Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bad Policy or Do I Just Need to Cut Loose?

Before addressing the issue at hand; the recently passed noise ordinance, I will disclose some of my life experiences to establish that I am not just a curmudgeon trying to ruin everyone's fun. While we have all "heard" the anecdotal stories related to having a bit too much to drink I will admit that I lived through a lot of them as an undergraduate at Mary Washington College. And while I did not worship at the altar to Led Zeppelin, much to my 17 year old son's disgust, I was known to crank up Bad Company, Pink Floyd, and of course the classic party song "Back in the Saddle" by Aerosmith.

I was for a time content to maintain my arrested state of development until meeting a lovely young lady, to whom I have now been married for the past 30 years, who gave me a swift kick in the (expletive deleted) back onto the road of life. Today I still enjoy cranking up the music of my youth (hearing loss) along with having a Guinness or two with friends. So I have been there and done that--though some of it is still a bit hazy. With my party credentials established we can now go back to the Noise Ordinance.

The city's Noise Ordinance had to be revised ( based on recent court decisions. What should have been just another exercise in over complicating a relatively simple issue ( a discussion for another day) was turned up a notch when the Council wanted additional information on whether other localities made special allowances for their downtown commercial districts. Specifically, what were the hours of enforcement. Staff checked (5) localities, Fairfax, Virginia Beach, Alexandria, Williamsburg, and Charlottesville. All five mirrored our ordinance--"... specifying the time of 11:00p.m. as the hour at which common noise disturbances must end..."

In presenting the ordinance staff, based on previous comments from Council, provided an option to push forward the time to 1:00a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights in the downtown commercial district. No recommendations regarding the options were made by staff or requested by Council. The motion, with this change to 1 a.m., passed 6 to 1 with yours truly dissenting. No public statements were made by the majority providing a rationale for changing the time. My reason for not supporting the motion was nothing was presented to support the need for a change that could negatively impact downtown residents.

So why did we make the change? No one or group from the downtown business community requested it. As far as I'm aware no effort was made to discuss this with the downtown business community to determine their views or those of downtown residents. No other localities were identified that have adopted such a change. And no reasons were presented, in public, to support it? The reasons provided after the meeting centered on revenue.

It was suggested that to limit noise downtown before 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights (actually a misnomer with the times actually being 1 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings) could negatively impact revenue and by extending the hours (noise) more revenue could be generated. So the assumption was that more or less noise downtown had a direct correlation with revenue raised by the purchase of alcohol. I say alcohol because not a lot of food in purchased between 11p.m. and 1a.m. Nothing was presented to support that assumption. My guess is no such effort to establish such a correlation has been attempted.

It was also suggested that there are those who will leave an establishment if the band has to stop playing at 11p.m. There is nothing to support that music will have to stop at 11p.m. just because of the noise ordinance. And again nothing was presented to support the supposition that a when a band stops playing sales drop. Finally, having observed the clientele leaving the bars downtown at closing time first hand with our police department I would have to say I heard and saw a lot that would earn at least an R-rating but I don't remember any comments about the bands.

Finally it was put forward that by not extending the time to 1 a.m. could possibly result in people going elsewhere like to the neighboring counties. Yet I didn't hear any questions during the discussions on the ordinance on how the counties handle noise. I couldn't tell you what hours, if any, the counties set in their noise ordinance and I will go out on a limb and say that none of my colleagues do either. So how do you take such a position when you have nothing to support it?

And what about the impact of this change on downtown residents? Well, I was told, you have to expect some inconveniences when you live in a downtown setting--I agree. I agree that living downtown presents parking problems and the level of activity is such that residents do have to deal with more commotion that do residents in neighborhoods. Does that mean we are justified in adding to those inconveniences? Not unless there is some positive results that are derived that could justify the added inconvenience. In the case of extending the hours of the noise ordinance nothing was presented, nor questions asked, or information requested, that could support such a result.

The issue here is not whether the noise ordinance sets quiet time at 11p.m. or 1a.m. Frankly, I see nothing that supports the position that it will have any effect on revenue generation; but it may keep downtown residents up a little later on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday morning. What is at issue here is that a decision was made without any supporting documentation, or questions asked, to determine the impact of the change. An unsupported assumption was made and a vote taken without any comment from those who supported the change on why it was being done. Is this the way to deal with any issue that come before Council?

So was this a bad policy decision or should I break out the Mad Dog and 151, crank-up the 8-track player, and cut loose!


nponews said...

Dear Matt,
This is an interesting philosophical discussion about the indecipherable processes of lawmaking in Fredericksburg. But you leave us without information. Be frank.
Somewhere between the bare knuckles style of DC and the oh-so-genteel style of F'burg, there must be room for you to be frank about politics, defined as: who gets what, when, where and how do they get it.
So, who (by name, specifically) wanted the time changed to 1am, why did they want it changed, and how did they persuade council to vote to change it? Really, what is this about?
Jan Ryan

Barbara Fant said...

If other Council members had solicited the views of their constituents--the 30 percent of residents who vote in local elections, not students and others who frequent downtown bars--they would have voted with you to keep the noise ordinance in effect every night after 11:00 PM.
I live within half a block of one such bar, though across the line of the CBD, and the noise level of patrons wandering the streets for an hour after closing, that is, between 1:00 and 2:00 AM, not only on weekends, but most nights of the week, band or no band, is intolerable.
Why should one have to be waked up and call the police to ask them to quiet drunks in the middle of the night? Who would doubt that it's the Council's desire for more sales of liquor? They need to "wake up and smell the coffee" of what city residents think of public drunkenness and noise. If more of their constituents thought it would make any difference, they might turn out to vote.
Thank you for asking!

MATT KELLY said...

Jan--Unless I am out of the loop I am not aware of any request coming to the Council to support this change. Nor does it look like there was any effort by Council members to discuss this issue with either business interests or residents downtown. My read is that Council believed that extending the time would have a positive impact on revenue. Again nothing was ever put forward to support that position.Frankly, if asked, I don't think the downtown business community would agree that extending the time in the noise ordinance, or keeping it as is, would have any effect on their bottom line. Again, my issue is that the Council had nothing to support, nor did they explain why, they took this position.

Paul said...

Does this mean that I can open my front doors or install speakers outside my store & let the music play until after midnight, as long as it only carries 50' from my door?
Paul Cymrot @ Riverby Books

MATT KELLY said...

Paul--Only if you are consuming a fine alcoholic beverage from one of our fine dining establishments downtown while you are doing it-- Just kidding. You can continue to entertain until 1a.m.

nponews said...

Which council person introduced this bill? Someone must have asked someone on council to introduce the bill.

MATT KELLY said...

Jan--No one brought the noise ordinance forward. As stated, it had to be rewritten to come into compliance with recent court rulings. The issue of a different standard for downtown was brought up at our previous meeting resulting in Chief Nye looking into what other jurisdictions did as alluded to in the post. Staff presented the 1 a.m. option based on comments from the Council at the previous meeting. I don't believe any specific member pushed to have it presented as an option. The motion to pass it with the 1 a.m. time for downtown was made by George and seconded by Mary Katherine. This was not a conspiracy but rather a decision, in my opinion, made without much forethought beyond an unsubstantiated belief that it would result in more revenue.

nponews said...

This is good information. So it was just a staff recommendation. The next questions are (1) why is staff recommending a fix for something that apparently isn't broken (2) why is staff recommending a fix without talking with the downtown businesses or residents who will be affected (3) why is council voting on this without any information. It really is true that every ordinance can't be subject to public hearings and local polling, but you ask a great question about why this change was enacted.
Jan Ryan

Anonymous said...

Matt -

Two Ways to look at it:

1. Residents of downtown who moved to the area between Lafayette Blvd and (approx) Amelia on Caroline in particular (and to a lesser extent Sophia and Princess Anne, including the side streets in between), generally came after the advent of "Bars" in Downtown. Do not come to the noise and then complain. It's like moving next to a Fraternity House and not realizing there might be parties next door. If not downtown for live music then Where?

2. Why special treatment? Fine for Establishments to stay open later, but if they are looking to provide later night entertainment, they should arrange for it to be contained within their 4 walls. Of Course this would eliminate Brock's ability to use it's deck, Eliminate TruLuv's ability to use it's deck, etc. after 11. Brocks has been doing outdoor activities for years (as did moonlighting before it).

What is the balance between Curmudgeon and community sentiment. Of course community sentiment was soooo strong no one commented...

Anonymous said...

Read the actual recommendation

MATT KELLY said...

Again, the original proposal submitted by staff, the meeting prior to the last one, there was no mention of moving the time to 1a.m. for downtown. It was added into the mix only for the second read based on comments from Council members. I don't believe either the downtown business community nor residents were consulted or made aware that the City was to consider changing the time. Based on the point made by the police chief that he found no other localities that gave special treatment to their commercial downtowns I went into the meeting expecting to pass the staff's initial recommendation of 11p.m. None of my colleagues had contacted me before the meeting to express support for the 1a.m. time change for downtown. Finally, the issue remains--there was no discussion or documentation submitted by staff or members of Council to support the need for the change in time. I'm a bit perplexed by comments that have been made that if it was a staff recommendation that this somehow changes things. I have great respect for city staff but I don't always agree with their positions.

Anonymous said...

Here's how to end the noisy boombox plague:
Ask some poor wretch if he'd like to have a ten- or twenty-dollar bill. If his answer is Yes, tell him about your noisy boombox neighbor and then say:
"The money is yours if you can figure out something so I won't have to hear that guy's boombox again. Don't kill him or beat him up. But do whatever you have to do to silence that Hollywoodized lowlife!"
Believe me, this is VERY effective. Heard of the VAB's? They're the "Vigilantes Against Boomboxes." Or you can start your own vigilante group.
Reactions, anyone?

[I live in Mitchell County, Kansas]

Jan said...

Dear Mitchell County KS,
This works in Mitchell Cty?

Anonymous said...

I believe that in addition to being rewritten to come into compliance with recent court rulings, Fredericksburg's noise ordinance needed to be altered because it was vague to say the least. How can you expect to enforce "an unreasonable volume" unless constituents and those that enforce it know exactly what that is.
It's a waste of police officer's time to come to a bar multiple times on weekend nights and write citations especially when a judge dismisses them because they're a waste of his time.
I'm sorry but if you move in next to a drinking establishment, don't expect it to be quiet at all times. Those drinking establishments pay more money in taxes than your residence.