On the eve of a public hearing on it, the proposed noise ordinance was shelved with plans to develop a narrower ordinance focusing on the French Quarter.

Bourbon Street photo

[Updated] The controversial sound ordinance that was introduced to City Council December 19 was slated for public debate tomorrow before the Housing and Human Needs Committee. Opponents feared that the lower decibel levels that it proposed, along with the further sound reduction that would have accompanied changes in where and how sound was measured, would harm the New Orleans music community. 

This evening, that ordinance was withdrawn, and Councilmembers Stacy Head and Kristin Gisleson Palmer have announced plans to work with Oxford Acoustics' Dave Woolworth to draft a narrower ordinance that will deal specifically and solely with the French Quarter's Entertainment District. Their joint statement reads:

The City Council has worked for five years to improve the city's sound ordinances.  The lack of enforcement over time and of enforceable laws negatively impacts the quality of life in neighborhoods citywide and the health of musicians and employees, and also stymies development.  At times, new businesses hoping to open music venues are subjected to onerous requirements through provisos or other means in order to assuage neighbors' reasonable fears that government will not enforce nuisance laws should those new businesses operate in a harmful manner. 

In the fall of 2011, Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer engaged acoustician David Woolworth to conduct a thoughtful and comprehensive study of New Orleans sound ordinances and to work with many interest groups to propose rational changes in the City's laws.  This resulted in a comprehensive report, which was released to the public in August 2013. It is now time to take the action step of turning this work into law.  In December 2013, Councilmember Head drafted and the Council introduced a narrow amendment to the city's sound ordinance to focus on a subset of noise issues (brick and mortar structures), place the measurement location at the property line of emanation, and provide sound level allowances depending on area zoning classification. We'd like to thank the neighborhood groups, musicians, and citizens who helped us get to this point.

There has been much public consternation over the perceived intent and impact of the ordinance, and fear that the hard work and recommendations of the many constituency groups with Mr. Woolworth were not followed.  In order to allay those fears, Mr. Woolworth has suggested, and we agree, that an even more limited focus on VCE only is appropriate.  Mr. Woolworth and Councilmember Gisleson Palmer in particular, have worked closely with the French Quarter Management District to craft recommendations tailored to the VCE district. 

These recommendations, including that the measurement should be taken at the property line of the source of emanation, along with a noise level threshold, will be the substance of an ordinance that will be presented in draft form at the next Housing and Human Needs Committee meeting on January 27, 2014.  At that meeting we will also invite the Health Department to present the status of the hiring of environmental health officers who will have the primary charge of enforcing sound laws. Thereafter, we will conduct additional field tests with Mr. Woolworth and welcome public comment in order to inform the draft, and then the resulting ordinance will be formally introduced for first reading.

Therefore, the Special Housing and Human Needs Committee meeting set for tomorrow, January 17, 2014, will be cancelled, and the current ordinance will be withdrawn.

Finally, we assure the public that our work to create workable and reasonable laws that preserve our music culture and industry has not stalled, but will continue in earnest. 

Nathan Chapman, head of the committee that developed the "Seven Essentials" list that appeared to form the basis for the revised ordiance, issued a statement as well:

As chair [of] a 20-organization coalition, I had the privilege of participating in conversations about sound and music across New Orleans.  They showed that no matter what neighborhood you’re from, whether resident, musician, or business owner, we have more that unites than divides us.

At some point, the general public became greatly confused in a negative campaign of disinformation and personal attacks.  If the volume of the rhetoric had been turned down a bit, we could have heard each other more, and made progress for the entire city. 

It’s my understanding that the City Council is going to take a breath and focus first on solutions for the French Quarter.  As a resident of the French Quarter trying to help the entire city, I’m agreeable to that.  Showing positive results that enhance the residential and music experience can create a model for all of New Orleans.


Updated 9:24 p.m.

Despite the cancelled hearing Sue Mobley of MaCCNO announced on Facebook:

Remember: Tomorrow's rally will still go on. We need to keep shining a light on the process, and show that they can't wait us out. ‪#‎transparency‬

That rally will take place at 11 a.m. in Duncan Plaza across the street from City Hall.