Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wells Introduces Bill to Fix Broken D.C. Noise Law

An extremely quiet shout-out goes to Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, who introduced a bill Tuesday intended to change the definition of a noise disturbance to both protect First Amendment free speech as well as protect the health and peace of residents from amplified noise.

Under the “Noise Control Protection Amendment Act of 2007,” non-commercial public speech measured above 70 decibels (dB) at 50 feet from the noise source would only constitute a noise disturbance if it were also found to be excessive under the “reasonable person” standard as defined by D.C. law.

Currently, no decibel limits exist for amplified noncommerical speech between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m anywhere in the District of Columbia. For most noises other than noncommercial speech, D.C. municipal code specifies maximum daytime sound levels--measured at the source or property line--at 60 dB for residential areas (55 dB night) and 65 dB for commercial areas (60 dB night).

The ideal legislative fix simply would strike the exemption language added in 2004. However, Wells’ action bring the 8th and H Street NE community one step closer to relief from hours of harmful amplified noise. Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), who chairs the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, indicated she will conduct hearings on the matter.

Props also are due to Councilmembers Cheh and Kwame Brown (at-large), who joined Wells by co-introducing the bill and Councilmember David Catania (at-large), who co-sponsored the proposal. Three hushed cheers for Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 6A and 6C; the groups never wavered in support for the community’s cause, especially ANC6A Chairman Joe Fengler, as well as fellow D.C. residents and businesses who recognized the absurdity of the broken noise law.

In January and March, Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh, convened meetings with representatives of the H and 8th St NE community, ANC6A and labor unions to review legislative language drafted by Acting Attorney General Linda Singer’s office.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said he supports the noise fix.

Read Councilmember Wells' complete press release.

TEXT OF THE BILL INTRODUCED TUESDAY:
Councilmembers Tommy Wells, Mary Cheh and Kwame Brown introduced the following bill, which was referred to the Committee on ________________.

To amend the District of Columbia Noise Control Act of 1977 to permit noise made during noncommercial public speaking during the daytime to be considered a noise disturbance if it otherwise satisfies the definition of a noise disturbance and exceeds 70 decibels when measured at a distance of 50 feet from the source of the noise, and to specify that the Mayor need not measure the decibel level of a noise to find a noise disturbance if the noise is made at night or does not involve noncommercial public speaking.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, That this act may be cited as the "Noise Control Protection Amendment Act of 2007".

Sec. 2. Section 3(n) of the District of Columbia Noise Control Amendment Act of 1977, effective March 16, 1978, (D.C. Law 2-53; 20 DCMR § 2799.1) is amended by striking the last two sentences and inserting two new sentences in their place to read as follows: "A noise shall not be considered a noise disturbance if it is made during noncommercial public speaking during the daytime and does not exceed 70 decibels when measured at a distance of 50 feet from the source of the noise. If the noise is made at night or does not involve noncommercial public speaking, the Mayor shall not be required to measure the decibel level of the noise in order to find a noise disturbance.".

Sec. 3. Fiscal impact statement.

The Council adopts the fiscal impact statement in the committee report as the fiscal impact statement required by section 602(c)(3) of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, approved December 24, 1973 (87 Stat. 813; D.C. Official Code § 1-206.02(c)(3)).

Sec. 4. Effective date.

This act shall take effect following approval by the Mayor (or in the event of veto by the Mayor, action by the Council to override the veto), a 30-day period of Congressional review as provided in section 602(c)(1) of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, approved December 24, 1973 (87 Stat. 813; D.C. Official Code § 1-206.02(c)(1)), and publication in the District of Columbia Register.

4 Comments:

Blogger Lonnie Bruner said...

This sounds great!

However, the language of that bill is confusing with all its double negatives.

Is this what you want?

9:19 AM  
Blogger Klav said...

I think in context of the entire noise law it makes sense, however the ideal fix would simply strike the offending 2004 language which exempts noncommerical speech from noise disturbance regulations.

This language was drafted with several interested parties at the table. In the spirit of full transparency, this bill will have a public hearing to ensure it protects free speech and quiet rights.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

David -- excellent coverage of the issue. I came across your site doing research for a story on my own site and quoted your work, with attribution and links. The link is here: Districtofchange.com

Cheers,
Nick Turner

8:37 PM  
Blogger i said...

This sounds great; however, it will leave out what is becoming a growing problem in DC. As more condos are being built, many that meet the rather scanty building construction codes that benefit developers more than consumers, more people are having problems with not just loud talking, tv's, and music. There is also the problem of footfall noise(for eg loud walkers and stompers), vibrations from surround equipment, etc. I have spoken to a number of DC residents that have encountered this problem with limited ways to solve it. This amendment and the current noise ordinance say little if anything to address this. What are your thoughts on expanding the definition of "noise"?

10:59 PM  

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