by Alex Breitler

May 15, 2006

Number of noise complaints on the rise

MANTECA – On Friday afternoons, David Ovieda and his pals lower the garage door, switch on an electric guitar and cut their teeth on classic rock – a little Ozzy Osbourne to liven up his north Manteca cul-de-sac.

Ovieda, 17, knows the tunes could tick off neighbors.

“But it’s not just a bunch of kids banging on the drums and sounding like garbage,” he said. “We’re good.”

Another garage band, in south Manteca, has recently drawn at least four protests from irate neighbors. It seems the bands are just one source of noise complaints in this growing city, where each day residents call police to bemoan yapping dogs, booming car stereos or clanking construction equipment.

Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford recently asked police to make sure they follow through on noise complaints after the mayor said some residents brought their beefs directly to him. There’s only so much officers can do, Weatherford acknowledged, but they at least should knock on doors and ask nuisance neighbors to keep it down.

Police say they already do just that. And most of the time, the violators mend their ways, police spokesman Rex Osborn said.

But the number of complaints is growing along with the city. Already this year, police have fielded 326 reports of loud noise or parties, on pace to surpass last year’s total of 893 calls.

“We get them on a fairly consistent basis,” Osborn said. “We could cite people, but I haven’t heard of it being done.”

Most of these calls are the predictable car alarms and barking beagles. Earlier this month, someone called police to report loud children at a day-care center.

Bay Area transplants are most likely to object to noise from farms just outside town, said Michael Teitz, a planning expert with the Public Policy Institute of California. And in residential neighborhoods, large homes placed on average-sized lots mean some residents are packed in closer than ever.

Manteca real estate agent Gina Gillotte recently complained to the mayor about late-night parties on her block. The revelers didn’t seem fazed by police warnings.

“I have great respect for the police and law enforcement,” Gillotte said. “I know coming out to a party is not a top priority. … I also believe I have a right and my children have a right to live in a peaceful neighborhood.”

Noise reports typically increase as spring waxes into summer, police say. Residents can file complaints, but that requires signing papers, which many are unwilling to do.

Indeed, all four complaints about a garage band on Mission Ridge Drive came from anonymous callers.

Much of the conflict in rural communities likely comes from two groups: those who move there to escape the clamor of the big city, and those who want freedom to make as much noise as they want, said Ted Rueter, director of the advocacy group Noise Free America in Indianapolis.

“People have this sense of entitlement on their own properties,” Rueter said. “They’re often not very conscious of how much noise they make, and they really don’t care.”

But noise has been identified as a major annoyance and even a health hazard across the country, he said. It can damage hearing, increase blood pressure and lead to massive headaches. It might affect a child’s ability to learn.

The amount of noise has jumped sixfold in major U.S. cities over the past 15 years. Technology has advanced, making stereos bigger and louder, and more people mean more lawn mowers and leaf blowers, he said.

“There really is no escape,” Rueter said.

Noise ordinances vary across the country, and the fines typically are not enough to deter someone who has invested thousands of dollars in a high-end car stereo system, for example, Rueter said.

In Manteca, excessive noise can lead to misdemeanor charges and potential fines. The Police Department has a decibel meter to measure sound, but officials say the device is used rarely, because most noisemakers comply after a warning.

Ovieda’s neighbors didn’t come to their doors to share how they feel about his music. But they might want to brace themselves: Ovieda, a junior at Manteca High School, has taken a job at Carl’s Jr. for cash to buy bigger amplifiers.

He says his band, Relentless, is about making good music, not making enemies.

And he promises to keep the garage door down.