Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Noise Pollution Ordinance is the not so “green” elephant in Mayoral and City Council election

Noise pollution is a green issue and is now recognized as a health issue.
St. Petersburg Fl
Public Opinion by author: Robert Neff

The City ordinance refers to the noise issue as Noise Pollution, however, the police nature of incident list has noise as a noise nuisance. Either way, noise pollution is not the "GREEN" elephant in the room. Mayor Kriseman is wasting residents tax dollars by not enforcing the City Ordinance. So, what are the St. Petersburg Mayoral and City Council candidates’ positions on the City Noise Pollution Ordinance? 

Mayor Kriseman has abandoned his fiduciary responsibility to the City and its residents. By not enforcing the Ordinance for Noise Pollution, the police have spent over an estimated $250,000 for police to respond to resident’s noise calls and never issue a citation for a business or residence. Those taxpayer dollars could have been used to fight sewage or crime.

While this is a conservative and estimated cost analysis, the city could use the data model to approximate the cost for residents to call police dispatch and send officers to investigate. This does not include the crime calls to these businesses with repeat noise calls.

Noise pollution is a green issue and is now recognized as a health issue. Noise studies by OSHA, World Health Organization and academic research discuss the negative impact noise has on the health. Noise studies discuss the difference between audible, which is easy to dampen, and low frequency noise that is more powerful, can travel long distances, is omnidirectional, where can penetrate buildings as a thumping similar to a boom box on a car and reflect off buildings.
  • The health concerns for low frequency noise are well documented, and of particular note in the study are:
  • The main complaints came from the 55-70 years age group
  • The noise was often close to inaudibility and heard by a minority of people
  • Low frequency noise radiates at approximately the same level in all directions
  • The noise was typically audible indoors and not outdoors
  • Can also pose serious health risks such as hearing loss, stress, and threats to mental and social well-being.
Yet, Mayor Kriseman and Police Chief Holloway have refused to enforce the City Ordinance for Noise Pollution. While the City has struggled with enforcement and revising the city ordinance, the City had noise pollution all wrong. Downtown bars are not the Citys main noise polluter, the Southside and city-wide residences are responsible for the most noise pollution.

A resident conducted a data and trend analysis of the police call logs for all noise and crime incidents from 2009-2016. The noise issue was not isolated to downtown. In St. Petersburg, the #1 and #2 noise and crime call generators for businesses with repeat noise calls from residents are on the Southside. In fact, from 2009-2016, residents of the City of St. Petersburg have called 27,638 times yet the police issued ZERO citations for noise against businesses and residents.

The noise issue was a very volatile and hot topic at the March 29 Public Meeting.  A resident asked the City, "How many noise citations have there been?" The City replied, we do not know. Fortunately, a resident with the research shared the results. There were ZERO citations issued for noise to businesses and residences. Attendees were shocked.

Mayor Kriseman and Police Chief Holloway's inaction has created a hostile environment for residents when they report a noise issue. Businesses have filed civil complaints against three residents for exercising their right to call police when they hear the noise. 

Currently residents who lived within 500' of the noise source would call the police when the noise was plainly audible to them. Plainly audible to any person is per the Noise Pollution Ordinance. The police would respond and state the noise was not within the limits of City Ordinance for its distance and time of day. Hence the resident being able to hear the music was not enough for police to issue a citation. Unfortunately, residents who live across the street from the noise source have no rights, since noise is based on distance and time of day, not decibels.

The residents who lived farther were subject to distances where audible and low frequency noise would enter the building but may or may not meet the distance and time requirement. While the noise ordinance says plainly audible to any person, the police officer must witness the noise and ascertain if it meets the level to issue a citation. Officers have stood with residents and heard the noise. Or thumping inside the condo, yet refuse to cite the business when the distance and time of day requirement are met. As officers have repeatedly stated, It's not loud enough for me to testify in court. One officer stated the City would not cite a business. Another officer stated, we do not want to put them out of business. 

The most incorrect police excuse was, you are wasting police resources. The response is, there is more crime at these bars and clubs than there are noise calls. The range is from two to four times as many calls for crime than noise. 

City and Police legal have stated in a letter to a resident the police may deem the noise to be inadvertent. Now the Mayoral and City Council candidate need to tell residents how many times does the police officer have to tell a business to turn down the music before the business or resident is cited. There are too many of the same businesses with repeat calls.

Police officers have chosen to ignore Police Legal's guidance to officers and residents. Police freely interpret the ordinance requirements on distance despite Police Legal's guidance on which paragraph in the noise ordinance to use. This paragraph states the distance. The question now is why are police refusing to protect residents in their home.

There is a lack of police training and education on audible and low frequency noise. The police can hear a saw cutting through pipe and say that is loud, but that is a high frequency pitch and not low frequency noise. The high frequency pitch does not travel far nor does it penetrate concrete buildings.

Low frequency noise travels farther and can penetrate buildings to mimic a low beat that bombards the body and mind. Thus, impacting your health. Residents have had their windows shake, walls vibrate, and heard the thumping all day. Yet the police may or may not hear it or experience it in the five minutes they are with the resident. That is, if the resident agreed to meet. Many of the city calls after after hours.

The bars and clubs are not the only noise generators. Residences account for a large percentage of noise calls. One resident was proud to have just bought a home. However, he soon found his neighbor would place speakers on the lawn, which blasted his home with bass all day. Repeated calls to police have not resulted in curtailing the noise. He has become frustrated and stopped calling the police.

Residents repeatedly state "Frustration" is why they stop calling. For some, this has lead to a negative opinion of the St. Petersburg Police Department and Mayor Kriseman.

If you make the argument, the bars pay more in taxes? Ask yourself, what is the offset in cost for police to respond to the noise and crime calls. The city has not conducted a cost-benefit analysis or built a date model to support this argument. So I question the frequent excuse that businesses pays more in taxes than residences. 

Residents pay taxes so why should they be treated less than a bar or restaurant owner?

Again, Mayor Kriseman's fiduciary oversight must be questioned. The estimated $250,000 wasted on noise calls that are never cited is a clear indication that Mayor Kriseman and Police Chief Holloway are out of touch.

Some neighborhood associations have thrown their residents under the bus for calling the police and chose to protect the bar. This has created friction in the neighborhoods as some residents and boards want to protect the business.

Noise pollution cuts to the heart of Mayor Kriseman's inability to understand what is going on in "his" city. Like the sewage issue, he had ignored it and not responded, until forced to respond. If Mayor Kriseman is so "GREEN," why is he protecting businesses over residences? His solution is to do nothing until the new ordinance is passed. This is unacceptable.

While the noise ordinance is being revised, one City Council Member seems to be more interested in protecting businesses than residents. Council Member Kornell has even called a constituent a liar at the Noise Ordinance Public Meeting for stating officers have stood with him and heard the the noise. Where does your City Council Candidate stand? You should express your concerns and thoughts by emailing your council member, council@stpete.org. 

So how “GREEN” is Mayor Kriseman’s city that is being blasted with noise pollution? You should express your concerns and thoughts by emailing the Mayor at mayor@stpete.org.

The Tampa Bay Times has declined to report on the local noise issue that impacts St. Petersburg residents. The Times is interested when the noise ordinance comes to a vote before council, not before. By not covering the noise pollution issue nor making noise pollution an election issue, the Tampa Bay Times has hung City residents out to dry. 

Should you have a noise-related story to share or have a question, contact me directly via email. 

The opinions here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bay Post Internet or the Blog Publishers where it appears.

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