Tuesday, May 1, 2018

St. Pete has three options to change the Noise Ordinance

St. Petersburg Fl
Public Opinion by author: Robert Neff


The City Council committee, Public Services and Infrastructure (PS&I) is responsible for recommending Noise Ordinance changes to City Council, who will then schedule a vote. Council’s Vice Chair Steve Kornell is the PS&I Committee Chair. PS&I had requested a presentation from the City Staff, who has put three options before PS&I. The options are listed in the Noise Ordinance Update, 4/12/2018,
  1. Continue with existing ordinance, modify penalties.
  2. Modify the current ordinance. 
  3. Adopt decibel based proposal.
Residents affected by noise agree that the current noise ordinance is not working. However, former Mayor Bill Foster, the attorney with Jannus Live and some of the businesses along the Jannus Block, have a problem or an issue with using a meter. Foster supports the plainly audible.

While Committee Chair Kornell instructed Mr. Foster that he had 5 minutes to speak, Foster spoke for almost 8 minutes. Foster states,
"Plainly audible allows you to discern the drums, the band, the dialogue. So the human ear on a plainly audible standard you can actually target and identify the source of that particular sound.” 
Mr. Foster is incorrect.  While Mr. Foster comments on "Plainly audible" he fails to mention low frequency sounds. According to the Municipal Code,
Plainly audible means any sound produced by a source, which can be heard by any reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities using his or her unaided hearing faculties. Measurement standards shall be the auditory senses. Words or phrases need not be discernible and low frequency sound reverberations are included.
The plainly audible option does not measure decibels. However, the decibel standard allows you to discern between the audible noise and the bass, using the A-Weighted and C-Weighted. This will give the police solid evidence to defend in court.  

Every police officer does not have the same hearing. Some have better hearing than others. Some officer's hearing are impacted by the weapons training. Officers are not trained on noise, its health impact to adults and kids, and on how to differentiate between plainly audible and low frequency sounds. The low frequency sound reverberations are what vibrate the walls and causes the thumping inside the home.

Over the last two years, police officers have provided various reasons why they will not cite a bar. One police officer told me the City will not cite a business. Another told me officers do not want to defend this noise ordinance in court. Several others changed the minimum distance. I should market bingo cards for all the reasons police have given residents!

The C-Weighted will allow the responding officer to measure the low frequency sound reverberations, which includes the thumping and bass at a distance. An officer may not hear this or may not think this is an issue under plainly audible because the sound is subjective to the officer's hearing. One officer may not be impacted by the noise when they are there for less than 5 minutes. This is not the same as being pummeled with low frequency or audible noise for 2 to 8 hours. With a meter, you can measure the decibels, which is the intensity of a sound or the power level sound pressure. 

The city hired Keane Acoustic to conduct acoustical studies.
Keane Acoustics was commissioned to undertake a noise impact assessment of neighborhoods within St. Petersburg city limits in an effort to better understand how to best protect citizens from excessive noise events.
Here is a table from the report. This shows the readings at various locations and the noise impact using dBA and dBC range.

Keane Acoustic's observations for this area

"In general, nearly all venues exceeded 90 dBC and multiple venues were well in excess of 85 dBA and 100 dBC at the property lines (commonly used to assess compliance with a decibel based noise ordinance) and were often plainly audible at distance of several hundred feet or more."

Why Options 1 and 2 are bad for St. Pete

Options 1 and 2 continue with existing ordinance, where 1 will modify penalties. Option 2 will modify the current ordinance. Both Options 1 and 2, will keep plainly audible, which is a now subject to the Officer's hearing. Every Officer's hearing is different. Plainly audible is the issue with the current noise ordinance and that is why it is not working. 

Option 1 fails to help residents who live too close to a bar. This example is from 215 Central where The Landing at Jannus opened last year. So if a bar opens near you and you do not meet the distance criteria, the bar will not be cited.


In 2017, the City had 2534 noise calls. Of those, 1400 calls were addresses with repeat calls. There were approximately 361 unique addresses and 33 bars identified, leaving the balance to be residences, businesses, intersections, and unidentified bars. Here are the Top 20 Establishments that serve alcohol

Council is concerned about the cost to implement 

Council has expressed concern that the cost to implement decibels is a concern. Unless Police officers start citing the businesses and have officers defend the citation in court, or ask the repeat noise offenders to voluntarily comply with Options 1 and 2, there will be no reduction. Previous attempts to work with addresses with repeat calls have been short lived. 

While some on City Council and Mr. Foster believe the last noise ordinance has reduced the calls, my data analysis of the City Police logs and reports suggest otherwise. While the City owns the data and has produced a non-interactive heat map and a few reports such as time of day, the City has not conducted data trend analysis or analyzed the Police Call For Service reports, Incident Reports,  Citations, and audio of the calls. How can the City or Council make a decision when they do not have the facts or conducted extensive data analysis?  The city is making a decision on the noise ordinance without understanding the issues.
One cannot unequivocally say the noise ordinance has been the reason for the reduction in calls from 2016 to 2017 was 2,905 to 2,534. 
The 371 difference could easily be accounted for by the closing of three bars that had high repeat calls, residents stopped calling out of frustration, three residents were sued by bars that had a chilling effect that stopped neighborhood residents from calling the police, or bars that were able reduce the calls to their establishment.


Which option do I recommend? OPTION 3!
Option 3 is the best choice. This provides Officers with a decibel system that they can defend in court. While Option 3 has an initial startup cost, the long-term costs will be greatly reduced because the addresses with repeat calls will be greatly reduced. The fine will increase with each citation and is an powerful incentive to lower the music. As for the addresses with one call, a City education plan should reduce the number of addresses with one call. 

However, the City is proposing 85 dBA for the Downtown Core. This is too loud!

According to The Noise of Music, Sound advice for the music and entertainment sectors. Guidance on how to comply with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007. Ireland, these noise exposures are identical:
  • 80 dB for 8 hours
  • 83 dB for 4 hours
  • 86 dB for 2 hours 
  • 89 dB for 1 hour
  • 92 dB for 30 minutes
In the current Noise Ordinance Update, the City wants to allow the Downtown Core to use 85 dB. Taking the average between 83 and 86 dB from the above list, and use the measurement from the property line, then the noise exposure for 85 dB is approximately 3 hours. The nearby condominiums and apartments will be inundated with noise at 85 dB that can last over 4-6 hours on weeknights and weekends and during the day or night. The thumping bass will have a negative impact on their health!

What can you do to ensure City Council Chooses Option 3?

Contact Mayor Kriseman and your City Council Member at the phone number or email address on the flyer. Right click to download the flyer and share! Or share this article! 

While St. Petersburg may want to be the next live music venue and boost tourism, residents need to let the City of St. Petersburg know that the noise issue isn't just about downtown, but the entire city. 


St. Pete needs a city vibe for all residents, not just downtown!

To read the past updates, visit the City of St. Peterburg's Planning and Zoning web site


The opinions here are the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Blog Publishers where it appears

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