Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Unrestricted Noise Is Just Legalized Harassment

Returning to work last week, I heard sounds of amplified commotion somewhere down 7th Street NW.

I walked another two blocks and rounded the corner. The noise was much louder and now just a block away. It sounded like a large mass of people yelling at each other through bullhorns.

I expected to see dozens of protestors huddled or parading for or against some issue. But only four people prowled the courtyard. They carried signs with photos of sad puppy dogs.

And three protestors employed blaring bullhorns.

The tiny band was harassing some downtown building dweller with nearly unintelligible noise. Perhaps the competing amplifiers or their masked faces garbled sound, I couldn’t tell.

But it was loud and disturbing.

It seemed the group was not intent on anyone understanding their message. But it was an effective display of one teensy-weensy number of people employing the harassing and disruptive power of unrestricted noise.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

WaPo letter: Bullhorns and Balance

A bill tabled last week by the D.C. City Council would have closed a loophole that makes the District of Columbia "the only major U.S. city with no limits on noncommercial amplified noise," D.C. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells said in an editorial letter which appeared in today's Washington Post.

"As [Ward 3 Councilmember Mary] Cheh and I worked to fix the loophole, we listened to complaints about noise from residents across the city. Overwhelmingly, residents told us they did not want to limit free speech, but they couldn't compete with amplifiers outside their living room windows. They just asked for a little fairness and protection of their rights, too," he continued.

Read Wells' complete letter here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Noise Issue on WAMU Radio Talk Show

The District of Columbia noise issue is the talk of the lunch hour during Friday's "The Politics Hour with Kojo and Jonetta" on WAMU 88.5 FM. It starts at 12:06 p.m. ET.

Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells is one of the guests on the program which "looks at the debate in one D.C. neighborhood over freedom of speech versus the right to peace and quiet," according to the WAMU website.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Commissioner Challenges Councilmembers to Debate Noise Issue

In an open letter to the community and Councilmembers Kwame Brown and Yvette Alexander, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC6A) Joe Fengler challenges the two elected officials to publicly debate the noise issue. The full text is below:

We are disappointed with Alexander and Brown's vote to table the Noise Control Protection Amendment Act of 2007. By tabling the bill, Alexander and Brown voted to deny any discussion of the bill.

It is hard to understand why Alexander voted to table the bill given her publicly stated support at the January 5, 2008, Hillcrest Community Civic Association meeting. At that meeting, she told approximately 100 Ward 7 residents that she would support this bill.

More perplexing is Brown's support of Evan's motion to table as he was a co-sponsor of the bill. Brown has participated in many Capitol Hill community meetings over the last few months as part of his re-election campaign. At no time did he indicate to the residents that he was anything less than 100% behind the bill.

Yesterday [Tuesday], Alexander and Brown failed to support the residents of Ward 6 and Ward 7. After the vote, Alexander and Brown both mentioned they still supported the bill, but that it needs to be "worked out" before it comes to the Council again.

I am personally prepared to debate the merits of this bill with Alexander and Brown in a public forum over the next three weeks. I would welcome that opportunity.

We have worked over two years to develop this bill to balance the concerns of all parties. Perhaps a public debate will provide the opportunity for Alexander and Brown to highlight what changes are needed to garner their support.

Our goal is to get this bill back in front of the council in early March in order to protect the residents from unrestricted levels of noise in their homes. Every resident should have the right to peace and quiet within the confines of their own home. By voting with Evans, Alexander and Brown appear not have that same goal.

As a reference guide to understand how unrestricted, amplified speech impacts a residential community, please see the comprehensive review published in the Washington Post, Sounding Out Solutions for Noise Pollution.

Regards, Joe

Joseph Fengler, ANC Commissioner 6A02

Whom Does the D.C. City Council Represent?

Is the District of Columbia (D.C.) City Council's duty to act in the best interests of its citizens or special interests?

WTOP investigative reporter Mark Segraves takes a closer look at Tuesday's District of Columbia City Council vote to indefinitely table a bill that would protect residents at home from unreasonble amplified noise. An excerpt:

"Council members Carol Schwartz, David Catania, Mary Cheh and Marion Barry supported the bill. So did Council members Yvette Alexander and Kwame Brown. Alexander had told her constituents in Hillcrest that she supported the Bill. Brown didn't just support the bill, he co-introduced it and co-sponsored it. But something happened to Alexander and Brown."

Segraves interviews Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (6A) Joe Fengler--both supporters of residents' rights. He spoke with Yvette Alexander, who flipped on her commitment and voted to table the bill.

Councilmember Kwame Brown, who co-sponsored the bill but then voted to table it, would not return Segraves' calls.

"We're the only major city in the country that has no limit on amplified speech. I'm trying to provide some balance so that residents of the District can expect some limits to the amount of noise in their neighborhoods," Councilmember Wells told WTOP.

It's not that the noise bill lacked support--on the contrary.

It had the support of ANC 6A and 6C, the Hillcrest Civic Association in Ward 7, the Penn Quarter Civic Association and Downtown Neighborhood Association in Wards 2 and 6, the Woodland Normanstone Neighborhood Association in Ward 3, and labor unions SEIU 32BJ and SEIU 500, representing thousands of working men and women in D.C.

It's ironic that some city council members wave the free-speech banner, but then lack the courage to openly debate the noise bill's merits. It's not unlike trying to have a conversation with some unreasonable person wielding an amplifier.

Read the WTOP report online.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Post, Times, Others Cover Noise

A roundup of yesterday's city council meeting:

Measure Tabled Over Unions' Free-Speech Concerns [Washington Post]
Union activists persuaded a narrow majority of D.C. Council members yesterday to table a bill initially aimed at quieting street preachers on H Street NE after the protesters said it would limit free speech...MORE

Council tables bill to turn down noise [Washington Times]
The D.C. Council, under pressure from labor unions that cite their right to political protest, yesterday indefinitely postponed a vote on a proposal to tighten noise restrictions...MORE

Noise Bill Swiftly Tabled [Washington City Paper]
Anyone doubting the strength of organized labor in this town, think again: A bill that would allow the District to enforce limits on daytime noise was tabled without debate this morning at a meeting of the D.C. Council’s committee of the whole, thanks in no small part to union protesters...MORE

D.C. Council Chooses Not to Act on Noise [DCist]
When we told you about David Klavitter's struggles against a noisy group of demonstrators on H Street NE a few weeks back, most everyone seemed to agree that while free speech is an important principle, it's not one that everyone has to exercise using a loud amplifier. But today the D.C. Council seemed to disagree...MORE

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Council Votes 7-5 to Table Noise Bill

D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, a constitutional law professor and self-professed "card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union," explains why a noise fix is necessary to protect District of Columbia residents. (Copyright © 2008: David Klavitter)

The noise bill is delayed.

That's the result of today's D.C. City Council meeting. It appears that a majority of the D.C. city council cares more about special interests than protecting residents at home from amplified noise.

Councilmember Mary Cheh eloquently introduced the bill, after which Jack Evans made a motion to table the bill, with no other date for consideration.

Tommy Wells, who co-sponsored the noise fix, expressed disappointment at the council vote. "It’s tough to stand up against special interests," said Wells.

"We worked hard with residents and labor leaders open to a solution to find a fix that is fair and provides some neighborhood protections," he added. "I’m disappointed more of my colleagues didn’t side with fairness for our residents, but I’ll continue working to change their minds.”

Thank you to Councilmembers Cheh, Tommy Wells, David Catania, Carol Schwartz, and Marion Barry. They voted against tabling the bill.

Thanks to our fellow friends, neighbors and other citizens from across this great city who wrote letters and made phone calls in support of the bill so far.

Stay tuned...noboby's singing--amplified or otherwise--yet.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Don't Impose Your Sound on Me

If a rider doesn't want to see a video display, the rider can turn away, Zimmerman said, but "sound is imposed upon me."

Those fine words are included in this Washington Post blurb about potential video advertisements in Metro Stations.

What about sound imposed upon you at home? Not cool. And the U.S. Supreme Court agrees.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bullhorns Blare 19 Weekends in NW Neighborhood

Residents in northwest Washington, D.C., report that for the past nineteen weeks, uninvited noise has invaded homes in the Woodland Normanstone neighborhood.

View Larger Map

Protestors, armed with bullhorns, apparently have targeted a television network executive's residence. The New York Times noted it in a story last week.

The protestors' efforts have focused on attempts to annoy and harrass the hell out of the executive cloistured inside her house, but people living in the surrounding homes have suffered as well.

The city's broken noise law leaves District dwellars helpless against uncooperative noisy people--and there's not one dang thing D.C. residents can do about it.

"For residents not involved in the dispute, this has brought an annoying and obnoxious public nuisance to our neighborhood," said one neighbor in a message to the D.C. City Council. "Please continue to push for legislation to control the noise level our residential neighborhood."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wash Times Notes Noise Bill

The Washington Times updated its readers on the bill that would protect D.C. residents from intruding amplifiers. The D.C. City Council is expected to address the issue on Feb. 19.

D.C. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, a legal scholar who co-introduced the legislation, is quoted:

"There can be restraints on the time, the place or the manner of speech. If it's unreasonable in light of the particular circumstances, then it can be regulated."

Read the complete story, "Bill Aims to Quiet Noise Levels," here.

Meanwhile, a second--somewhat unrelated--story about the D.C. police department's new deep-bass siren, dubbed the Rumbler, ran in Friday's USA Today. It contains a reference to Quest for Quiet.

Find the complete story here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

DCist Covers Noise Issue

Tuesday's news blog DCist carries a story about noise legislation currently pending before the city council. The bill would protect all D.C. residents' rights to quiet in their own homes.

An excerpt:
And while it seems like the legislation could make demonstrations in certain parts of the District more difficult--especially those neighborhoods that are both residential and commercial, like Adams Morgan or Dupont Circle -- it also seems carefully tailored to balance free speech rights against many of the concerns Klavitter has expressed.

Read the complete story, "D.C. Considers Limiting dB" here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Council Vote on Noise Moved to Feb. 19

D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh has decided not to request a routinely-used waiver of council rules to put on the council's Feb. 5 agenda the bill to prevent noise from being projected into D.C. residents' homes.

So instead, the council will consider the quiet rights bill on its Feb. 19 full council agenda.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Jumbotrons Jolt Downtown D.C. Dwellers

A story in today's Washington Post shares a growing complaint from residents living in the booming mixed-use buildings in downtown Washington: Noise.

Non-stop video advertisements running on three newly-installed screens are keeping residents awake near the corner of 7th and H St NE.

This is somewhat confusing because the city's current noise ordinance already should eliminate this problem. The maximum decibel level in a commercial zone is 65 dB(A) during the day and 60dB(A) at night.

Of course, D.C. statute allows non-commercial speech to be blasted at unlimited volume anywhere in the city between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., but I wold believe these advertisements are classified as "commercial."

The residents simply should call the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which has noise inspectors with the decibel meters.

Read the complete story, "The Sound and the Fury: Gallery Place's Noisy Billboards Drive Some to Distraction" online here.