By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – It’s rarely a good idea in Davis to attempt to push through changes without going through the commission process. For another example of that look at the proposed changes to the noise ordinance.
I don’t believe the intent was nefarious. But it’s another move that looks bad—proposed for the first time in a staff report released late on Friday of Memorial Day weekend. No city business on Monday. On the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting.
This time it was caught and tabled for now so that commissions and citizens can weigh in. That’s the right thing to do—but why do we have to seemingly go through this a few times each year?
We went through this with BrightNight as well and approved the contract without a full review. That process was bad. It eroded trust in the city between a segment of the population and city government.
In that case the city claimed urgency—in the case of the noise ordinance there is no such claim. We have a robust commission system, active and engaged community members—might as well utilize them.
When? I would be tempted to say whenever there is a major change that could draw concern. But the reality is that, from time to time, the city becomes tone deaf on these issues and attempts to push stuff through. Staff at times doesn’t seem to anticipate well what will be controversial and what is pro forma. To check against that, there is an easy answer—always have other eyes look at these things. and generally that means a commission or a special subcommittee.
This time at least the city recognized that they needed more community buy-in, and, on Tuesday, City Manager Mike Webb asked the council to remove the proposal from consideration.
As he explained, “I think more work needs to be done on this item to provide greater context and to articulate the intent and purpose of the contemplated ordinance changes.”
In Robert Canning’s commentary last weekend, he addressed “the city’s sound ordinance. With little discussion or notice, city staff have added an item to the agenda that could have big implications for city planning and residential neighborhoods in Davis.
“In a nutshell, the amendment would, as one person has put it, allow someone to stand in front of your house and blow an air horn for a minute or two every hour without violating the sound ordinance. This would be allowed because city staff have decided it is better to measure sound by averaging it over an hour, rather than use a simple measure like the maximum allowed sound, how the current ordinance works,” he wrote.
Council defends the ordinance in their staff report, arguing that the current ordinance “does not reflect a reasonable noise threshold for an urbanized area.” “In other words, the adopted decibel levels are too low and do not reflect the city’s current density and activity levels.”
That may be. But it’s hard to know on the face of it. Better to get broader evaluation.
Staff continued: “It is a usual practice by other urbanized cities in California to have an adopted hourly average noise level.”
But others disagree.
As Canning noted, “A quick check on the web shows that two other college towns – Chico and San Luis Obispo – have existing sound ordinances that use the ‘maximum’ sound standard. Others have found that most cities use the maximum allowed sound rather than an average.”
A sound expert whose comments were posted by David Johnson also noted, “Unless I’m mistaken, only San Diego uses l eq – 60 minutes. Although several use a sliding scale for averaged sound levels.”
One of the big problems with the proposal: “It could be costly and difficult to enforce a noise ordinance largely based on average noise levels over a 60 minute period.”
Process is part of the issue here.
Robert Canning called it troubling that there was “no commission input” as he writes, “Commissions, particularly ones like the Planning Commission which has legal authority, are meant to hash out the pros and cons of neighborhood zoning and the general atmosphere of living in Davis. Shouldn’t changes to sound ordinances get a hearing in that commission? And not only do city staff want to bypass the commission process, they ask the council to ‘waive full reading’ of the ordinance change and just approve what staff wants because they ‘feel’ it is needed.”
This was just asking for trouble.
For example, former Mayor Joe Krovoza and his wife Janet live near park equipment that has been particularly noisy.
In a comment on the Vanguard, she expressed concern: “Now city staff — without any public discussion or council or commission input — is seeking to introduce regulations that would conveniently render these discrepancies irrelevant, while not incidentally significantly weakening the city’s noise standards and enabling it to declare both the pickleball courts and zip track in compliance.
“Using the incorrect standard of ‘average,’ as Bollard and city staff did in their discussions and analysis, produced misleading results showing most noise at the pickleball courts and all noise near the zip track was handily below the city standards of 50 dBA between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. and 55 dBA between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Actually, Bollard’s tests show that pickleball neighbors experience noise in excess of 60 dBA and very close to 70 dBA, and zip track neighbors (of which I am one) to noise well above the nighttime limit and preciously close to the daytime limit.”
As the former mayor explained, “with a proper public process all of this could have been avoided. When Janet spoke to the zip track’s vendor from the GameTime company, the rep remarked that she wished she had known noise was an issue in that area of Arroyo Park because then she would have suggested other amenities.”
To me this is a key observation. With communication between the city and residents, or in this case the city and commissions, some of these problems can be detected and avoided. It sometimes takes a little longer, but it is easier than having to pull an item and go back to the drawing board.
Now the city can go back and do what they should have done in the first place—and we will see what comes of it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: