Acoustician David Woolworth was hired in 2012 to study noise in New Orleans and produce a report, which he did in August 2013. That report seemed to have been ignored when a draft of a controversial sound ordinance was introduced in December. Council members withdrew that draft last month after widespread public protest and said they planned to introduce a revised version, but those plans were scrapped as well.
Now outgoing District C City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer has introduced a resolution to keep Woolworth on contract with the city through 2014.
Woolworth's contract extension was the prelude to the Jan. 27 Housing and Human Needs committee meeting where the tabling of the proposed ordinance was announced. The City Council may have a new draft ready by April. At the meeting, council members listened to two hours of public comments and talked about what's next.
Palmer said the ordinance as introduced last month was meant to gauge public opinion — which was not good, she added. (Musicians armed with instruments protested in Duncan Plaza and then peacefully stormed City Hall Jan. 17.) The draft was "meant to further the conversation" and gather feedback, Palmer said.
The withdrawn draft of the French Quarter-focused ordinance would reduce the maximum sound level to 75 decibels (it currently is 80) in commercial areas. The maximum would be 85 in Bourbon Street's first eight blocks. It currently is 10 decibels above the ambient level, or 60 decibels, depending on which is higher.
Council members insisted the ordinance isn't about shutting down live music but zeroing in on problem businesses, of which there are only a handful. David Freedman, general manager of WWOZ-FM, said enforcement of the existing laws should begin "before you start teasing out the decibels." He also said the drafting process has been "quirky and murky at best."
The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans said the drafting of any new sound ordinance should include equal representation from three groups: local residents; musicians and "culture bearers"; and representatives of the businesses affected and the hospitality industry.
Charlotte Parent, interim director of the New Orleans Health Department, announced the relaunch of the city's environmental health program, which will focus on enforcing noise violations with $250,000 in funding from the French Market Corporation. Enforcement will be limited to the French Quarter.