by Kaila White

The Arizona Republic

August 10, 2014

Anyone within a half mile could hear the Liquid Sol Music Festival at Sportsman’s Park outside Glendale’s University of Phoenix Stadium in March.

Guitar riffs played by rock bands such as Train and All-American Rejects coursed through neighborhoods east of the stadium from about 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., as more than 11,000 concert-goers sang along.

That event violated the city’s regulations on amplified noise, but instead of cracking down, Glendale responded by changing its rules. Now, events such as Liquid Sol that are loud and run late might happen more often.

The goal of the change is to attract more big events to the city, and Glendale is following the lead of Peoria and other Valley cities, though smaller jurisdictions in the West Valley have yet to make specific noise rules for these kinds of events.

“I think it makes us competitive,” said Sam McAllen, Glendale’s executive director of Development Services. “When somebody is looking at the city of Glendale for an event, when you saw the noise ordinance in place versus one of the other cities’, it could be an impediment.”

Such was the case with the promoters of Liquid Sol, who had expressed concern over choosing Glendale as a host due to its strict noise ordinance, McAllen said. Under city code, bands would not have been able to play back-to-back, but the rules were not enforced.

Those rules, which had been in place since 1988, stated that noise from sound-producing devices must not be heard at a distance of more than 125 feet from the premises where the sound is produced; that the sound can’t travel off of the premises between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.; and that sound may not be produced for more than 2½ hours without an intermission of 30 minutes.

Noise restrictions

Now, a special-events committee composed of city departments including Building Safety, Police, Fire, Marketing, Tax and License, and Transportation will add noise restrictions to its list of issues to consider on a case-by-case basis when planning an event. There are no examples of what those requirements might be, as the committee has yet to issue a permit under the new ordinance.

Enforcement of the noise restrictions likely will be driven by complaints, McAllen said, a standard that is common among other cities. If someone calls police to complain about the noise, code-enforcement officials will assess if the noise level is unreasonable and, if necessary, tell the event promoter to turn down the volume and potentially issue a citation.

A handful of residents has expressed opposition to the change, including Karen Briggs, a Glendale resident and member of Noise Free America, a non-profit that battles noise pollution.

“My opinion of it is it’s not a good thing because noise is noise. … It bothers people whether it’s permitted or not,” she said. “Why should a business or community be exempt from a rule that covers the rest of the public?”

Other cities with similar ordinances, such as Scottsdale, enforce their noise limit in dBA, a measurement of the relative loudness of sounds as perceived by the human ear. In Scottsdale, noise from events heard in a residential area more than 100 feet from the event usually is issued a limit of 68 dBA.

“Normal speaking might be at about 65 … and just noise inside your car, if you had traffic noise with your window up or radio on, is 85 decibels, and that’s not a loud sound, but that’s about as loud as some people would want something,” said David Nichols, who teaches audio recording and music production at Glendale Community College.

The noise one might hear when standing far back in a crowd during an amphitheater concert is about 110 decibels, he said, and up to about 120 near the stage.

Events exemption

The events exemption just enacted in Glendale has been in place in Peoria for years. There is no decibel limit for approved events in Peoria, although the main noisemaker in the city, the Peoria Sports Complex, has a self-imposed decibel limit written into every contract with a performer, said sports facilities manager Chris Calcaterra. The performer must hire a sound technician to monitor the noise.

The complex requires noise to be an average of 75 dBA or less when measured at the property line. For comparison, the sound coming from the complex should be about as loud as a dishwasher to someone standing at 83rd Avenue near the complex.

“It impacts people but, at the same time, as we do special events and large community gatherings, those are very important to community building,” said John Sefton, Peoria’s community services director. “It’s certainly one of those balance points.”

Rules in other West Valley cities generally are less specific on sound limits and have less wiggle room to allow for special events.

Other West Valley cities

In Surprise, the third-largest city in the West Valley, it is illegal to play a sound-producing device “at an unreasonably loud volume which disturbs the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family or person.”

In Avondale, sound-producing devices may not “annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of persons,” with the exception of non-commercial public addresses.

Goodyear’s city code only acknowledges and prohibits sound from animals and vehicle speakers.

The lack of a quantified decibel limit in these cities, as well as in Glendale and Peoria, is understandable, Nichols said.

“I think the terminology of ‘unreasonable loudness’ — I know it’s law and we throw in a subjective term — but if we started taking true measurement of audio it would” require expensive, semisophisticated devices that might be too costly for a city, he said.

Regulating sound on a case-by-case basis gives the city more ability to control the noise, McAllen said. Officials can work more closely with promoters on how to position the speakers.

“It still does protect our neighborhoods,” he said.

Drop the bass

Regulating unwanted noise from the sound of music playing nearby is one thing, but specifically regulating the bass is a whole other beast, according to Raun Keagy, Scottsdale neighborhood services director.

“That seems to be the driving — no pun intended — force behind a lot of the complaints, that deep thumping,” he said.

Bass is measured on the C scale as opposed to the A scale commonly used to measure noise. Scottsdale reached out to other cities, such as Austin, Texas, and “never found a city that we thought had a good handle on it.”

Bass is not included in sound measurement in any Valley city, though Keagy suggests that rattling windows might warrant a call to police for “unreasonable loudness.”