The Citizens Noise Advisory Group and Albuquerque, New Mexico’s New Noise Code
by Stephen O. Frazier
It was in the fall of 1988 when, like the newscaster in “Network,” I decided that I had had enough and wasn’t going to take it anymore.”
Enough loud “background” music. Enough outdoor amplified pagers bouncing through the neighborhood from the nearby car dealer. Enough radio station remote sound trucks blasting in the shopping center parking lot. Enough traffic roar from the speeders on the road two miles away. Enough noise! Enough! I had to do something.
I began researching noise and its bad effects on mental and physical health on the Internet with the hope that I might find enough background material to write an article that one of the city’s major newspapers might publish. I also contacted the city’s Environmental Health Department for information on the noise control and abatement program run by the city.
Soon I was shooting articles pieces off to various publications and, to my delight, getting some of them published not only in the local press but in national publications. I was on a roll! People were interested in noise–I wasn’t a nut case.
This success let me to pressure contacts had developed in the Health Department to have a citizens committee appointed to develop a stronger noise control strategy for Albuquerque, a city of over half a million that was growing noisier by the day. Although there was some interest in the idea at the Health Department (and they set up a meeting with others who had contacted the department with suggestions similar to mine), nothing resulted from the initial meeting. This was my first warning that while protecting our health, the department was suffering from a severe case of bureaucratic inertia with possibly a touch of paranoia.
The newspaper had carried a story about a local group fighting airport noise and I had saved it. I contacted the president of that group and told her of my desire to create a citizen’s group (independent of city government) to work for changes in the noise code and policies of Albuquerque. She supported the effort and wanted to be included.
We put together a list of activists who were willing to work on the project, met, and named ourselves the Citizen’s Noise Advisory Group (CNAG).
The group included the president of a large neighborhood Association, a psychologist, a speech therapist, an environmental scientist, an electrical engineer, and a representative from the local chapter of a national environmental group. We invited the Chamber of Commerce to provide a representative but they said nobody on their Quality of Life Committee was interested. We also invited the Environmental Health Department to appoint a liaison from their office to sit in on our meetings.
I had secured the noise codes of 36 American and foreign cities comparable in size to Albuquerque.
At our first meeting, these were distributed among the group and everyone was provided a copy of the local code. They each got copies of a sample noise code written by Professor Eric Zwerling, Director of the Rutgers University Noise Technical Assistance Center. They also were given a paper on developing noise codes by Professor Federico Miyara from the University of Rosario in Argentina.
At this first meeting, we developed a plan to create a report on noise in our city that we would then present to the Mayor, the City Council, and the Environmental Health Department. The report would include both recommended changes to the noise code and changes to city polices for dealing with noise.
The report was to be patterned after similar documents that had been developed in Vancouver and Denver. Although both of those reports were created by governmentally sponsored groups, they were an excellent outline for us to follow.
Beginning in 1996, the city of Albuquerque had commissioned a study of ambient noise. When it was completed, it was put away and not used. Its findings and recommendations had been sequestered in the darkest corners of the Health Department, never to see the light of day again for over two years.
In 1997, a second study was commissioned by the city, measuring citizen perceptions of noise in the city. It met the same fate; it only surfaced after we whispered into the ears of enough representatives of the fourth estate that the city was forced to release it.
Through the federal Freedom of Information Act, was able to secure a copy of the first study and then the Health Department provided us with copies of the second. I copied the report for all group members. As word of our endeavor became public, the second study was finally presented to the City Council a year and a half after it was completed; they have yet to see the initial (and far more comprehensive) study that they paid for.
We now had hard data on Albuquerque noise to back up our planned report. At our second meeting, the CNAG members compared notes on the various codes we had read, offering suggestions for changes to our code based on what we had found. We began a process of reviewing our code one paragraph at a time and then altering or accepting it by majority vote. Often we would adapt a clause from the code of another city. At other times we would create our own wording, aimed at addressing specific problems raised by those who attended a public meeting we held.
At times we had to do additional research to make sure we understood how the changes would work and be implemented. We consulted with audiologists and others on specific problems.
We held a public meeting to explain what we were doing and solicited input from the citizenry. We conducted a noise survey developed by the Noise Center of the League for the Hard of Hearing for use in their International Noise Awareness Day observance and used its findings for guidance.
Throughout this process, we worked closely with supportive members of the Environmental Health Department. As time passed, city officials created their own Interdepartmental Committee on Noise and began an effort to examine noise policy and possible changes. They were provided with current information on our deliberations and ideas and we got feedback as to possible support or opposition from various city departments.
Our primary concern was to create a stronger noise\ code and a better method of dealing with all aspects of noise on the part of city government. We did not shy away from making recommendations were opposed by the solid waste or police departments. Our concern was the peace and the health of the citizens of Albuquerque–not the convenience of city employees. We did, however, attempt to be realistic in our recommendations. We realized that an improved code was a possibility, while an ideal code was not.
By October 1999, after months of biweekly meetings, we completed our deliberations, produced and revised several drafts of our city Noise Report, and were finished with that portion of our undertaking. Copies of the report were distributed to the Mayor, the City Council, the Director of the Health Department, the media, and others. A follow-up meeting was scheduled with the Mayor to discuss our report.
Fortunately, the Mayor took a strong interest in the noise issue. His office (working with the Environmental Health Department) introduced a revised noise code to the Council for their consideration. The code contained most of the recommendations made in our report (in most cases, using our exact wording).
Any time someone contacted us with their noise complaints, we suggested that they complain to the Mayor’s office as well. Apparently, many people did.
We also began a public relations campaign. We succeeded in getting several newspaper and TV news stories about noise. We began sending weekly sound bites to the City Council and the media.
A Council committee held several public hearings on the noise code revision and we fought vigorously for changes in several Health Department policies. We also fought to get some of our recommended provisions included in the bill that had been left out. In all but a few instances, the Council included our amendments in the bill.
In February 2001, the new noise code was passed by the Council and signed into law by the Mayor. All of this hard work did not produce an exemplary noise code–it simply updated our twenty-year-old law to deal new or worsening problems.
Certain City policies and procedures are already under review as a result of our efforts and publicity campaign. The process for dealing with barking dogs is being scrutinized, and there is greater cooperation between the police and the Health Department in dealing with noise complaints.
Our next steps are to pass a revised, stronger noise code and to create a watchdog within city government.
Letters and phone calls have helped us to develop a substantial mailing list. We have instituted a quarterly newsletter and have established a permanent non-profit organization to carry on our work. A generous grant from the Intel Corporation paid for reproducing our report and the costs of gaining non-profit status.
As the purpose of the group has changed, we have changed our name to the Citizens for a Quiet Environment. We have become the local sponsor of International Noise Awareness Day, are developing a noise education program to be presented to school children, Scout troops and others.
The Noise Pollution Clearinghouse has graciously provided us with our own web site that is tied to their very extensive web site. Much of our research was facilitated by the wealth of information contained at http://www.nonoise.org and we thank the NPC for their efforts against noise pollution.
Our full City Noise Report, the City’s overlooked noise study, our local sound bites, the new city noise code, and other information developed by CNAG are available to all at:
We thank the following individuals for their generous assistance to the cause of noise reduction in Albuquerque:
DR. ARLINE BRONZAFT: Professor Emeritus, Lehman College, CUNY; Psychologist; Member, New York City Council on the Environment; Co-Chair, International Noise Awareness Day; Consultant on Noise Abatement, New York City Transit Authority
PETER DONNELLY: President, Right to Quiet Society, Vancouver.
PROFESSOR FEDERICO MIYARA: Director of the Acoustics and Electro acoustics Laboratory, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina; Member, Scientific Interdisciplinary Ecology and Noise Committee.
KATHLEEN WARNER: Clinical Audiologist (special training in industrial hearing loss), Lovelace Medical Center.
HESSEL YNTEMA: Attorney, Albuquerque, New Mexico; special interest in interest in zoning and planning law; former member, Albuquerque City Council.
ERIC M. ZWERLING: Director, Rutgers University Noise Technical Assistance Center.