June 1, 2007
Noise Free America
For immediate release
Madison: Washington, DC has won this month’s Noisy Dozen award from Noise Free America for passing a 2004 loophole in the city’s noise law which allows unlimited decibel levels of amplified, non-commercial speech from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm anywhere in the city–including residential neighborhoods. There are no limits on loudness and permits are not required.
The loophole allows unreasonable and uncooperative groups to operate a battery-operated amplifier at decibel levels equal to a rock concert (110 decibels).
David Klavitter, a District of Columbia resident and community volunteer, stated that “while every urban dweller must expect a certain amount of noise, the city must look at the health and safety issue as defined by decibels–and not focus on content. Residents and businesses subject to extreme noise don’t advocate moving anyone from any street corner. We support freedom of speech. However, we also believe in the community’s right to the pursuit of peace and quiet. Every person is entitled to ambient noise levels that are not detrimental to life, health, and the enjoyment of personal property.”
Klavitter writes a blog about noise issues in Washington, DC, at www.questforquiet.blogspot.com.
A freshman District Councilman, Tommy Wells, is deeply concerned about the noise situation in Washington. Because of the legal loophole, “residents as far as three blocks away can’t open their windows or work in their yards without being subject to the amplified noise. As a result of the legal loophole, DC officials cannot do anything” to get groups to turn down their speakers to a more reasonable level. Wells states that “several attempts at mediation have been unsuccessful.” One group’s messages have been a thunderous 75 to 92 decibels.
Councilman Wells notes that this noise is not merely an annoyance–it’s a health hazard: “According to OSHA, 8 hours of noise at 85 dB creates permanent hearing loss. And according to the EPA, exposure to 70 decibels or more for 24 hours will cause measurable hearing loss over a lifetime.”
Councilman Wells, who represents Ward 6, has introduced the “Noise Control Protection Amendment of 2007,” to close this egregious loophole and protect the public health. His proposal would penalize non-commercial speech that is louder than 70 decibels at a distance of 50 feet from the source. City officials could impose a maximum penalty for noise violations of $1,000. The bill would use the “reasonable person” standard in DC law, which outlaws “loud and raucous” noise, or noise that “unreasonably disturbs the peace and quiet of a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.”
Ted Rueter, Noise Free America’s director, stated that “the loophole in DC law is outrageous. There is no constitutional right to make noise. Every noise ordinance that has ever been challenged has been upheld by the courts.”
Rueter also compared DC’s noise ordinance to the efforts of New York City: “New York City is light years ahead of Washington in terms of restricting noise. New York City has instituted “Operation Silent Night,” which targets loud car stereos, noisy nightclubs, and blaring car alarms. New York has also instituted a Quality of Life hotline inside the mayor’s office, to facilitate resolution of noise complaints. New York issues around 7,000 noise citations each year-which results in around 1,000 arrests for outstanding warrants. Washington should follow the Big Apple’s lead.”
Noise Free America is a national citizens organization opposed to noise pollution. Past “winners” of the Noisy Dozen award include Congressman Darrell Issa, Governor Jesse Ventura, and Circuit City. Noise Free America’s web site is www.noisefree.org.