The Vanguard has acquired records dating back to 1994 that show that the neighbors living on Cezanne Court in Davis have had to put up with an inordinant amount of noise from their neighbor, the privately owned, for profit, Montessori Day Care business located at 1811 Renoir Avenue in Davis.
Frankly, the Vanguard should have raised the community’s awareness of this problem long before it has. However, the event that served as inspiration was Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor’s move to place an exemption to the noise ordinance on the Council Agenda as an item submitted by a councilmember. The council has agreed to hear it as a full item, but the item was pulled from the last agenda.
At the onset we reprint the crux of the complaint from the neighbors. In a letter to Mark Wood, Chief Building Official and City Manager Bill Emlen, in February of 2008, the neighbors write:
“John Hillis, by his refusal to meet with his neighbors for over 13 years despite our reasonable and courteous requests to meet via City mediation, by his refusal to respond to or even acknowledge the letters written to him by the Murphy, Hackett and Munro families in 2000 and 2001 where we offered, in writing, to build a wall between us, and by his obvious lack of concern for the effect he has and continues to have on his neighbor’s homes and lives, has left us with no choice but to ask for and pursue City support to bring his business into compliance and to be a good neighbor.
The City of Davis has been aware for 14 years that John Hillis’ business operation unreasonably interferes with the quiet use and enjoyment of neighboring private properties. This has been documented by a combination of letters, photographs, sound readings, and written complaints to the City from every homeowner (5) of every home (3) on Cezanne Court next to his business since 1994. Most importantly, in 2007, neighbors were required to pay for and provide irrefutable evidence to the City of Davis that John Hillis’ business is in violation of the City of Davis Noise Regulations. This evidence, the sound report of 30 July, 2007, states irrefutably that average noise levels while day care children are outside next to our homes is 70 dB, with levels up to 89/90 dB. This noise enters our homes with all windows closed. Per the noise regulations (24.02.020) signed into law by Mayor Ruth Asmundsen in July, 2005, we have never given John Hillis permission to make noise that can be heard inside our homes with our windows closed, or to generate up to 90 dB daily in our homes and on our properties.”
As the neighbors clarify, this is not about children, several of the neighbors have children of their own. This is an issue of non-stop noise and the failure of the city to take reasonable measure to protect the public.
“This is NOT about the children or “Davis mothers and their children”. This is about how Mr Hillis operates his private, for profit, business. It is about how he has laid out his operation, and how he generates up to 90 dB of daily noise IN NEIGHBOR’S PROPERTIES because of the way he has chosen to configure his play areas — not because of the children. Children play where they are instructed to play. The children’s safety and ability to learn are not dependent on Mr Hillis creating hazards (litter) and unacceptable noise in his neighborhood when there are very doable mitigations available as laid out clearly, in writing, in the Sound Report generated by a professional sound expert.”
SOUND EXPERT REPORT
According to the City of Davis noise ordinance there are three types of noise violations that an individual can be cited for.
“The first is the “general noise prohibition”, which states it is a violation for a noise you create to be heard inside another person’s residence (as long as their windows and doors are closed).”
“Finally it is a violation to produce any noise in excess of 80 decibels.”
“A Noise Permit does NOT allow you to ever produce noise that exceeds 80 decibels.”
The Acoustics and Vibration Group completed their report on July 30, 2007.
Here are some of the key findings with the graphics.
The report recommends a large variety of mitigation measures. To date only the first recommendation was implemented, the construction of an 8-foot tall sound wall at the expense of the neighbors and the owner shared.
According to the neighbors, the sound wall has reduced the amount of litter on the property but not the noise. The problem is that the sound wall was only one of six mitigation methods which also included changing the playground layout, changing group play areas, changing the surface of the play area, changing the playground entrance and exit away from the neighbors homes, changing the nature of the covered area, and changing the type of wheeled toys from hard plastic wheels to rubber wheels.
Just from observing the noise levels, one other factor that would reduce noise levels would be staggering the number of children who are in the play yard to avoid all seventy children being in the play yard at any given time.
LETTERS FROM NEIGHBORS
One of the more remarkable letters is from DH Alexander Construction regarding the noise problems they encountered as they attempted to install double-pane windows for Coralie Munro who incurred a hefty expense for sound reductive windows, only to find that they did no good.
The image of the full letter is above, here is the text:
“I would like to take this opportunity to explain why we are asking that you hire another contractor for any further work on your house.
As contractors we are used to working in noisy conditions. However, the noise from the school next to your property is one of the worst, most distracting and annoying types of noise we haye encountered on a Job Site. It starts before 9:00 am in the morning and is continuous almost all day until 6:00 pm., every day, Monday through Friday. While outside I wore earplugs to relieve the noise while working on your property. I had to shout to my co-workers to be heard above the constant screaming and noise from multiple toys with loud wheels, where dozens of children are kept on a patio just a few feet away from your house. It was a relief when occasionally the children went inside.
Unfortunately, the level of noise inside your house is nearly the same as it was before we installed your specially ordered, laminated, dual pane windows, which you had selected in the hope of reducing the noise from the school next door. It appears that the extra insulation in your downstairs bedroom and the laminated window we installed in the room, which you had hoped to rent, does not reduce the noise to levels acceptable to you.
I realize now that your sole purpose for replacing the windows and siding was to alleviate the large amount or noise you suffer daily from the school. Despite all of your work and expense, I am sorry that there has been little improvement in the amount of noise, which enters your home.”
Here is are a few excerpts from a letter to the city of Davis dated July 8, 2006:
“It has been a little over a year since I moved into a property on 2319 Cezanne Court, directly behind Montessori Day School. I never imagined, much less expected, such high levels of noise coming from the school or the steady stream of debris that found its way into my yard. My neighbors also experienced similar problems, and together we have tried several times to resolve the issues at hand. Despite promises to alleviate the problems with the fence and where the children play, nothing has been done.
One of the first issues I’d like to address is the noise, which is constant during most of the daytime hours and even heard when our windows are closed. On my few days off, I am usually awakened early because of the screaming children, the pounding of toys hitting the ground, and various other audible clutters.”
Here is another:
“For example, during outdoor play at the school between the hours of 8:45 AM to 6:00 PM, we are forced to keep our windows closed because the yelling from the children is so intense (and which has been well documented as being above legal sound levels). Even with closed windows, the noise from the school is clearly audible. Also, by climbing on play structures situated along the fence line, children are able to look into our yard and frequently toss toys over the fence. The stray toys are not only bothersome to clean up, but also can be unsafe for our dogs if they are chewed and ingested. Recently the hours of outdoor play has been increased on weekends extending the time we are forced to leave our windows closed.”
Finally, yesterday I made my third visit to the home of one of the neighbors. Due to the persistent winds, it has been difficult to get a good reading on the noise level. I have a video interview of her on what she characterizes as a quiet day, which was anything but quiet. She told me normally noise level is at least 10 times louder. Recall the sound expert found that noise levels approached 90 decibels. While this was prior to the construction of the soundwall, from this interview, you can hear that the soundwall has not done much to mitigate noise.
—David M. Greenwald reporting