New Orleans City Council prepares to tackle the noise ordinance — again

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Glen David Andrews, right, during a noise ordinance protest inside New Orleans City Council chambers at City Hall in January 2014. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Glen David Andrews, right, during a noise ordinance protest inside New Orleans City Council chambers at City Hall in January 2014.

Despite a grueling, contentious two-year effort to update the city's noise ordinance, the New Orleans City Council fell short last year when it failed even to pass a whittled-down version, focused only on Bourbon Street.

Now District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey — who replaced outgoing Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer in the district seat representing the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny — is introducing new legislation to tackle noise in the French Quarter. While Ramsey's ordinance largely picks up where the council had left off, there are some tweaks to the measure.

"I am introducing this instrument for the purpose of initiating a thorough public debate on this important issue in my district," Ramsey wrote in a statement to Gambit. "With a couple of important exceptions, the ordinance introduced yesterday, like the ordinance considered in April of last year by my predecessor, only affects the Vieux Carre Entertainment (VCE) and Vieux Carre Entertainment-1 (VCE-1) zoning districts. I am not necessarily committed to everything being proposed by this ordinance and intend to ensure that this issue is fully and publicly vetted by all interested parties."

With two years' discussion and debate behind the council, Ramsey said the issue already has been "extensively reviewed, researched and debated" and "experts were hired and reports were published, analyzed and discussed." Ramsey said she will rely on those recommendations from the first noise ordinance draft, as well as "public discussion where all interested parties have an opportunity to weigh in."

When that public discussion will begin was not specified.

"We will work with the French Quarter residents, musicians, business owners, other interested citizens and organizations like the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MACCNO) in hopes of facilitating a consensus," Ramsey said. "I do not anticipate a specific time line for consideration of this proposal other than to say we should deliberate this important issue for as long as it takes for all parties to provide their input."

Ramsey's office did not consult with Mayor Mitch Landrieu or with Scott Hutcheson, Advisor to the Mayor for Cultural Economy, in drafting the ordinance.

As written, Ramsey's ordinance leaves enforcement under the New Orlean Health Department and New Orleans Police Department (rather than hand it over completely to the health department, which Palmer had proposed). Both departments would be responsible for noise monitoring, reviewing permits and handing out violations.

Ramsey's ordinance also does not remove the current law's curfew in place for street musicians, which Palmer and others called unconstitutional, as it is not equally applied to all people making noise after a certain time. Last year, City Attorney Sharonda Williams said that the city cannot and will not enforce the curfew — though it still remains on the books, along with the rest of the 60-year-old noise ordinance.

As The New Orleans Advocate's Jeff Adelson reported earlier this year, the city hired a new sound specialist following outgoing consultant David Woolworth, who wrote an extensive report with recommendations to the City Council and had suggested its rules and sound limits were too restrictive and difficult to enforce. The new consultant, Monica Hammer, has a background in noise pollution and its impacts on public health (compared to Woolworth's background in music) and is working with the city's health department to "inform residents about the health effects of noise and ways they can protect themselves" along with training and department procedures in accordance with the current laws and forthcoming noise ordinance.

In its response to Ramsey's ordinance introduction, MACCNO wrote a statement to Gambit:
The ordinance seems to be very similar to the April 2014 ordinance, which we supported. However, the new ordinance does not address the unconstitutional curfew on street musicians, which still must be repealed — either with this ordinance or through separate legislation. We haven't taken a stance on this ordinance yet, because, like most, we were surprised to see it introduced at yesterday's council meeting and are still examining its potential impact. We are quite disappointed that, after previous versions of this ordinance created heated debate and a number of calls for transparency, Councilmember Ramsey's office chose to introduce this ordinance with no public notice.
Gambit has contacted Landrieu's office and NOPD for comment.

Update: NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble told Gambit the department supports the health department as the ordinance's enforcement agency, though NOPD will be working with the City Council on the latest measure.

Landrieu press secretary Brad Howard told Gambit that "it is essential that whatever is adopted repeals the unconstitutional curfew for street musicians, which was a core objective of our past efforts."

"Additionally, given the manpower constraints of NOPD, the Health Department should administer enforcement of the final program," he said.

"Although the Administration was not involved in the drafting of the ordinance, we look forward to working with Councilmember Ramsey and the Council on a sound ordinance that balances the public health threat excessive sound levels can cause, along with the enforceability of the laws and the respect of our culture and traditions. In the past, we worked on a reasonable compromise among all the parties. We are a city of music and a city of neighborhoods — we will work with the City Council and stakeholders to strike a balance so that we can ensure the best quality of life for our residents and maintain the city's world-renowned local music scene."

You can read Ramsey's draft ordinance below:

See related PDF ramseysoundordinance.pdf

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