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No one likes the new noise ordinance

Look for more changes to come.

The latest participants in the never-ending noise battle are local nightclub owners who feel they have been unfairly targeted after the Houston City Council updated the noise ordinance in October. They have been issued hundreds of citations and have seen club workers arrested.

The noise ordinance sets limits for sound, which are measured by a decibel meter. The revised law now allows a police officer to issue a violation if bass notes coming from a property cause “vibrations or resonance” to be felt at another property. Previously, officers in these situations could not subjectively flag violators – they had to use a decibel meter. Violators can receive up to a $1,000 fine.

Club owners have met with city officials and spent thousands of dollars making sound-deadening improvements, but say they are still getting ticketed. To change what they feel is an unjust ordinance, they’re raising money through a political action committee to lobby Mayor Annise Parker’s administration.

“We’re essentially trying to set performance standards for music venues, bars and clubs, and there’s nothing we have to work with. Right now, compliance is based upon an officer’s subjective opinion instead of having an objective performance standard,” said Joshua Sanders, policy director for Hall Attorneys which represents the Greater Houston Entertainment Political Action Committee.

Neighborhood groups are not happy either, but they insist noise enforcement has broken down.

“What we found was there was kind of a honeymoon period after the amendment got passed, and a task force was formed to enforce the noise ordinance,” said Jane Cahill-West, president of the Super Neighborhood 22, a coalition of civic groups along the Washington Avenue corridor. “And now it’s only rarely being enforced. The worst thing is even when citations are being written, they are not being successfully prosecuted in municipal court.”

The Press had a cover story on this a couple of weeks ago. The old way, defined by decibel levels, was easy enough to understand and enforce, but left residences vulnerable to thumping bass frequencies. The new, more subjective way, corrects for that but leaves everyone uncertain about just what is and isn’t a violation. The city will be taking another crack at it soon.

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