You’ve got to give Charles Samuels and his group of knee jerk lawyers one thing… they’re tenacious as hell.  Not a month after the courts found Samuels’ noise ordinance unconstitutional, he’s got a new draft ready to go, and the sequel is just as long-winded, vague, and concerning as the first.

Here’s the new version:

Click to access Noise%20Ordinance%20Draft%20Version%201%20_2_.pdf

If you feel the need to sift through all of the lawyer speak of this new ordinance, (and I strongly suggest that you do), you’ll find all sorts of little questions that need to be raised regarding the constitutionality of the document.  For all of you who just want a rundown, we’ve got you covered.

Bear with us here, we’re gonna take it on point by point…

The first page and a half of the seven page document contains mostly definitions of the words used in the article, such as – “Daytime Hours” (7 A.M. – 10 P.M.)

-“Nighttime Hours” (10 P.M. – 7 A.M.)

-“Excessive Sound” (any noise over 65 Decibels)

-” Musical Entertainment” ( music made by what are commonly known as musical instruments, recordings of music, vocal singing, etc.”

– “Noise” (any sound which annoys humans, or can cause adverse physiological or psychological reactions.)

Sooo would listening to emotional music be considered illegal if it makes you cry? How about if you are annoyed by your roommates musical tastes? Also, as a point of reference, a refrigerator runs at about 40 Decibels, and a dishwasher runs at about 75 Decibels. Normal conversation runs right between the two at about 60 Decibels.  So by that logic, if one was to make a noise louder than a dishwasher, you are well beyond the proposed noise limit, and could legally be convicted of a Class 4 Misdemeanor.

Moving on to Section 2:

The city council claims that ” excessive sound is a serious hazard to the public health, welfare, peace and safety, and the quality of life… and that it is the policy of the city to prevent such excessive sound”  How lucky we are to have a city council that cares so much about our safety that they will protect us from anything louder than a conversation…

Section 5:  exemptions from the ordinance

In the original ordinance, the courts stated that there was undue favoritism displayed towards religious institutions. This time around, they’ve expanded the exemptions to include several other agencies.  Some of the exemptions:

-Any city function (do as they say, not as they do)

-Athletic / Band / School sponsored events

-Church Bells, or other calls to worship (what else would you expect?)

So, in short, the city can be offended by the volume of your voice, but you cannot do anything about the sounds the city may be making at 6 in the morning outside your window.

Section 6: Violations of Chapter

According to the new ordinance, a first offense classifies as a class 4 misdemeanor. If one was to get another violation within a year, it would be classified as a Class 3, and if two violations were to occur within a year, it would be classified as a Class 2 misdemeanor. FYI, a class four means a $250 ticket, class three is $500, and class two is $1,000.

Section 8: Maximum Sound levels in residential zones

In short, during the day you cannot exceed 65 Decibels (remember the dishwasher?), and at night you may not exceed an audible volume of 55 Decibels.  So if you’re having a normal conversation within earshot of anyone after 7 P.M, you better think twice… or better yet, just don’t do it… it ain’t worth it!

Section 10: Operation of Television sets, radios, or phonographs.

“No person shall operate or play… any radio, television, record, tape…musical instrument “if the excessive sound reaches a distance of 50… feet from it’s source” This also includes sound from a car. 50 feet is roughly the distance from the street to the middle of just about any house in Richmond.

Section 11 is an extension on the noise produced by motor vehicles. In reference to a standard vehicle operated by someone, if you are going under 35 MPH your car it can be no louder than 76 decibels (a dishwasher is 75), and if you are going over 35 MPH, the limit is 82 decibels… which is not much of a difference.  The average decibel output of a diesel truck is about 100 decibels from 30 feet away, and that of a car from 25 feet away is about 80 decibels.  While it is unlikely that they will enforce this part of the ruling all that well, the point is that they can if they wish to.

Section 13 in essence says that you can’t sound the horn of your car unless it is moving and you are using it to warn someone of an emergency. This isn’t much of a surprise, but still good to know as a point of reference.

Now we get to the real nonsense. In section 15 the ordinance outlines “noise from horns. drums, shouting, etc.”.  To make the whole thing clearer, we’ll just reproduce the points here.

a. No person shall make, or have a part in the making of, excessive sound by means of horns, trumpets, drums, bells or whistles, or by shouting or loud talking. This subsection shall not be construed as prohibiting shouting, singing or loud talking by spectators at and during athletic contests or as otherwise permitted by law.

b. No two or more persons or a band or an orchestra shall play musical instruments in or on the streets, sidewalks, alleys or other public places in the city, unless such persons shall have first obtained a permit so to do from the chief of police.

c. The mayor, pursuant to express authorization of the city council, may, by proclamation, suspend the operation of this section at such times, to such extent and as to such places as shall be determined by the council.

So to break through all of the legal speak, essentially what they are trying to say is that

a) you can’t make noise in public unless you are at a sporting event or something similar. So no impromptu parades without a permit, no practicing an instrument on your front porch, or really, playing an instrument or singing where anyone can hear you.

b) Playing music in a public place with two or more people will require a permit.  So potentially no busking or street performance will be allowed.

c) The mayor can decide when and where this code will or will not be enforced, at his discretion.

Section 17 pertains to “Noisy Animals and Birds”

a. No person shall allow any animal or bird to create noise such that it is plainly audible at least once a minute for 10 consecutive minutes
i. (i) inside the confines of the dwelling unit, house or apartment of another; or
ii. (ii) at fifty (50) or more feet from the animal or bird

So this is the section that ruffles the most feathers with us (pun very much intended). Since when does anyone allow or disallow an animal to not only make noise, but the time limit for which it makes said noise?  Does this mean that if there is a bird chirping outside for ten minutes I can call the police on the person in whose yard the bird is? As folks who keep dogs around, we know how hard it is to tell a dog to shut up at 4 in the morning when he/she smells or hears something they want to get at. What about guard dogs? What about cats fucking in your backyard? Will they start handing out tickets if the cops hear your dog, or is it only if someone files a complaint?

Last, but not least, is what Samuels is calling “Severability” in Section 19.

a. A determination of invalidity or unconstitutionality by a court of competent jurisdiction of any clause, sentence, paragraph, section or part of this article shall not affect the validity of the remaining parts thereto.

Hopefully what will come of this is that a court will declare this part of the ordinance unconstitutional in itself, and thus be able to throw the whole damn thing away.  Since when can a city  council person put restrictions on the courts as to how they respond to a document brought before them. What Samuels appears to be demanding is that, to make the entire ordinance unconstitutional, the courts would be required to declare each and every section unconstitutional on its’ own.

Needless to say, this will probably be thrown out as soon as Samuels tries to pass this load, but the fact  he is trying so hard to push a noise ordinance through yet again simply shows that restrictions are in our immediate future, if he has his way.

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