered amplifier. Over the last nine months, the neighbors have worked with ANC6A and ANC6C, Metropolitan Police Department, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General to try to resolve this issue. I testified about this on Nov. 2 before Councilmember Graham’s committee.

In December 2005, the D.C. Office of Attorney General found that amplified, non-commercial free speech on any residential street was permitted in the District from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (SEE ATTACHED).

Commissioner Fengler proposes an amendment to the “Georgetown Project and Noise Control Amendment Act of 2004” to prohibit the use of amplifiers. I agree there may be a more technically sound amendment that better captures the intent of the proposed change. I also strongly encourage that in the consideration of the change, the Office of the Attorney General is included in the drafting process to ensure the outcome provides an enforceable ordinance.

Finally, I ask the city council and attorney general to examine the 1949 U.S. Supreme Court decision KOVACS v. COOPER, which found a municipal ban on the use of any sound system emitting "loud and raucous" noises on public streets did NOT violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Wind Doesn’t Blow Noise Away

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A statue of the Virgin Mary twists in the wind as it hangs from a traffic light on the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE on Jan. 14. Despite winds gusting to 35 mph and temperatures in the upper 30s, the noisemakers employed the powered amplifier during the hours-long ranting. Nobody was injured by this swinging Mary statue during my nearly two hours at the corner. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Don’t these guys ever shut up? Only in extremely bad weather does the group take a break from their practice of yelling into an amplified loudspeaker at the corner of H and 8th Streets NE. At least the wind deadened some of the noise reaching our house. And it also cut short their stay—they were gone by 5:30 p.m. ET.

Members of this group apparently tolerate my presence with camera because now I am spared the direct verbal barrage of insults. However, when I went around to photograph the back of their stage on Saturday, the noisemaker always wearing sunglasses—even at night—physically blocked my path.

He said the group was allowing me to photograph them, but I was not permitted into their “camp.” By “camp” he apparently meant the public sidewalk and curb next to H Street. I told “Sunglasses Man” that I have every right to photograph them and their “camp” was public space.

Sunglasses Man, photographed on Jan. 7, blocked my access to the public space behind the stage, calling it their “camp.” (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

At this time, the one who calls himself “Yohanna” and the noisemaker I will call “The Hurler” for his extreme public spewing of insults came over and said they have permits which allows them to control the space. They said it’s to protect the fellows up on the stage so nobody comes from behind to do apparent harm to them. I told them I didn’t believe they had permits, but I didn’t ask to see them.

They relented and said I could make photographs from near the back of the stage.

In addition to the noise issue, the city needs to get its act together to determine whether this group can legally construct this stage on the sidewalk—including hanging objects from traffic signals. While I was on the corner, I saw more than four police cars drive past without stopping once to inspect.

Friday, January 13, 2006

VOH Has More on Rivera Indictment

In addition to the information in my Wednesday conversation, the Jan. 12 Voice of the Hill newspaper and website have more information about the indictment of my Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (6C05) Anthony Rivera. The story answered one of many questions: D.C. law says advisory commissioners must resign from office if convicted of a crime.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hill Newspaper Urges Council to Fix Noise Law

A Jan. 12, 2006 Voice of the Hill (VOH) editorial calls for District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams and Councilmembers Sharon Ambrose and Jim Graham to “clarify any city laws so that it is clear that nobody has the right to use amplified sound to disturb the peace and quiet of others, should it be in a residential or any other neighborhood.”

The editorial explained that when a VOH “reporter contacted various city agencies about the issue, he received differing answers, which makes us believe their representatives do not know what they are doing.”

Accompanying the editorial is a front-page story that updates readers on the latest developments in this ongoing amplified noise saga at H and 8th Streets NE.

The story, by reporter Gary Emerling, included a quote by one neighbor, who said of the hours of amplified speech:
“It’s like you’re being tortured, honestly,” said Jane Wilkomm, who lives in the 700 block of Eighth Street, NE, and says she can hear the group’s message inside her home. “If this were in front of [Ward 6 Councilwoman] Sharon Ambrose’s house, that law would be struck tomorrow.”
A photo from “Quest for Quiet” and a link to this “Quest for Quiet” blog accompanies the story.

Check out the VOH website or download a pdf of the Jan. 12 edition.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Arguing with the Amplified Dude

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) This Jan. 7, 2006 photo shows one of the preachers and a woman passerby shouting at each other. She said he was “going to hell” and was touting her church, while he was calling her minister a "slick nigger." She, however, was shouted down because the preacher had the advantage of using the amplifier. I never saw him offer her the microphone. When someone yells into the microphone, the amplifier becomes very loud and the entire corner is boisterous with people yelling and screaming. Quite a noisy--and interesting--scene indeed. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Here is a great paragraph from the 1949 U.S. Supreme Court decision KOVACS v. COOPER, which found that a municipal ban on the use of any sound system emitting "loud and raucous" noises on public streets did NOT violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It was written by Justice Robert Jackson to explain his concurring opinion:
“I join the judgment sustaining the Trenton ordinance because I believe that operation of mechanical sound-amplifying devices conflicts with quiet enjoyment of home and park and with safe and legitimate use of street and market place, and that it is constitutionally subject to regulation or prohibition by the state or municipal authority. No violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by reason of infringement of free speech arises unless such regulation or prohibition undertakes to censor the contents of the broadcasting. Freedom of speech for Kovacs does not, in my view, include freedom to use sound amplifiers to drown out the natural speech of others.”
Have no fear of treading on first amendment rights, my dear D.C. City Council. There is a supreme precedent.

Rivera to Continue on Commission Issues

I spoke this morning with my Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (6C05) Anthony Rivera, with whom our community has worked on the ongoing noise issue at H and 8th Streets NE. We also discussed his indictment on Saturday by a federal grand jury on conspiracy, fraud and money laundering charges.

Anthony told me he plans to continue work as ANC6C commissioner and is fighting all charges.

Under the law, Anthony is innocent until proven guilty in court. Speaking for myself, I've found Anthony to be responsive and moderately effective as a rookie commissioner elected in 2004. The indictment is surprising and maddening. If Anthony is found guilty, he, of course, should immediately resign from the commission. Or perhaps the law automatically boots him off? I’m not familiar with the election rules.

However, this indictment, which alleges fraud related to real estate, raises concerns about Anthony’s role as a member of the ANC6C Zoning Commission. I told Anthony this morning that if this indictment in any way hinders his ability to represent the residents of ANC6C05, he should immediately consider resigning his seat on the commission.

He assured me that the indictment and subsequent trial would not diminish his role as ANC6C commissioner. Anthony said he expects the process of a trial to last possibly more than a year. He was referring all media inquiries to his attorney. I did tell Anthony I would make a note of our conversation on my blog.

As far as the amplified noise, I’ve asked ANC6C to officially support a legislative fix to the D.C. noise ordinance, much like ANC6A already has done. Anthony committed to proposing a draft letter at tonight’s meeting, which I’ll be also be attending as the Police Service Area (PSA) 102 citizen coordinator. My co-coordinator is Marc Lesnick.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Devil is in the Amplifier

(CLICK FOR A LARGER VIEW) The noisemakers’ amplifier of choice at H and 8th Streets NE: The Fender “Amp Can.” (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Many people have emailed to ask about the electrical power source for the noisemakers’ amplifier—the real culprit in the ongoing saga at 8th and H Streets. The neighborhood residents support free speech and the right to assemble—while we may or may not agree with the speech content, we defend the group’s right to say it. However, it’s our desire that they cease using the amplifier.

The noisemakers use an amplifier made by Fender called “The Amp Can.” Fender calls this little devil “the ultimate in battery powered portable amplifiers.” It can run on AC power or the internal rechargeable battery. The amp features a six-inch diameter, 4 ohm, 30 watt speaker backed by 15 watts of power. Fender says “The Amp Can” is 8.75" high, 7.75” wide and weighs 13 pounds. It has two fully independent channels.

The Fender list price is $249.99, but the street price is closer to $150.

(CLICK FOR A LARGER VIEW) The neighbors—and passersby—can attest that Fender’s “Amp Can” (circled in yellow) is a sturdy, loud, distortion free unit—with the decibel level boosted by those speaking or screaming directly into the microphone, like in this Jan. 7, 2006 photo. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Homes Blasted by Amplified Speech

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) This photo perhaps best illustrates a community’s plight against continued amplified noise. The Jan. 7, 2006 image is of the southeast corner of the intersection of H and 8th Streets NE. It was taken from the north side of H Street and looks south toward 8th Street. It shows the stage erected by the preachers, the operating powered amplifier on the ground in front of their stage, and the residential homes in the 700 block of 8th Street. The amplifier clearly points and projects sound south into the residential neighborhood. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

This scene is repeated at the corner of H and 8th Streets for hours and hours nearly every Saturday afternoon and evening. An apparent loophole in the District of Columbia law allows unabated amplified non-commercial speech from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The misguided D.C. law apparently subjects anyone living in D.C. to hours and hours of amplified speech—loud enough to be heard inside a person’s own home.

In other words, this situation could occur in any D.C. neighborhood!

The residents in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE have endured the noise pollution for years and are fighting for their rights to peace and quiet. They ask that the preachers simply stop using the powered amplifier. Meanwhile, the city, apparently powerless to do anything to ease the situation, must now enact a legislative fix to protect the community’s quality of life.

An enlarged view of the powered amplifier (circled in red), which points south and projects amplified speech for hours into the residential neighborhood. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

36 Degrees and Noisy

(CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW) This fellow spiritedly denounces a smiling woman who was politely distributing flyers to people assembled at the corner of 8th and H Streets NE. She was promoting a local community church. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Despite cool temperatures and a Washington Redskins playoff game, the noisemakers tended to their regularly scheduled corner broadcast at 8th and H Streets NE using the powered amplifier.

Members of the group took turns yelling into the microphone for more than four hours, as daylight faded into night. The cold, dry air seemed to carry the sound deeper into our neighborhood today. The preachers kept warm with sips of coffee or hot cocoa and nourished themselves with Subway sandwiches.

They were not unpleasant to me today and several acknowledged my presence with a hello. I listened for about an hour and a half. They were indeed loud, and often boisterously loud, depending on which fellow had the microphone.

According to the Dec. 12 District of Columbia Attorney General’s ruling, “a sound shall not be considered a noise disturbance if made during noncommercial public speaking during the daytime.” The OAG said, “daytime is defined as 7 AM to 9 PM.”

(CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW) A man helps himself to free bread on H Street. A woman named Carolyn (left) parked a van full of bread products behind the noisemakers’ stage on H Street. Carolyn was giving the baked goods away on behalf of a group called “Noah’s Ark.” The preachers apparently latched onto this as a good public relations opportunity and seemingly associated themselves with Carolyn’s generosity. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Noise is Not Less Taxing in District

It’s frustrating when the law allows a person’s right to peace and quiet to be violated on and inside one’s property. It’s doubly frustrating when the District of Columbia tax man could care less.

My neighbor today received a letter from the D.C. Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals, which denied my neighbor any reduction of her 2006 property tax increase of 25%.

My neighbor explained, “A quick look on the D.C. Property Tax Assessment shows that our assessment increased by 25% compared with 9-14% for all of our neighbors, many with the same use code (24) and some with a different use code (11). We truly can’t see any justification why our increase is more than double of our neighbors’ increase.”

She cited a number of reasons, including this related to amplified noise:
“We are also plagued with disruptive fundamentalists who use loud amplifiers on our street to preach messages about hate every weekend. We cannot simply go home to avoid listening to this since it can be heard even with our doors and windows closed.”

In her appeal to the D.C. Board, she included a comparison of her property to similar properties located one or two blocks away. These other properties saw tax increases much lower than my neighbor’s 25%--and those properties are much less, if at all, impacted by the amplified noise.

As with death and taxes, noise, too, is a part of life. But burdensome amplified noise that hinders the enjoyment of one’s property should be a factor in lowering real property taxes.

My neighbor said she plans to file another appeal.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

'Noise is Power,' says Expert

In a special to “The Neighborhood Newswire,” Daniel Porras grabs a handheld decibel meter and takes a walk around the streets of San Francisco to measure the loudness of different sounds. His decibel measurements include the inside of his downtown studio apartment (50 dBA), the bell of a passing cable car (85 dBA), and 1950s rock hits from a diner’s outdoor speakers (83 dBA).

He interviews a noise expert with the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, who says “noise causes a biological stress response in humans, who evolved in much quieter times, and can lead to an elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and loss of sleep and appetite.”

In another interview, Daniel is told by a noted bioacoustician and sound engineer that noise is power. “Look at the straight pipes on the Harleys [going] down the street. The louder you are the more attention you will call to yourself.”

Join Daniel in his walk. Check out the August 29, 2005 story, Urban Racket and the Quest for Quiet.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Musical Alternatives to Ugly Speech

Anwar Saleem, an H Street business owner and chairman of H Street Main Street, posed the idea of raising money to fund musicians or an a cappella group to perform on the same corner as the group of amplified street preachers every Saturday.

The residents of the 700 block of 8th Street NE have considered alternatives, including musical groups and our own amplified speech, to the preachers' amplified ranting. However, this struck us as counter-productive--adding yet another layer of noise to that already loud corner. I believe the preachers simply would yell louder and turn up the amplifier's volume.

On the other hand, I really like his music idea from the standpoint of offering an alternative to the hateful content of speech--it's such a divisive downer for the community. We do support the preachers' right to say what they say, but that does not mean we must agree or let it be said unchallenged.

For example, a New Orleans-style jazz group that plays at Dupont Circle in northwest Washington would be an uplifting respite for the large numbers of people transferring between the X2 and 90 bus lines. For more about this group, "The Madison Lively Stones" and a photo, check out this website.

I'd be interested to know how others in our community--including church groups--feel about this. Also, should H Street Main Street coordinate fundraising for such an effort?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Wishing for a Quieter and Peaceful New Year

In September of 2004, the noisemakers use a microphone and amplifier at the southeast corner of 8th and H Streets NE. The amplified speech is projected south on 8th Street into the residential neighborhood. (Copyright © 2004. David Klavitter)

My wife, Kara, and I were out of the town the past two Saturdays (Dec. 24, 31), but I was disheartened to receive an email from a frustrated neighbor, whose day at home was spoiled by noise pollution. My neighbor sent the email—the text of which I’ve included below—to various D.C. council members and city agencies.

Our next step is for the city council to take action to fix the loophole in the law. We will work with our ANC commissioners, Councilmember Sharon Ambrose, and the other council members to make this happen. As a matter of fact, a Voice of the Hill reporter called me yesterday to follow up on the Office of Attorny General's finding and our next steps.

Finally, we need urgent relief. I’m always treated rudely anytime I try to interact with the noisemakers, but I may have made some progress. After I photographed the noisemaking group on Dec. 23 at the corner of 12th and G Streets NW, I was able to conduct a short, civil dialogue with one of the noisemakers who called himself "Yahanna" (he is the one pictured pointing at Santa).

Yahanna said his group did not have enough advance notice to attend our Aug. 29, 2005 community meeting, but would welcome a chance to talk again. I told Yahanna I would work with MPD Inspector Solberg to try and set up another community meeting in January.

In the meantime, we all must work together to push for a better-crafted D.C. noise law. Here’s the text of my neighbor’s Dec. 31 email:

Have had my fill in a big way...it would seem that the Israelite's (or whatever they call themselves) right to assemble and amplify their message, already being yelled before amplification, trumps my right to live in peace w/out fear of noise invasion in the house we moved into and bought January 1991--to say nothing of the trash and litter lovingly dropped on the street and sidewalks here by those who frequent the bus stops and stores and assemblies at 8th & H streets, NE.

1--about two months ago, we buried my Uncle. We had our adult children from across the country, two cousins, one of their children, a 93-year old aunt, her 86-year old brother, the widow (also 86), and elderly relatives we met for the first time at the funeral for lunch at our house following the burial. The "group" was on the corner screaming and amplifying to its heart's content. We had the doors and windows closed, and turned on music to drown out the noise on the corner, but that does nothing for our guests and family when they enter or leave the house. What about our right to privacy? What about our right to assemble peaceably in our own house? What happened to a "man/woman's home is their castle?" Maybe we need to call our armies (knights) to protect us.....

2--Every weekend, regardless of what we, who live here and pay taxes to support our city government and services, have planned or are coping with (at least one of our neighbors is dealing w/a serious life-threatening condition), we are subjected to and bombarded by outsiders scream at us and anyone else who dares to come here to visit us and our home.

3--It is New Year's eve and the "group" has been at it all afternoon. I am sitting in my living room, a fire in the fireplace, low-key music on the CD player, tree lights glowing, writing thank-you notes--a nice image....leaving out the amplified yelling from the corner.

When is the District of Columbia going to do something for it's citizens/residents to make this a place where one's home is their haven anyway?

Happy New Year, ain't it great????