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.
“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.”
“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