Noise be gone!

Council toughens ordinance, but will it work?

Melinda Vasquez and Ken Fleming contend that the city could do more to protect deteriorating neighborhoods by being tough on noxious noise-makers and their landlords. The updated noise ordinance is too weak, they say.

Melinda Vasquez and Ken Fleming contend that the city could do more to protect deteriorating neighborhoods by being tough on noxious noise-makers and their landlords. The updated noise ordinance is too weak, they say.

Photo By robert speer

It’s about to get easier for a police officer to issue a citation to anyone making too much noise, but whether that will bring relief to those suffering because of inconsiderate neighbors remains to be seen.

At their regular meeting Tuesday (Sept. 18), Chico City Council members voted, 5-2, with Scott Gruendl and Andy Holcombe dissenting, to approve the first reading of an updated noise ordinance configured in ways requested by the council during its Aug. 7 meeting.

Written by Assistant City Attorney Roger Wilson, the updated ordinance makes four significant changes in the current ordinance:

• It eliminates the requirement that officers responding to a noise complaint give a written warning before issuing a citation. Officers now have a choice of giving a written or verbal warning.

• It extends the time during which the warning is in effect from 72 hours to 180 days. During that time, a second complaint will result in a citation.

• It establishes graduated fines for first, second and third offenses of $250, $500 and $1,000, respectively.

• It provides two “objective exceptions” to the general warning requirement that would allow an officer to issue a citation without first giving a warning. One exception is when two “distinct complaints” are made about the same noise source. The other is when the noise is occurring after 10 p.m. on weekdays and after midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Some council members expressed concerns about the “objective exceptions.” When Councilwoman Mary Goloff asked Wilson to define “distinct complaints,” he said it meant complaints from two different people. Later he added that they could be residents of the same house, something that concerned Councilmen Gruendl and Holcombe, who thought the complainants should be residents of different houses.

Gruendl also thought 180 days was too long to be under a warning cloud and recommended one month as more reasonable.

Councilman Bob Evans wanted to know how Wilson came up with the time-of-day exception. Wilson replied that he’d looked at other city ordinances, conferred with the Police Department, and also chosen times that “ordinary people would think are reasonable.”

Councilman Holcombe reiterated his position, expressed at previous meetings, that an initial warning should be required in all circumstances and people should be given an opportunity to self-correct, but he said he accepted the “exceptions” in the ordinance for the sake of moving it along.

Thirteen people spoke during the public hearing. Many were young adults worried that students were going to bear the brunt of noise citations.

Krista Farnady, the Associated Students commissioner of community affairs, said an unscientific survey she’d taken showed that, among other things, students thought six months was too long for a warning to last.

Student Travis Kelham said the ordinance was “a direct attack on the 8-by-5 grid where all the college students live.” He said students in the grid—the South Campus neighborhood—give back to the community more than people realize.

Dayna Fraser, who identified herself as a third-year student at Chico State, said warnings work and police rarely have to come back. “I’m much more concerned about safety than noise,” she said.

To Ken Fleming and Melinda Vasquez, a married couple who live in the Avenues and have been strong proponents of an ordinance with real teeth, noise, out-of-control parties and violence all go together and are contributing to the destruction of entire neighborhoods.

Speaking firmly, Vasquez told the council she wanted the warning time to be nine months, the length of the school year; the cutoff time to be 10 p.m. every day; the police given the ability to use discretion; and landlords, tenants and homeowners to be held equally responsible.

In the end, the council voted to move forward, but also to revisit the ordinance in six months to determine whether it’s working, and to have its Internal Affairs Committee plan out how to get landlords involved in the process.