Noise Problems Continue To Plague Neighbors of Montessori Day Care Center



Back in March, an item was placed on the Davis City Council agenda that would exempt from the City’s Noise Ordinance, Schools and Day Care centers.  That effort never came to fruition as the Vanguard ran not one but two articles chronicling the 15 year struggle that the neighbors had with the facility trying to control the noise problems to have a decent quality of life.

While the exemption from the city never occurred, the noise problem remains and has actually worsened.  A letter signed by at least five residents was recently sent to City Manager Bill Emlen and copied to the the Police Chief Landy Black, each of the councilmembers, the Davis Enterprise and the Vanguard.

Write the neighbors:

“For 15 years, the neighbors of the Montessori Day Care center have had to deal with exceptionally high levels of noise during the hours of operation.  These noise levels have been measured as high as 90dB. Despite efforts by the city and neighbors to mitigate the sound through the construction of a sound wall,   and despite the sound engineer’s recommendations, the owner of the property has failed to take additional steps to mitigate the noise impacts to the neighbors.”

They continue:

“Recently the situation has actually taken a turn for the worse.  During the evening hours, children as late as 7:30 pm have been making considerable noise to the disturbance of those of us who have come home from long days at work.  Upon receiving a complaint, the Day Care staff actually encouraged the children to scream louder at the neighbors.”

While some have attempted to describe this as a complaint against the delightful sound of children, having witnessed the noise levels personally, the issue is really one of quality of life and ability to live in one’s home free of noise at levels that often approached 90 db.

In a previous letter they wrote:

“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.”

This is far from the first letter written to the city by 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.”

And in November of 2006, a letter to now Mayor Ruth Asmundson clarified the extent of the complaint:

“This morning for example, (Wed, Nov 8) as often occurs, the school released the children into their play yard by 8.35 am. The shrieking and screaming at this time and most of the day pierces our homes with all windows closed. The school does not even have the decency to abide by the one mediation agreement we all signed to not release the children before 8.45 am. It should be later. We can not imagine one home or family in Davis that would enjoy 70 shrieking and crying preschoolers a few feet from their bedroom and living rooms as early as 8.30 am every weekday morning, with no barrier or buffer, and only a dilapidated fence to protect us. The litter also continues.

In response to the City’s visit last year, and several suggestions that the sand pits be moved away from our fences and that buffers be put in place, the  school has chosen to ignore all suggestions and in fact has increased the size of the sand pits right on our fence lines, and LAST WEEK alone added two loads of wood chips against the fence to hold all the children there on all wet days through the winter months.”

The current letter was prompted by an incident that occurred around 7:30 pm on a Wednesday evening.  One of the neighbors came home after a long day of work to an extremely noisy day care center.  They went over to the day center to ask that they keep the noise level to a more reasonable level and instead of being courteous to the neighbors, the staff actually implored and prompted the children to make more noise.

A call to the police resulted in the police coming out but by that point the children had gone inside for the evening.  A month later, a similar situation prompted another call for service.  This time the police were unable to respond immediately as they had multiple simultaneous calls.

Chief Landy Black informed me at that time that the issue here is more of a policy issue than a law enforcement issue.  Nevertheless he was clear that they would handle calls and take reports of their complaints and record observations as appropriate.

That puts the ball squarely in the hands of the Davis City Council to deal with this problem.

The follow up Vanguard article from April of 2009 details the sound expert’s report as well as a complaint from the construction company that was contracted by one of the neighbors to install double-pane sound resistant windows which unfortunately did nothing to mitigate the noise in the home.

As the contractor wrote:

“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.”

As he described:

“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 have 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.”

The neighbor’s most recent letter concludes:

“The City of Davis has ordinances on the books that should deal with this, but throughout years of talks and negotiations, they have failed to force compliance.  This situation at this time is untenable and for many of us unlivable.

We are asking the City Council, City Manager, and Davis Police Department to step in and enforce the current noise ordinance and issue fines for failure to comply.

We understand that the city and police department are currently facing shortages in personnel and funding.  However, given that this problem has continued unabated, we have little choice but to rely on calls for service to the police department as an immediate means for managing the situation and we hold out for the possibility of other further action in the future unless the problem is immediately dealt with.”

To my mind, both the city and city council are culpable in allowing this situation to continue to fester for as long as it has.  It is unconscionable that multiple efforts on the part of the neighbors have resulted in only a single solution–the construction of the sound law, a remedy that the sound experts themselves said would not fix the problem without a series of other changes to the layout of the complex.

The city of Davis has the noise ordinance on the books to deal with this problem, but they have steadfastly refused.  The neighbors seem to be out of options short of law suit, which would be extremely costly for both sides, as an attempt to remedy the problem.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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48 thoughts on “Noise Problems Continue To Plague Neighbors of Montessori Day Care Center”

  1. Greg Kuperberg

    If the city decides that these noises are unacceptable for the neighbors, then it has no business allowing the children to endure it either. Their argument has more implications than they realize. For instance, the contractor said that he wore earplugs. Do the children wear earplugs? This Montessori has a reputation among parents for being too loud to be the best choice for children. That’s the real problem.

    If there is a group in Davis called Progressives Who Wall Off Children, I’m not joining it.

  2. Mike Harrington

    Greg, I totally support your comments as to noise impacts on children. The neighbors can sue for nuisance damages or move, but the hapless kids are stuck with the choices made by their parents.

    CC: this is about the kids. Make the school fix the problem, or shut the school down.

  3. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]the hapless kids are stuck with the choices made by their parents.[/i]

    Except that the parents are stuck with the options available in Davis. Working parents don’t have time to measure every day care in town with noise meters, nor to learn every day care’s reputation in advance. That is where the city has a role to play.

  4. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]These noise levels have been measured as high as 90dB. [/quote] I’m fairly certain that the measurable decibel noise levels produced at the Montessori are no higher, and probably lower, than the decibels produced every day at Willet Elementary School, which my house backs up to. (DJUSD built a play area 10 feet from my back fence.) I’m pretty sure every elementary school in Davis which backs up to neighborhood homes, such as Cesar Chavez does a few blocks away from my house, produces as much or more noise, but without any kind of soundwalls. On top of that, in my neighborhood, we have a much, much louder and more bothersome noise — also unprotected by any sound wall — Highway 113* (which, though sunken, still produces a great amount of ambient sound, especially from trucks and ambulances going to Sutter).

    My general suggestion (which I’ve written in my column a couple of times) is that (if the money is ever available) we ought to be building sound walls out of stacked bales of rice straw. As it happens, straw bales are great insulators and noise barriers, and they are available at the cost of delivery. (Instead, because of the political power of rice farmers, most of the waste straw is being flooded, which the taxpayers pay for by giving the farmers excess water.)


    *As an aside about freeway noise, I’ve long realized how tumultuous I-80 noise, being that I frequently walk at the UC Davis Arboretum, which is drenched in the noise from the interstate. However, this morning, for the first time in 20 years, I biked over the Causeway to Sacramento, and discovered that the din at the Arboretum is nothing compared with that tumult. That is the worst, most unpleasant bike ride imagineable without hearing protection.

  5. Frankly

    Welcome to modern urban living where we cram large, 2-story homes on small lots and then wonder why hear everything our neighbor does. I live right behind Tender Learning Care pre-school on Lake Blvd., and, yes, at times the screaming and crying little darlings bug me. I just add this to the list that includes: the frequent wailings of fire trucks, Harleys, down-shifting semis, student-driven performance-exhausted rice rockets; high-wattage sub woofers; aircraft flying directly overhead to land at the university airport; leaf blowers; dogs barking, etc., etc., etc…

    I think we work ourselves into a frenzy over these things we should just learn to live with them… or otherwise decide we should move to Esparto or Kansas. How do people living in more congested urban areas cope if we can’t? Our Davis-living expectations seem to frequently exceed what is reasonable.

    One question… was the Montessori school there first, or was it built after these upset neighbors acquired their property? In my case, Tender Learning Care was here first and so their noise is my problem not the other way around. Of course, if they started renting out the building for garage band practice I might have an issue; but screaming and crying children are the norm for a preschool.

  6. Barbara King

    Take a look at Nolo Press’s book “Neighbor Law.” It explains how a ongoing series of small claims court lawsuits can do wonders to get the attention of a neighbor who causes ongoing problems for neighbors. Have the neighbors tried this? It is never a first choice remedy, but this has gone on for so long and is so bad that I think it may be a good choice at this point.

  7. Sue In Small Claims Court

    Sue in small claims court for the cost of whatever has been spent to mitigate the sounds.

    If things are really that bad, the neighbors can get together, build a sound wall by sharing the cost, then sue in small claims to be reimbursed. How does that sound? Small claims court costs $25 – so what have you got to lose?

    This arrogant and unneighborly business owner is not going to do anything but exacerbate the situation unless he is made to pay through a lawsuit of some sort. It is that simple, bc he knows he has the CC majority in his back pocket.

    And I do think it is the police’s job to enforce the noise ordinance. Someone needs to check on this – I think Black is wrong about this being a policy issue. It is an enforcement issue. Either we have an enforceable noise ordinance or we don’t. Which is it?

    Also, if the contractor said the noise is unbelievably bad, then it goes way beyong what is generated by an ordinary school.

  8. Frankly

    [quote]Take a look at Nolo Press’s book “Neighbor Law.” It explains how a ongoing series of small claims court lawsuits can do wonders to get the attention of a neighbor who causes ongoing problems for neighbors.[/quote]
    Sure let’s waste public funds and the court’s time to settle a typical neighbor noise conflict. Welcome to planet Davis where the aliens demand supernatural legal protection for all the senses.

  9. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]Sue in small claims court[/i]

    To get the business owner to wall off those damn children? People are missing something in this discussion. Again, if the noise is truly unlivable, the kids themselves should come first.

  10. Frankly

    [quote]Again, if the noise is truly unlivable, the kids themselves should come first.[/quote]
    Greg, I agree. I suppose there could be building/neighborhood design issues that amplify the sound. However, children tend to generate a lot of noise… especially when they play together. I had to de-bark my dog several years ago because of a new hyper-sound-sensitive neighbor (none of my original neighbors complained before so we didn’t know the dog was even barking while we were away).

    Instead of a legal remedy maybe we should be looking for a medical remedy to reduce the kid noise.

  11. B. Collins

    A few of those responding to past Vanguard articles did seem to try to portray this as an issue of the residential community against the kids. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This problem is one which is as simple as being a good neighbor. Citizens of this country have been blessed to live in a society that at least up to now has protected individual freedoms. For such a society to work there must by necessity be a compromise. Our government is founded on the principles that it is desirable for the individual to be protected from abuse by the ‘majority’. It is of equal importance and also part of our founding principles, that when necessary, the community or majority must be protected from the individual. Born of those necessities are the laws that govern conduct in even free societies. In this instance the equation has become unbalanced. Nobody is asking the owner of this Montessori school to shut down. He is simply being asked to obey the laws already on the books and most importantly, to be a good neighbor.

    While not a direct quote the following summarizes part of a letter written to the Davis City Consol by one of the schools neighbors.

    “On Thursday evening, 25 June, at 7.00 pm, at least one neighbor was forced to retreat inside and to close house windows after trying to enjoy an evening in the backyard. Since this was the second night in a row this had happened the neighbor walked to the Day Care fence line on Picasso Ave. and asked the supervising teacher in the playground if the school was in session in the evenings now, and if this was to become a routine. The teacher on duty walked over to the fence line gathering all of the children she was supervising around her. The children were in a position to hear the entire conversation between the neighbor and the teacher; including a sincere request from the neighbor for consideration in minimizing the noise levels next to their homes in the evenings when the neighbors are almost always home. The teacher commenting on the recently constructed sound wall stated, “you have your sound wall”, “get used to it”, “we are planning to be out several evenings”. Then to the chagrin of the neighbor the teacher clearly stated words to the effect of “take this” and ordered the children to scream as loudly as they were able into the neighbors face. The children did, with good, or bad effect, depending on your perspective. The noise was deafening, rude and confrontational. It also was an intentional act of disturbing the peace, an illegal act…….

    It should be brought to the attention of the governing agencies and parents of students who attend this Day Care how their children are being used for the school’s own agenda. Hopefully they will be appalled to learn of the questionable values and ethics their children are being taught. When you couple that with the fact that the children themselves may be endangered by the illegal noise levels perhaps the time has come to compel the Day Care to become a good neighbor whether they like it or not. Children sometimes do as they are instructed and learn their lessons well. Will these children now think it is appropriate to be disrespectful of their neighbors and resort to illegal actions to resolve social conflicts? That appears to be what this group of children is being taught at the Montessori Day Care. Many of these kids are destined to become the new Davis Citizens. Is that what Davis citizens and parents want for their future?”

    Clearly in this instance the equation has become out of balance. What say you City of Davis Counsel Members? Don’t you think it is about time to heed the request by the signatures of the letters you have been sent and make the owner of this particular school play by the rules and be a good neighbor? Shame on you if you feel otherwise!

  12. David M. Greenwald

    What I would refer everyone to is the picture above where you see a good portion of the play area is nestled right against the sound wall. There is actually a good deal of yard away from that sound wall and simply directly the children to the other side of the yard would go a long way toward alleviating some of the problem. The sound is amplified by the enclosure of the roof there, there is also the issue of plastic wheels on the concrete surface, all of these issues are brought up in the sound report and could have been mitigated at very limited cost to the owners but a huge relief in the noise to the neighbors and the children. But the city stopped pressing the issue after the construction of the sound wall which the sound expert made clear would not solve the problems of noise without the other steps.

  13. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]Hopefully they will be appalled to learn of the questionable values and ethics their children are being taught.[/i]

    In writing this, you may sincerely have tried to take the side of the children. But you didn’t succeed.

    Obviously, the fundamental problem is that the day care is crowded. You can’t expect preschool children to be big experts on city ordinances, but you can expect them to get stressed in a crowd. And to get loud, because that’s human nature at any age. A lot of restaurants, for instance Pluto’s in Davis, get very loud just from people talking. You can’t burst into Pluto’s and tell everyone there that they are all rude.

    It’s hard to blame the staff at Montessori Country Day for letting the kids out into the playground. From what I have heard, the inside of the school is even louder. If it’s really so bad that sound-proof windows plus a sound wall aren’t good enough, consider what it must be like for those kids.

    Sure, it’s easy to blame the staff if they told the kids to get louder. But saying that they’re corrupting the children is loaded reasoning. So there was one day that the staff set a bad example. That’s not nearly as big a deal as the childrens’ living conditions day in and day out. And it’s very possible that the city should do something about it.

    [i]What I would refer everyone to is the picture above where you see a good portion of the play area is nestled right against the sound wall.[/i]

    Yes, David, I’m picturing “progressives” who wall off children. I’m not saying that the noise level is acceptable. I don’t know that it is. What I’m saying is that you need to put yourself on the other side of the wall. I don’t mean that only as a metaphor; you might have children one day and you can go there and see.

  14. David M. Greenwald

    All I’m suggesting to you Greg, is that there were basic mitigation measures that would have improved the conditions for both the children and the neighbors that have not been taken. I’m not sure what you are getting with your comment.

  15. Marvin K. Mooney

    It’s always the easy thing to do but let’s not put this 15 year long community heartache on the back of some young patrol cop (who probably has less than 3 years experience- about 80% of the DPD patrol force) who now suddenly has to determine the “reasonableness” of kids yapping and playing in a licensed day care facility. Judges, lawyers and juries have a hard time with that word. This problem has lived for 15 long years and it will not be solved in a 15 minute visit by your local beat cop. Chief Black is right. It sounds like it’s time for the neighbors to step up and sue and take the owner to court. There are plenty of documented cases where this has happened with good results- or are they too afraid of looking like the “bad guy” in all this? Then why make the cop the “bad guy”?

  16. David M. Greenwald

    To this is a non-issue: I challenge you to spend a day in the home of the neighbors and then we can talk about how much of a non-issue this is. Read the letter from the contractor again, or better yet call him up. The previous article has the letter scanned in with his name. Unless you’ve been there, you don’t know.

  17. Greg Kuperberg

    David: Okay, some of what the sound engineer wanted would help the children a bit, for instance the sound deadening panels. But some of it would do the opposite, for instance “change the rear exit doors to emergency use only”.

    My point is that you’re centering the discussion on the convenience of the neighbors, not the children, and that it isn’t progressive. After all, who is more numerous, and who is more privileged?

    The real problem, from the sound of it, is that the day care is overcrowded. And that it needs sound mitigation inside to help calm down the children. You have now written three articles on the suffering of the neighbors on Cezanne Court, and zero articles on the children’s experience. The statement that the contractor needed earplugs ought to be a red flag. I understand the neighbors’ frustration, but are they really the more important party here?

    Indeed, is Montessori Country Day the only day care in Davis whose living conditions should be looked at? There are (or were?) also day care trailers on the elementary school sites. I don’t remember their official name at the moment, but I remember that I started calling them sardine cans.

  18. David M. Greenwald

    The purpose of shifting the rear exit is to move where the noise comes from the rear near the neighbors to the front. I would consider that at worst neutral to the kids. As is changing the playing surface, changing the type of wheels on the toys, etc.

    I agree with you that this story is told from the perspective of the neighbors–they are the ones talking to me, I have no access to the children without staking out the center and catching a parent picking up a kid. That doesn’t seem like a good idea. And likewise the owner has never returned my calls.

    Is it overcrowded? Hard to know if 70 children is overcrowding, there seems like a lot of outdoor space out there, the picture granted doesn’t show that, but there is a huge amount of space up front and away from the neighbors houses, a reconfiguration would not harm the children at all and would do a lot for the neighbors.

    I’ve heard from a lot of people, at least one of whom posts here who lives by a day care center in Davis and there are not noise problems.

    To me the design is a perfect storm which concentrates and focuses the noise right on the neighbors and it would not take a huge expense (and the neighbors were willing to chip in) to change the configuration of the playground.

    Not one of the neighbors has expressed a problem with the day care center being there, only the operation of it and they blame the owners not the children.

  19. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]I agree with you that this story is told from the perspective of the neighbors–they are the ones talking to me, I have no access to the children without staking out the center and catching a parent picking up a kid.[/i]

    It would be a very good idea for you to find out more about the day care itself, and you don’t have to get started by ambushing parents at the front door. The Montessoris in town are a fairly well-network group, and I suspect that a lot of the directors and staff have opinions about John Hillis. And aside from their opinions, they might give you contacts, including parents who know something about it.

    One reason that the neighbors came to you is that some of your reputation is that you are Mr. Home Property Values. I don’t think that that is entirely intentional on your part, but that is the side that you have taken on many issues including this one. If you like to think of yourself as progressive, you should shift your emphasis. After all, one of those houses on Cezanne Court sold for a half million dollars a few years ago, according to Zillow.

    [i]Is it overcrowded?[/i]

    Simple common sense says that if a sound wall plus double-pane windows truly aren’t good enough, and if a contractor truly needed earplugs, then the day care must be incredibly loud for the children in it.

    It’s also obviously not as simple as the total space in the playground. If the inside of the day care is loud, the children get stressed and stay loud outside.

  20. B. Collins

    What non issue? I have had the privilege to sit inside one of these neighborhood residences at 9:a.m. after the sound wall was built. With the windows, specially designed to minimize sound closed and the drapes drawn the noise was too loud to carry on a normal conversation. We are not talking about highly sensitive whinny neighbors here. Some of the neighbors have children and are both used to and sympathetic to typical childhood noise. Many of these neighbors have spent considerable money to try and mitigate the problem when legally they should not have had to do anything. GK, forgive me, if it sounded like I was intending to be on the side of the kids that was purely accidental. There should be no mistake about it, on this issue; I am squarely on the side of the neighbors. I simply wanted to state to those who are more sensitive than I, if you can’t find it within yourselves to have compassion for the neighbors then give a thought to the kids. We are talking about decibel levels that are high enough that they possibly may be harmful to young ears. Davis prides itself on being oh so sensitive to social issues. Presumably that may be one reason some parents pay to put their children in preschool. If the parent’s belief is that in addition to giving their children an academic head start enrolling them in that preschool might help socialize them for the school years they have ahead it doesn’t appear to me that their money is well spent. If that is the case the parents should know that rather than teaching their little darlings to stand fast in support of whatever the most recent social cause might be the staff of that school appears to be teaching them to be irresponsible neighbors and to violate the law If there are legitimate reasons for this conduct let’s hear it! . All of this is easily fixed. All that has to be done is to shift the place area to the side yard that is adjacent to no neighbors. Most of my family members have chosen law enforcement careers. I’m looking forward to sharing with them the thoughts that asking them to enforce the law makes them the bad guys. Trust me; they believe that is what they were hired to do. For the most part that is why law enforcement officers exist. To a person they firmly believe they are the good guys. So do I, since my career is also in a field of law enforcement.

    Forgive me if I sound frustrated. I am. I can’t believe something so easily fixed by the one person causing the problem is still an issue after 15 years.

  21. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]If you can’t find it within yourselves to have compassion for the neighbors then give a thought to the kids.[/i]

    Let’s think about this. On one side of the wall, you have three home owners. On the other side of the wall, you have 70 children. Clearly the home owners deserve our compassion first, because the children have not petitioned the Davis Vanguard.

    Now consider the complaint. One of the letters said, “We can not imagine one home or family in Davis that would enjoy 70 shrieking and crying preschoolers,” and you said “Through the newly constructed sound wall, across the distance of a yard and through double pane glass windows the noise can be so pervasive that it is difficult at times to carry on a normal conversation within the homes”. I totally agree, if it were my house, I would be frustrated too.

    What do the preschoolers think of it? That one is a stumper. Do they dislike being around 69 other shrieking and crying children? Would they want to carry on a normal conversation? Is it different for them if they don’t have a sound wall, the distance of a yard, or double pane glass windows? Do preschool children feel stress like adults do? These are all good questions.

    The worst of it is that they are teaching these kids to be irresponsible neighbors.

    But maybe these problems can be easily fixed by moving the play area to the side yard. Maybe then if those kids shriek and cry, they will no longer disturb anybody.

  22. Frankly

    How many neighbors are actually impacted by the noise? From Google Earth, it appears that there are only two houses immediately adjacent/behind the school property. It is an unfortunate lot layout… the school on a wide narrow double-lot with probably less than 20 feet between the back of the school and these two adjacent houses.

    It is obvious that the city should require more buffer space for neighborhood daycares and schools.

    However, there are some considerations… the kid noise does not start before 8:30 AM and most of the little darlings are picked up before 6:00 PM. There is no noise problem at night, and I assume the school is closed on the weekends.

    So the problem is primarily during normal business hours, it is the sound of children, and weekends and evenings are completely noiseless. Assuming the school does not use a wood burning fireplace, the situation could be a whole lot worse for a sensory-sensitive neighbor.

    Maybe the solution is a dose of perspective?

  23. Barbara King

    Here is a better Nolo Press book about small claims court: Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court in California. The small claims court section in the old edition of Neighbor Law that I own is very short and not very detailed. Again, even small claims court is never the first choice, but for a problem this severe that has gone on for so long, it may be worth considering. How unfortunate that it has gone on for so very long.

  24. Mike Harrington

    The case would not be small claims, but would be in Yolo County Superior Court, unlimited civil jurisdiction. If it were my case, I would include an injunctive cause of action to force changes to the operations of the school.

    The neighbors have a strong case against the school.

    The city has a strong case, too. But the CC has no spine to act to protect those children and the neighbors. (Ya, CC. You reading this?)

  25. through the looking glass

    How big are the lots? This could be a metaphor for densification in general. Oh yes, we must protect the quality of life in Davis. Curious and curiouser.

  26. Barbara King

    Mike: It could be small claims, if I understand the tactic right. The idea is for all the aggrieved neighbors to sue for loss of quiet enjoyment of their property–over and over and over. If the guy loses, he racks up a lot of judgements to pay. And the sheer number of suits is also an attention getter. Now, collecting on judgements is another matter. Can small claims court judgements be collected by putting a lien on a property? I’m no expert. All I know is what I read in Nolo and what the KGO law-yuh says.

  27. B. Collins

    GK has used the operative word in this blog …”think.” The collective “we” may be regressing into a new dark age, abandoning reason only to respond to events based on emotional feelings. I hope that is not so. In any event I would like to pretend everyone has actually read this blog penned by our host Mr. Greenwald. The reason the homeowners deserve our compassion actually only incidentally has anything to do with the children. The reason the neighbor deserve our compassion is because they are right. The excess noise generated by the school has been witnessed not only by the neighbors and myself but also by the author of this blog. Over a 15 year period his noise has been witnessed by police officers, documented by oral evidence given to the City Counsel, in letters by the neighbors, and in the letter by the contractor who installed sound deadening windows in at least one of the houses. The evidence is not all antidotal. It has been measured by a sound engineer with scientific instruments and found to be far in excess of what the law allows. A law, by the way that was not fashioned to favor the school’s neighbors but a citywide law enacted by the City Counsel based on studies to determine what is safe and reasonable. There is NO evidence that excess noise does not exist. The facts support the neighbor’s position. That is why the neighbors deserve our compassion.

    I don’t wish to suggest in my above comment that the children don’t matter. As mentioned by Mr. Harrington there is a separate and very real issue with the children. The noise levels are sufficiently high that it is probable that within the cone of nose imposed by the design of the roof and the buildings of the school there may be a very real danger to the hearing of the children. To my knowledge nobody has looked closely into that potential danger.

  28. B. Collins

    Much to my surprise I discovered that the name Montessori is not trademarked. There is no one organization that provides oversight. While I hope most people who start a Montessori School are at least familiar with the Montessori method there does not appear to be any requirement for even that. Apparently all you have to do to become a Montessori School is to call yourself a Montessori School. If that is true the suggestion in this blog that the Montessori School network in Davis is a fairly well networked group that may be available to offer insight seems to be without much meaning. I have no idea whether or not such a network exists however; the bottom line seems to be that the owner of a Montessori School is not answerable to any one organization and is free to do what ever they wish within the boundaries of State and City law. That is the point. This particular school is not abiding by the City Ordinance regulating permissible sound levels.

    As to the criticism of Mr. Greenwald for being “Mr. Home Property Values” I wouldn’t be in too big of a hurry to abrogate individual property rights. Any study of British Common law will reveal that the development of property rights for freemen gave birth to individual rights. Not only do we owe our individual rights and liberties to the concept of property rights historically when those rights are abolished in a country individual liberties suffer a similar decline. It is not by accident that the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution sets forth the principle that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. That appears to be what is happening to the school’s neighbors in this case. Are you not being deprived of your property when a neighbor creates conditions that make the enjoyment of that property unobtainable? While it is true the Constitution protects against Government action many of those same principals have been expanded into the body of Civil law that regulates how as neighbors we treat each other. In this case not only is the school operating in a way to inconvenience the neighbors in some instances it is purposely doing so and no, the school did not come first. It is a planned community in which as I understand it conditional waivers were obtained to allow zoning for a school if it was operated within the conditions set forth by law, which would include the City noise regulations. If such is the case the school is not in compliance with the conditions that allowed its existence in that neighborhood.

    Part of the problem is that indeed the noise is not limited to normal school hours. On at least two recent occasions the police were called to document excessive noise well after 7p.m., a time when reasonable people might expect to be able quietly enjoy their homes and yards.

    Finely, the question is posed “How many neighbors are actually impacted by the noise?” My response has to be what does it matter? Our Country is not yet a completely communal society. Many of the principals our country is founded on stem from the belief that the greatest number shouldn’t always be the victor. Tyrannical behavior be it by a minority or a majority is still tyranny. Whether it is one person or many they as a group or each separately are still entitled to justice. In this case the neighbors are entitled to the reasonable use of their property. I echo Mr. Harrington’s call (Ya, CC. You reading this?). Apparently, by not only refusing to do their duty but also by actively interfering with the enforcement of City laws by the Davis Police the City Counsel has precluded the School’s neighbors from achieving anything that even approaches justice. That can be the only explanation for the Chief of Police believing it is a policy issue not an enforcement issue. Chief, don’t just document noisy events write the citation or submit it to the District Attorney’s office for them to file a complaint. A string of fines whenever there is excessive noise might be just the motivation necessary to convince the school owner it is time to be a good neighbor.

  29. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]If that is true the suggestion in this blog that the Montessori School network in Davis is a fairly well networked group that may be available to offer insight seems to be without much meaning.[/i]

    All I meant is that many of these people know each other, and they are useful leads for a reporter. You’re right that “Montessori” is in practice just a slogan, not any kind of brand or franchise. There is a brand of Montessori school toys, and a few official Montessori books, and that’s about it.

    [i]As to the criticism of Mr. Greenwald for being “Mr. Home Property Values” I wouldn’t be in too big of a hurry to abrogate individual property rights.[/i]

    Me neither. I’m not a Communist, you know. But then, if I had a blog, I wouldn’t call it “The People’s Vanguard”. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, I like to see sincerity.

    On that point, yes I agree that on their evidence, the neighbors have a valid noise complaint. But are they are correct as you and they think they are? That really depends on how you make the case.

    My point is, don’t talk as if the kids are noisy brats who should stay away from civilization. They deserve way more respect than that. Indeed, in principle they could be your legal allies. If Hillis argued that it’s just natural for day care centers to be loud, you would be in a strong position if you could say: “No it’s not natural, the school is overcrowded and it’s not fair to the kids either.”

    A noise complaint looks very different if you cite someone for snoring (which incredibly actually happened in Davis) vs if you’re cite an illegal dogfighting ring. The law, certainly this particular law, will never be interpreted as a mathematical axiom; it will be fuzzed by what is practical or ethical. You have a better case if you can say, “You have no excuse to make this much noise in the first place.”

    The People’s Vanguard of Davis would be truer to its name with such a case too.

    In fact, it’s not just about the children or the neighbors. If that day care is so loud that contractors wear earplugs, then do the working conditions for the staff meet OSHA standards? Again, whereas the homes in question are hardly “affordable housing”, day care workers are generally not paid well at all, often with no benefits either. I would think that potential OSHA violations are a powerful thing to cite in a nuisance lawsuit.

  30. Vanguardian

    “But then, if I had a blog, I wouldn’t call it “The People’s Vanguard”.”

    Perhaps not, but David once told me that the name was a play on words. The conventional somewhat cynical nickname is the The People’s Republic, David then intentionally changed the word Republic to Vanguard to reflect the fact that the blog would be a kind of new popular movement or so he hoped at one point, though he has also frequently suggested he never imagined the kind of readership it has received.

  31. Rich Rifkin

    David is a Democrat, not a Communist. However, the name, The People’s Vanguard, is obviously a communist party reference. It goes back to Vladimir Lenin, who called his Bolshevik movement “the vanguard of the proletariat.” From 1920 on, the Soviet communists founded a number of Red parties around the world and tagged them as “the people’s vanguards.” It is the same word origin for Mao’s “People’s Republic of China” and later Kim’s “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” In general, countries with “people” in the title refer to brutal dictatorships with leftist pretensions.

  32. David M. Greenwald

    Vanguardian got it right. The name was simply tweaking the term “The People’s Republic of Davis” and using a term that evoked the forerunner of a movement.

  33. Greg Kuperberg

    So are you saying, David, that you aren’t necessarily a progressive? Are your causes first come, first served? What is this popular movement about, anyway?

  34. Greg Kuperberg

    Here we go, from LinkedIn: “The Vanguard is local blog that covers Davis and Yolo County issues from a progressive perspective.”

    But not this issue.

  35. David M. Greenwald

    Not sure what that means Greg. From my standpoint, I’m siding with the people against the wealthy, powerful, and well-placed owner of a day care center who has used his political power and influence to avert city response to nuisance against his neighbors. That seems pretty progressive to me.

  36. Greg Kuperberg

    What you’re doing is siding with only slightly less wealthy and powerful home owners who paid big bucks for a comfort zone. Or if they didn’t pay big bucks, it paid them big bucks. They have a valid point, but they clearly don’t care about the truly disadvantaged people in this story, the children and staff in the day care. (In fact, some of the comments about the children and staff are outright nasty.) In three articles in a row, you’ve adopted their apathy.

    I don’t think that you did it deliberately, but that is the way that it reads. It’s Progressive Lite (TM).

    I’m not saying, necessarily, that you have to go chase the story. But at the very least, if you frame the problem as how John Hillis treats his neighbors, it makes the case look small and whiny. Obviously, how Hillis treats his staff and preschoolers can only be worse. The neighbors would have a stronger argument if they embraced that point.

  37. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”the wealthy, powerful, and well-placed owner of a day care center”[/i]While I don’t share your prejudices, basing and shaping my opinions on an individual’s finances, I’m shocked to hear that running a daycare center makes one “wealthy and powerful.” Now I know why Warren Buffet has moved his billions of dollars into kiddie care.

  38. Greg Kuperberg

    To be fair, Rich, Hillis is sort-of rich and sort-of powerful. He owns two other day care centers besides the one on Renoir. And it looks like he has a million-dollar house at Davis Golf Course.

    But the thing is, a million-dollar house is not all that different from a half-million-dollar house. This homeowners’ interest truly does for progressive ideals what Bud Lite does for beer.

  39. Brian K

    In 1994, Davis became a laughingstock around the world when some guy thought the woman next door was snoring too loud, called the cops. They brought decibel measurement devices and deemed it necessary to wake the poor woman up and cite her for violating a noise ordinance.
    Now comes the People’s Vanguard of Davis and people with too much time on their hands ready to whip out the decibel measurement devices and get the cops to bust children for being children?!
    The image of a rich, prima donna homeowner with too much time on their hands hiding behind double-pane windows and drawn curtains and cupping their ears to be able to condemn the children’s shouts of joy and laughter and then bother the cops who have way more important things to do like solve real crimes is a very sad commentary on these homeowners’ narrow-minded lack of concern for the community. “My way or the highway” is pretty petty in this case. Whoop it up kids, here’s a shout out to you, have fun before you grow up and turn into one of these self-important fussbudgets who obviously never listened to the old adage: “Live and Let Live.”


    Greg and Rich, get a grip! You are losing the gist of the article and issue. I live right next to a day care center, and I mean right next to it. Never has there been a noise problem. But then this day care I live next to does not allow Big Wheels to be used and the playground is almost all grass. The children are orderly, respectful, and seem quite happy and cheerful. At playtime, there is laughter and some yelling from time to time, the normal noise of recreating children. I have lived next to this daycare since 1987, and never has there been a noise problem.

    What the neighbors are describing in DPD’s article is an out of control daycare with no respect for neighbors, no care for the children’s welfare, set no good example of how children should act appropriately. I certainly would not put my children in that daycare.

    Nevermind all the esoteric discussions on a higher plain, talking about progressive causes, etc. ad nauseum. Either we have a noise ordinance or we don’t. If we do, the police should enforce it. Bc law enforcement is choosing to view this situation as “civil”, is the reason Hillis can thumb his uppity nose at the neighbors. Shame on Landy Black for not enforcing the law as it stands on the books. Why bother having a noise ordinance if we are not going to enforce it? Snoring is one thing (unavoidable, not bothering anyone but the person in the next bed), this is entirely another (bothering the surrounding neighbors so they do not have the quiet enjoyment of their property; possibly damaging the children’s ears).

    Since the police in this town are not willing to act, and since the CC is just as gutless, then the neighbors need to bring nuisance small claims suits against Hillis, again and again, until he stops his unseemly behavior towards the neighbors. Better yet, find a pro bono attorney, and sue the jerk in Superior Court and get an injunction against Hillis to reduce the sound or else be forced to go out of business.

    Hillis is a no account low life businessman, that gives business a bad name. To the neighbors: TAKE HILLIS TO COURT, and stop pussyfooting around the issue!

  41. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]Greg and Rich, get a grip! You are losing the gist of the article and issue. [/quote] COURTY: What do you think my position is on this issue? I never expressed a view as to the merits of the complaints, as I don’t have a view on them. I’m shocked you would call me out by name for expressing a view you disagree with when I did not express a view. Of course, I’m not shocked that if you are going to disparage my “view,” you would do so without using your own name. That would take heart, something perhaps you lack.

  42. B. Collins

    Hmmmm, BK I think perhaps you are talking about a different neighborhood. The people I have observed over the years, from the neighborhood at issue here, have included people employed as police officers, educators, students, university staff and many other professions. I suspect they would be both shocked and with time, perhaps amused, at being referred to as either rich or Prima Donnas. As for having too much time on their hands they appear for the most part to be hard working people who get out of bed and go to work each day working many different shifts. Does that sound familiar? THESE PEOPLE ARE THE COMMUNITY We are not talking about esoteric philosophical problems we are talking about a very real problem. Nor are we talking about the joyful laughter of little children. The problem is noise. Noise to the extent that people, who because they have to work afternoons and nights, can’t sleep during the day. We are talking about noise so loud it precludes people from inviting guests over and carrying on a normal conversation in their living rooms even though the windows are closed and sound deadening drapes are drawn. We are talking about noise that on a semi regular basis keeps people at eight o’clock at night from sitting on their patio and having a barbeque with their family. We are talking about noise so loud that it is actually classified as dangerous.

    Fussbudgets? Tell you what, let me drag my 6’ft speakers (relics from another age) over by your fence, crank my 600 watt amp up and blast your yard with a sweet lullaby such as In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, by Iron Butterfly. I’ll play fair and keep it at about 90 decibels which is the level the neighbors often get to hear. I’ll do it at a time when you have guests over or are trying to sleep When you complain see if you think it’s moronic when I tell you, “live and let live”, “I’m just whooping it up and having fun.” “You’re just being narrow minded and have a lack of concern for the community,”. To put this in perspective ask any sound engineer or medical doctor. They will tell you sound levels above 85 decibels are dangerous to your hearing and can cause irreversible damage.

    The school’s neighbors are not telling the school owner “my way or the highway”! No one has asked that the school be shut down. Instead the neighbors have spent their own money to try and mitigate the problem. A sound engineer suggested that if the children played in the open space beside the school, already set up as one of the school playgrounds or used care in the toys provided the children for the most part the problem would go away. The schools response was to move the sand boxes even closer to the neighbor’s fence, keep the kids in that vicinity, and now encourage the kids to yell as loud as they can at the neighbors. It sure sound to me like you have picked the player to accuse of having a lack of concern for the community. The neighbors have certainly been far more civilized than I would be. I’m afraid if I was a neighbor, by now I would have dragged the owner out to the parking lot and beat his ears back.

  43. earoberts

    “Of course, I’m not shocked that if you are going to disparage my “view,” you would do so without using your own name. That would take heart, something perhaps you lack.”

    Snarky, snarky!

  44. welcome to Davis and the justified extraneous cost of living

    is this why we pay extra money to live here? to be ignored by police, business owners, inconsiderate neighbors? is this why we pay extra to live in this over rated expensive piece of (expletive deleted) filled land? take it to small claims court. Each of the five neighbors can sue the owner of the business for 5000 dollars each. the lawsuit will cost the neighbors nothing and much to the business owner. it’s disgusting how this pathetic police department and city council responds to legitimate city complaints. typical…typical typical. like i said, it’s not worth it. davis police routinely make exuces as to why they can’t come in time to deal with the noise in many areas. they just don’t want to do their jobs. prove me wrong…please please please prove me wrong. this is supposed to be a clean quiet wonderful community. i feel sorry for those neighbors and they should have taken john hillis to court a loooooooong time ago.

  45. cops and city council should live

    there for a year and get to experience the noise. also the owner and workers should be forced to live in the neighborhood as well. this way they can get a taste of their own medicine and hopefully adjust their policy in view of their enlightenment.
    they remind me of my disgusting neighbors that smoke all hours of the night and i have to smell their smoke come into my house even with closed doors. their response to me complaining is to just deal with it because they are smokers.
    i wish they would just hurry up and get lung cancer already so we don’t have to deal with noisy neighbors and smokers.

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