City Disrespects Neighbors by Again Agendizing Exemption to Noise Ordinance



Back in March, Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor requested an item by a Councilmember on the agenda that would exempt from the City’s Noise Ordinance, Schools and Day Care centers.  Mayor Pro Tem Saylor described the noise as the natural and delightful noise of children.  He openly wondered who could object to the sounds of children, implying that those who did were simply being selfish and insensitive.

The Vanguard immediately identified the source of this request, as for years, the residents of Cezanne Court have been fighting John Hillis, owner of the private for profit Montessori Country Day Care Center.  As one of the neighbors described it to me, the problem is so bad that once school begins at 8:30 am, there is no possibility of resting in their own home.  There is persistent noise throughout the day at levels approaching 90 dbs.  Moreover there is trash and litter thrown throughout various adjacent properties.

After the Vanguard wrote a series of stories, chronicling the problems of the neighbors trying to get the Montessori Country Day Care Center to abate their noise and other problems, the city pulled the item.  In late August, the neighbors wrote another joint letter to the city of Davis, copied to the Police Chief, each of the councilmembers, the Davis Enterprise, and the Vanguard.

In it, they requested the city to take action on their behalf.  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.”

The Vanguard spoke with one of the neighbors last night and was informed that the city never bothered to respond to the complaints on the neighbors.  Instead, they were surprised to learn that in this week’s agenda, the exemption has been placed back on the agenda and this time not as a councilmember item but rather as a regular agenda item written by Planning Director Katherine Hess.  The full item is not available at press time, as once again the city’s server is down.

As we described earlier, this is far from a new problem.  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 they put it in numerous letters and communications:

“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.”

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.”

However, instead of helping the neighbors, the city has responded by trying to exempt the Montessori Day Care Center, in so doing they show disrespect and contempt for the complaints of the neighbors.  To make matters worse, originally this was supposed to be an item submitted by a councilmember, which means that the councilmember prepares the staff report.  However, now apparently Katherine Hess has prepared the staff report.  We need to know how that came to be.

The Vanguard will have more on this as the city staff report becomes available.

—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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36 thoughts on “City Disrespects Neighbors by Again Agendizing Exemption to Noise Ordinance”

  1. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]City Disrespects Neighbors[/i]

    Once again, if this is a chronically high level of noise for neighbors, then it must be hell for the children in the day care and the day care workers. These neighbors have still not recognized children and the working poor as fellow victims. Instead, the world, in particular the David Vanguard, still revolves around affluent homeowners. Unless and until that changes, this complaint will look very small.

  2. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]City Disrespects Neighbors[/i]

    Once again, if this is a chronically high level of noise for neighbors, then it must be hell for the children in the day care and the day care workers. These neighbors have still not recognized children and the working poor as fellow victims. Instead, the world, in particular the David Vanguard, still revolves around affluent homeowners. Unless and until that changes, this complaint will look very small.

  3. davisite2

    NOTICE- For those interested in attending and supporting this event:
    The City of Davis is planting a tree at the train depot on Sat Nov 14 at 11 a.m. in recognition of Middle Eastern peoples and cultures. Sounds like a good Davis interfaith,bridge-building type of event.

  4. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]These people aren’t affluent. The person there I know best bought their house years ago for $160,000 and is a staffer at UC Davis. They aren’t impoverished, but you make it sound like they are a bunch of rich people and they are not.[/i]

    Let’s agree that affluence is relative. Sure, they’re not rich like John Hillis, much less like Eric Chavez. But compared to a lot of people, they have it good. Let me put it this way. Your acquaintance who bought one of those two houses has lived in Davis for better than free for the entire time. They have been paid a thousand dollars a month by their house on average for the full 15 years. According to Zillow, the third of these houses was bought for $500,000 a few years ago. And according to Jeff Bergamini’s database, your acquantance has a high five-figure salary with complete benefits. Compare all that to what the day care workers have.

    [i]I agree with you about the children, but to this point, none of the parents have spoken to me, so it would be difficult to cover their perspective.[/i]

    When the Illinois admissions scandal broke, you did not wait for Illinois families to contact you to address that angle. It was enough that you were already discussing Linda Katehi for other reasons.

    Again, you have the right to pursue or not pursue any story you like. The problem is that this story is so small and so incomplete that it doesn’t work. What if there were a shooting on that street? Would you say, “Sadly, the family of the deceased did not contact me. We know that the city disrespects the [b]neighbors[/b] who fear for their safety.”

  5. David M. Greenwald

    The difference is Katehi was talking and not making any sense (from my perspective, turns out she was more sloppy than complicit). I got statements from the University, they responded to my questions. I don’t know what the kids are going through at all, I’m completely in the dark.

  6. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]I don’t know what the kids are going through at all, I’m completely in the dark.[/i]

    For starters, put yourself in the position of one of the day care workers. You already said reported that a construction worker for one of the homes said that the noise conditions were awful, that he had to wear earplugs, and that even then he could hardly get anything done. Noise levels were bandied about that might well violate OSHA standards. Now put yourself on the other side of the wall. What would you make of even more noise on the job, all day and every day?

    While you’re at it, you can make a good guess as to whether they are paid a living wage.

  7. tansey thomas

    David, would it not be reasonable to record a sample of the noise to play at the City Council meeting so that the public can know what the neighbors are talking about? Film would probably be more helpful. Of course, a sample could be placed on KDRT OR the Vanguard.

  8. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]The difference is Katehi was talking and not making any sense[/i]

    Her answers made sense to me, but never mind that. I’ll make a similar point about these homeowners on Cezanne Court. Maybe they are right, but they don’t make sense. Their talk is too self-centered to make sense.

  9. SODA

    what is your point here? Are you sympathetic to the noise inflicted on the daycare workers ? I agree and it isn’t an issue of neighbors OR workers but neighbors have little choice in the matter unless they move.
    I think David’s point in the earlier story and now is the use of Don Saylor’s influence to try to pass the ordinance under the radar before and again now AND that the city is complicit in its efforts to present it while apparently NOT addressing the neighbors’ letter OR apparently enforcing the current noise ordinance which seems to
    be violated. But maybe we will be surprised when we see the staff report.
    To me it is another example of city falling down on the job. Maybe the batallion chief can resolve it 🙂

  10. Rich Rifkin

    I would imagine that the noise generated by every daycare center of similar size generates the same amount of noise. The question is just one of the facility’s physical layout and its proximity to its neighbors. My question is thus, is the Montessori Country Day Care Center in Green Meadows all that different in those respects than [b]all[/b] of the other daycare centers in Davis?

  11. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]what is your point here?[/i]

    My point is: You’re more likely to get what you want if you help other people instead of just thinking about your own comfort. The resident who only complains that a day care is unbearably noisy is no better than the resident who only complains that the homeless are an eyesore.

  12. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]please translate to this situation and these neighbors; what would you do/would have dine throughout this long time period?[/i]

    They should have expanded their case. Instead of weakening the noise ordinance, the city council should set a second limit on noise inside of day care centers. And this day care should be investigated for OSHA compliance.

    You should understand that it isn’t just that they have done nothing for noise exposure for the children or employees in this daycare. At times, people have outright badmouthed and antagonized the children and the employees.

  13. Don Shor

    David: “they are being responsive to the wealthy owner of the facility”
    How do you know he is wealthy? Why do you choose to characterize him this way? You make it sound like a class and income issue, which I doubt is your intention.

  14. David M. Greenwald

    Because Greg was making the point about the wealthy neighbors and my writing from their perspective, so I juxtaposed the neighbors against the owner. In retrospect, the reason this is covered from their perspective is that they are the ones complaining about the noise. I have concerns about the workers and children as well, but I don’t have a paper trail documenting their concerns.

  15. Greg Kuperberg

    The word that I used was “affluent”, not “wealthy”. They sort-of mean the same thing, but “wealthy” more often implies someone with millions of dollars. Affluent just means upper middle class or better.

    The book “The affluent consumer” defines “affluent” this way: “Many financial organizations divide the market into four segments based on financial assets: mass affluent, $250K to $500K; affluent, $500K to $1M; high net worth $M to $5M; and pentamillionaire, $5M or more.” People who bought houses in Davis 15 years ago and have steady jobs with benefits either are mass affluent (or affluent or better), or they have spent what should have been savings. This is reasonably standard semantics.

    It is true that there is a lot of evidence on the Internet that suggests that John Hillis is beyond merely affluent, but outright rich. So you could argue that the neighbors are up against someone more powerful. On the other hand, this article series really seems to be about noise discomforts of the affluent; it’s not the best example of a progressive cause.

  16. indigorocks

    I couldn’t disagree with Greg Kuperburg more…trying to act like this is really a question of affluence..sounds like an argument that’s designed to address the real situation at hand. this day care center, the kids and hillis are making the lives of these people a living hell in their own homes. they have a right to peace, quiet and enjoyment of their homes..

    i think we need to touch on the more troublesome point…how did katherine hess come to draft the report when it was supposed to be cc.
    if you greg or katherine had to live under these types of situations, you would hate it. so don’t be so quick to judge untill you’re in their shoes.

    also, this is another example of just how corrupt and city officials and workers in housing are…welcome to yolo county. corrupt corrupt corrupt

  17. indigorocks

    perhaps greg should live for just a few days in these homes.saylor included.

    here’s who’s out for me in 2012..sue greenwald.. out
    don saylor. out
    let’s shake up city council. get rid of em all….too bad lamar heystek’s quitting, he would have been the only one to get my vote

  18. rusty49

    I agree with Don Saylor. I used to live next to an elementary school playground and to me it was the “natural and delightful noise of children”. I’ve been at that school during recess and to me it wasn’t all that noisy, hardly anything that I’d need to wear ear plugs for. As I understand it that school closes at 6 p.m. so if there were noise at 7:30 it must have been for an open house or one of the other rare functions schools have at night. One neighbor states “the Day Care staff actually encouraged the children to scream louder at the neighbors”.
    I guess it’s possible that happened but I’m also sure John Hillis would never put up with any of his employees condoning that. In my opinion this story is hyped and maybe we need to hear from the other side in the interest of fairness.

  19. David M. Greenwald

    Rusty: Unfortunately, this is a lot worse than an elementary school playground. It is poorly constructed and abuts the neighbors houses and so it funnels and concentrates the noise right into their homes. And it happens all day long.

  20. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]It is poorly constructed and abuts the neighbors houses and so it funnels and concentrates the noise right into their homes.[/i]

    David, you have repeatedly said that you’re “completely in the dark” as to what the noise in this daycare means for the children and daycare workers. That is an extremely conservative position. I don’t think that it’s all that hard to guess, and before I knew about any of this I had heard from parents who didn’t want their children in Hillis’ noisy daycares. But okay, you can be very conservative about what you know; that’s defensible.

    But now you turn around and make wild, off-the-cuff claims about acoustics. Your photographs did not give the slightest hint of any structures that would “funnel and concentrate the noise right into” neighbors’ homes. Such structures can be built, but there is nothing that looks like that here. If anything, it’s the opposite. No, there are only two obvious acoustic factors at play: (1) the houses are too close to the daycare (which isn’t funneling or concentration); and (2) the daycare itself must be incredibly loud.

    The conclusion is inescapable. Whatever the neighbors have to complain about, you should multiply it by 10 or more to know what the children and daycare workers go through. Your conception of “poorly constructed” is ultimately that the houses are not insulated well enough from the daycare. That is indeed the same as complaining that the homeless are an eyesore.

  21. indigorocks

    I’m sick and tired of all the disrespectful and disregarding the comments against the neighbors who are making legitimate complaints. If you don’t live there, then you shouldn’t speak. Saying that the screams of the kids are the same thing as calling the homeless an “eyesore”.
    This is so typical of Davis. You call people who make legitimate complaints as discriminatory without regard to their plight. You can shout up and down about how they are snobs when they complain so as to afford your liberal status and opinions. Truth is nobody wants to be the bad guy and bring up legitimate complaints that may seem popular. So you get to live your high life while the others who are courageous enough to bring up unpopularly deemed issues such as the “homeless” and noise problems bear the brunt of the retaliation. So you get the benefits of this place being a better place to live because of dealing with issues such as homelessness etc etc..and anyway what’s it to you???
    you don’t care, cause you don’t have to live under those circumstances and can yell and scream from the comfort of your homeless shelter free, kids screaming free domain and complain about an environmentally friendly community (wildhorse rance) as bringing down your “quality of life”

    Lamar Heystek was the one redeaming quality of the davis city council. The rest epitomize davis..just a bunch of greedy hypocrits that pretend ot be liberal, and hate the environment with a special kind of disgust.

  22. indigorocks

    Sue greenwald is a big fat NO!!!
    No to souza
    no to asmundson
    can someone please with the slightest integrity please stand up and get rid of the davic schitty council???

  23. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]Saying that the screams of the kids are the same thing as calling the homeless an “eyesore”.[/i]

    Well, the homeless are an eyesore, and worse. But the solution isn’t better window blinds.

  24. indigorocks

    logic defies you…the solution to the noise problem is to move out a “business” into an area that isn’t surrounded by neighbors. A business doesn’t belong in a residential area, because of this exact reason…
    that’s the solution to the problem

    john hillis needs to respect the rights of the home owners and sell his lot and move his business.

    no brainer

  25. Don Shor

    Many day care facilities are in residential areas, for obvious reasons. It sounds as though there are too many kids here, and that the city is not acting on reasonable complaints from neighbors. Certainly the business should not get any special exemption. But forcing the business to move would be an alarming precedent to other daycare providers in Davis.

  26. JayTee

    I’ve never spent any time in that area nor do I know anyone who lives there, but I have to assume that if nobody else in town who lives near a school or a daycare is complaining about noise, the noise level at this particular place must be astronomical. I agree that the solution would be to move this particular daycare someplace else (like out in some rural area of the county) and let them make all the noise they want.

  27. David M. Greenwald

    Along the lines of Don’s post, the neighbors have point blank told me they don’t have a problem with the facility being there, they just want them to take reasonable steps to mitigate the noise problem.

  28. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]I agree that the solution would be to move this particular daycare someplace else (like out in some rural area of the county) and let them make all the noise they want.[/i]

    Have you ever been in a restaurant that has a lot of tables and not much sound-proofing, and that gets louder and louder because everyone shouts through the din? When you’re there, do you conclude that the diners want to be noisy?

  29. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]When you’re there, do you conclude that the diners want to be noisy? [/quote]The ones who came to the restaurant with Mr. Microphone in tow, yes.


  30. rusty49

    John Hillis provides quality schooling and daycare with many decent paying jobs in several local Davis centers. He’s filling a niche for local workers and students who have small children and need a safe environment so the parents can persue their careers. You all need to back off, this is all much ado about nothing.

  31. Rich Rifkin

    [b]Melanie Kaye:[/b] [i]”A business doesn’t belong in a residential area … John Hillis needs to respect the rights of the home owners and sell his lot and [u]move his business[/u].”[/i]

    [b]Rusty Forty-Nine:[/b] [i]”John Hillis provides quality schooling and daycare with many decent paying jobs in several local Davis centers. … You all need to back off, this is all [u]much ado about nothing[/u].”[/i]

    Perhaps this dispute between you two could best be settled in a no holds barred cage fight?

  32. Don Shor

    I’m sure there are any number of fraternities and students in rental housing around town who would be happy to know that the noise ordinance is no longer being enforced, and that neighbor concerns are no longer an issue in terms of generating noise. Who could object to the sounds of young adults socializing and enjoying music and games?
    Seriously, there is a noise ordinance and it is complaint-based for compliance. If the noise can’t be brought down to legal levels by better supervision, then the city may have to adopt regulations about the number of children allowed based on location and size of the facility.
    So this issue, which could have been resolved between the parties, may well end up affecting other day care providers around the city, and could lead to rate increases for day care if staffing ratios have to increase or the number of children has to be reduced.
    It is in the interest of other businesses and parents to encourage a timely resolution of this conflict. Certainly any exemption should be off the city’s agenda; if anything the city should urge the parties to mediation. It would be really stupid for it to end up in court, but given the history that wouldn’t surprise me.

  33. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]could lead to rate increases for day care if staffing ratios have to increase or the number of children has to be reduced.[/i]

    If it is a choice between rate increases and an unlivable learning environment for small children, then maybe the rate increases are what we should have. Maybe the silver lining of happy children is more important than the black cloud of rate increases.

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