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Noise about noise

Sound expert urges city to protect 'culture bearers'

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  Members of the music community, noise opponents and city officials met at the New Orleans City Council Housing and Human Needs Committee Aug. 19. The meeting hosted acoustician and sound expert David Woolworth, who was hired in 2011 to unpack the city's current noise ordinance, research New Orleans noise conditions and make recommendations for an updated set of noise ordinances.

  Woolworth's 87-page report (not including more than 120 pages of appendices) makes four immediate recommendations: address low-frequency sound; simplify enforcement of violations in the Vieux Carre Entertainment District; make violations civil and not criminal; and make enforcement a priority. (The current noise ordinance hands enforcement to the city's Health Department, while the New Orleans Police Department handles noise as a quality-of-life concern in response to complaints.)

  "We have a problem with consistent enforcement," Woolworth said. City Council vice president Stacy Head agreed there should be immediate enforcement of existing ordinances.

  Woolworth's other recommendations include launching a website to track complaints, setting a sound level cap for Bourbon Street and expanding tourism options beyond the French Quarter, the hotbed of most noise complaints related to music.

  The report also recommended finding solutions other than legislation and enforcement to protect street performers and "culture bearers," from jazz funerals to second-line parades. "Care should be taken to distinguish these cultural expressions from commercialized versions of the same," the report reads.

  On Sunday evening, Houston sound expert Arno Bommer wrote a response to Woolworth's report at the request of two groups — Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates (VCPORA) and French Quarter Citizens. Bommer wrote that Woolworth's recommendations would make the noise ordinance "more lenient" and "would result in increased noise levels around the city, making conditions worse for residents who are already adversely affected by high noise levels." (Woolworth recommended a limit of 91 decibels in entertainment areas, rather than the current 10 decibels above the ambient sound level.)

  Musician and Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MACCNO) member Hannah Kreiger-Benson asked council members for transparency going forward in the ordinance rewriting process, adding that musicians and residents are the same thing, and the legislation's language should reflect that. — ALEX WOODWARD


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