In January 2011, the City Council hired David S. Woolworth of Oxford Acoustics to study the City’s soundscape and to provide recommendations on how regulations and enforcement could strike a balance between commercial enterprise and quality of life issues. After 18 months of research and community input, the report “New Orleans Sound Ordinance and Soundscape Evaluation and Recommendations” was released in August 2013. This report considers 200 years of New Orleans history and contains precise scientific recommendations for measuring and controlling sound levels.
On Dec. 19, 2013 the City Council introduced an ordinance that contradicts recommendations of the report they commissioned in virtually every substantive way including the location of the sound meter, the metrics used for sound readings, and the suggested decibel limits. These departures were not driven by professional or popular opinion, but by a wealthy lobbying group called the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents, and Associates (VCPORA). Much of the City Council's proposed ordinance is taken verbatim from VCPORA's own plan: 7 Essential Items to Make New Orleans' Noise Ordinance Fair and Functional.â€ These are not the only publicly proposed recommendations that have been presented to the city. MACCNO, in concert with a diverse group of musicians, businesses, residents, patrons, and culture bearers, issued its own principles for a new noise ordinance, the key tenets of which align completely with the report issued by Oxford Accoustics. As of this writing, these principles have support from more than 1,800 citizens and counting.
1. Location of the sound meter: The Oxford Acoustics report commissioned by the city calls for sound level measurements to be made at the receiving land use property line, while their proposed ordinance recommends the opposite, as close to the property line of the emanating land use as is practicable.” This change from the receivingâ€ to the emanatingâ€ property line will drastically lower acceptable sound levels and was specifically urged by VCPORA in Essential Item #3â€ of their 7-point plan.
2. Metrics used for sound reading: The Oxford Acoustics report commissioned by the city recommends measuring average loudness for the duration of the sound reading (dBA Leq and dBC Leq), but the proposed ordinance uses a more sensitive measurement (dBA L10 and dBA Lmax). The change to this measuring system, requested by VCPORA in Essential Items #6 and #7,â€ will result in much higher readings for the same sound levels.
3. Suggested decibel limits in the French Quarter: Decibel limits in the city's proposed ordinance are far lower than those recommended in their commissioned report and are 100% identical to those put forth in VCPORA's 7-point plan:
|VCR < 10pm||VCR > 10pm||VCC < 10pm||VCC > 10pm|
|Oxford Acousticrecommended levels||75 dBA(85 dBC)||55 dBA(65 dBC)||75 dBA(85 dBC)||60 dBA(70 dBC)|
|levels requested by VCPORA and adopted in proposed city ordinance||60 dBA L10(Lmax70)
|55 dBA L10,(Lmax60)||65 dBA L10(Lmax75)||60 dBA L10(Lmax65)|
VCPORA's 7-point plan was so controversial and unpopular that earlier this year the group canceled their press conference to unveil it. Now, after City Council members have met in closed door meetings with VCPORA members, the 7-point plan has apparently been unceremoniously dropped into a citywide ordinance that will lower acceptable sound levels and crush economic development from Freret to Frenchmen to Florida Avenue. All of this based on a few noise complaints brought by a handful of French Quarter residents.
City Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer released this statement: “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.â€
The proposal did not originate from Councilmember Palmer’s office, it was taken directly from VCPORA’s 7-point plan. The unacceptable aspect of Palmer’s statement is the idea that it’s an appropriate starting point for a discussion on the noise ordinance. Palmer’s office commissioned the Oxford Acoustics 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.