Proposed noise ordinance called overkill, vague and too subjective at public hearing

by Lois Krafsky-Perry, Citizen Review Online

July 15, 2008

Click here to read a copy of the current ordinance.

Click here to read a copy of the proposed ordinance.

Port Angeles, WA – Approximately 150 citizens showed up at the Clallam County Commissioner’s meeting for a public hearing about a new noise ordinance to replace the current one, proposed by Sheriff Bill Benedict. The strong majority spoke against the proposed ordinance. 
The current noise ordinance, about ½ page long, was to be replaced by a new noise ordinance about twice that length. 

Benedict told the audience that the new proposed ordinance was drafted after the model from King County, Pierce County, San Juan Island County, Skagit & Mason counties, and others.  He said a lot of people could be out of compliance with the new ordinance. He mentioned that in the other counties, the code was rarely enforced. 

He said there there have been 400 complaints over the past two years. In 2007, they received 197 complaints: 120 related to music; 39 to motors, and the rest barking dogs and alarms. In 2008, it was pretty much the same, he said, with only one citation.

He said he would delete the ham radio signals, and hobby planes from the proposed ordinance, apparently because of the complaints by groups representing those hobbies. A couple of advocates from those groups said they would agree to the ordinance since their hobby area was removed. 

“We are not about making a police state…” Benedict stated in his presentation about why he felt the ordinance was needed. He assured the listeners that the code would be used as a last resort.

One man spoke about hobby planes, and how the ordinance would create a real problem for the hobbyists.  “For the county to pass this law is unconscionable”, he said.  He works with the Boys & Girls Club to teach about model planes. “We need an ad hoc committee before such a law is passed, and I would be delighted to help,” he said. 

Another spoke in agreement, and explained more about how little noise the models make.  He questioned about the aspect of “selective enforcement”.  Is that legal? he queried. 

The next speaker said he was going to speak against the ordinance because of the ham operator prohibition, but since that portion was removed, he is now in favor of the ordinance. 

Don Abbott, emergency management for Clallam County, was in favor of the proposed ordinance. 

One woman spoke against the ordinance.  “It’s too vague”, she said.  She added that it’s an opportunity for disgruntled neighbors to cause problems. 

A Sequim woman said it’s vague, will increase the divisiveness between people, and said they should come up with another plan.  She said she works nights and sleeps days, when the neighbors are mowing and making noise.  She solves the problem by using earplugs, she added.  There was much applause at her comment. 

Thane Petroff, a 35 year resident, said he got 107 signatures in 3 days against the proposed ordinance.  He told the story of his neighbor who practiced the piano for 30 years, and finally it was like beautiful music.  Musicians need to practice, he said.  This ordinance would possibly prohibit that.  He said that his rights and freedoms are being taken away, and that’s it unfair and overkill for a small group of complaints.  He recommended decibel meters.  He got applause. 

Mike Chapman then said, “Do you really feel clapping and booing is appropriate?” He said we should disagree respectfully.  He referred to the Instructions for Speaking at a Commissioner’s Meeting, which states “general comments, applause, booing from members of the audience are inappropriate and may result in removal.”  He said the rules for hearings say no clapping or booing is allowed. Someone in the audience said “This is America!” Chapman responded, “This is America.  We have rights and freedom of speech.”  

The next speaker said If everyone is punished because of a few people, it slants favoritism for one group over another. 

Another gentleman who opposed the ordinance said it is heavy-handed and that it’s arbitrary and capricious.  He bought a decibel meter for $45 at Radio Shack, and pointed out how inexpensive it would be for the sheriff to have them. 

Bob Forde asked the sheriff about the 400 deputy response calls over the past two years, and no arrests. With the price of gasoline at $5 a gallon, and the V-8 powered sheriff's cars, do you really think this is a good idea to use public resources in this manner? he asked. The way the law is written - if I don't like the way someone is whistling - if they're off-key, and I don't like it - I can call the sheriff's office and have them spend their time and money on another frivolous venture. It's very poorly written, he added. You didn't generate this language - it was done in several other counties. It doesn't fit our needs. “The least amount of regulation is the best”, he said. 

Others agreed that the rule is too broad, too suggestive. 

Rebecca Hanson, a citizen who learned about the proposed ordinance and ran an ad in the Peninsula Daily News to alert readers about it, stated her opposition. It’s a power grab, takes away our freedoms, she said.  “It’s interesting that it came out right before our Independence Day.”  You can sue the people civilly, she said, as a possibility. 

Several others pointed out that the proposed legislation was way too broad and vague. 

Doug Smith said it would create a blanket effect for isolated instances is not a reasonable solution, he said. 

Dave Cummins commented that it’s creating urban control on rural people. There are rules for a few being imposed on the many. He asked if a crying baby would violate the law - or calling kids home for dinner.

As a result of the hearing, Benedict said he will take the issue to his Sheriff's Citizens Advisory Committee, and will research what civil remedies can be sought instead of criminal actions.


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