What happened to the new noise ordinance?

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Before New Orleans City Council met at its regular meeting yesterday, several groups stirred that a "new" noise ordinance would be introduced — one that wasn't based on acoustician and sound expert David Woolworth's report commissioned by the City Council in 2011. Yesterday, City Council introduced its draft of a noise ordinance, sponsored by all council members. Of course, that ordinance has not yet been discussed in any public meeting or City Council committee, so the ordinance was read into the record on first reading.

Advocacy group the Music & Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MACCNO) warned that the proposed ordinance is similar to the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates' (VCPORA) document "7 Essential Items to Make Our Noise Ordinance Work for the City of New Orleans," which was supposed to be released at a press conference that never happened in June 2013. City Council, MACCNO and VCPORA have grappled with redrafting the city's noise ordinance for more than a year.

Though MACCNO and VCPORA find some common ground on a noise ordinance, particularly in enforcement and regulation, MACCNO has voiced concern over VCPORA's recommended sound levels. In his 87-page report to City Council, Woolworth proposes higher decibel limits than currently allowed. The draft introduced in City Council chambers mirrors the sound levels proposed by VCPORA, including that the French Quarter's maximum sound level in residential areas between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. would be lowered to 70 decibels (they currently are capped at 80), and in commercial areas, that level would be reduced to 75 (from its current 80). On Bourbon Street, the maximum decibel level would be capped at 85 (the current ordinance sets a 10 decibel maximum above the ambient noise level).

Woolworth's report also recommended that the city measure sound at the property line on the sound's receiving end. The proposed ordinance, however, says that the sound level cannot exceed the limits beyond the source of the sound.

Yesterday, District C council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer — who made drafting a new noise ordinance one of her priorities when she took office in 2010 — released a statement in response to the wave of criticism from musicians and club owners who feared the ordinance could potentially turn their volume knobs down to "off," and in response to those who feared City Council had passed a measure in the cover of the holiday rush:

"Rather, a proposal was introduced today in an attempt to offer a starting point for public consideration and discussion. The ordinance that was introduced today did not originate from my office, but I signed on to it because I support its intention: to carry on an important dialog and get us closer to a sound ordinance that is fair and objective."

Palmer added that she supports the seven-point plan, saying it has "received widespread support from all sections of the community and is significantly based on the Woolworth report that I commissioned," despite Woolworth's report arriving in August and VCPORA's plan arriving much earlier in the year. She also praised MACCNO, adding, "It is my desire and expectation that we will continue to work together to develop this proposal so that it is agreeable to the broad and diverse New Orleans community."

Today, MACCNO responded with a statement, saying "Palmer’s office commissioned [Woolworth's] report for the sole purpose of noise ordinance recommendations, and after two years taking community comments and attempting to balance a variety of competing interests, this is the logical place to begin the discussion. ... The ordinance drafted by VCPORA and proposed by the City Council makes a mockery of a 'transparent' policy process by disregarding a scientific report from a professional audiologist in favor of the whims of a select few. The draft must be redacted and replaced by one that is based on the city commissioned report for ordinance recommendations."

The ordinance will be the subject of at least one community meeting and one City Council committee meeting (likely Housing and Human Needs) before it is brought into a "real" council meeting for a real debate next year.

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