5th May 2014 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
Sound Ordinance, Amplified Defeat… For the better part of the last four years, District C Councilwoman Kristen Palmer has tried to forge a compromise on the issue of amplified sound, in the French Quarter and around the city. Her efforts came crashing down as Vieux Carré residents and business owners turned in solid opposition to her proposal. Her measure failed on April 24, by the narrowest of margins, a tie. The seventh vote, Stacy Head, chose to be absent.
Prior to the vote, the Landrieu administration amended the ordinance to reportedly strike the 58-year-old curfew on the playing of musical instruments in city streets after 8 p.m.
Jackie Clarkson, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and LaToya Cantrell voted against the measure; James Gray and Susan Guidry joined Palmer in favor. A tie preserving the status quo.
In an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, VCPORA Executive Director Meg Lousteau admitted that Councilwoman Palmer’s proposed ordinance made some real changes. It just did not go far enough, so her group came out as vocal opponents. “The April 10 sound ordinance includes some good things: It establishes that measurements will be take at the source of the sound, not in people’s homes. It begins to measure low frequency boom-boom-like sounds. It establishes a cap for Bourbon Street, where currently none exist. These improvements will go hand in hand with a major accomplishment of our volunteer efforts: The re-establishment of a sound program within the city health department. That has been a goal sought by neighborhood leaders literally for decades.”
“That’s the good news,” Lousteau continued, “Unfortunately, there are some Trojan horses in this ordinance. It makes the city complicit in sound levels that are harmful to people in our service industry, who will be exposed to these levels night after night when Bourbon Street becomes legally the loudest street in America.
“It removes civil rights of neighbors. In a city that lacks enforcement, the right to file suit has been the only thing we could count on for a last resort, when the city does not resolve a chronic problem. It removes power from the police, who we still need to call when there is a middle of the night problem and the health department is closed.”
Most of all, she said, VCPORA went to war to stop the measure because “It allows street musicians to play anywhere in the city 24/7. We have empathy for some of the problems of street musicians, but this idea has not been publicly vetted.”
VCPORA activist and member Nathan Chapman told The Weekly that instead of having moved Palmer’s comprehensive measure to a vote, “The Council should kept its January 16 promise that this ordinance would focus on Bourbon Street.” Since it did not, he went to explain, deferring it “until all these new issues can be more carefully considered and publicly discussed” was the only option.
One major element of Palmer’s proposal was to potentially decriminalize sound violations,, but in a misdemeanor fashion that would allow the city to levy higher fines for sound violators. Palmer championed the idea, and VCPORA was sympathetic to it. Explained Chapman, “Nobody wants to punish good people who make a mistake. But, there are a few egregious bad apples. These mega-bar owners thumb their noses at city $500 fines. So, we agree that maximum fines should be increased for repeat offenders. Similarly, if a nasty DJ refuses to turn it down when asked by the police, we should not neuter our police officers’ ability to command respect.”
Jackie Clarkson cited her opposition to the measure that it did not focus on banning forms of amplified music.
Clarkson had proposed expanding the curfew to include all “sound-emanating” machines from public rights-of-way, and even specified that phonographs would be an explicitly banned item. Yet, she also added that Mayor Landrieu’s proposal to remove the curfew had surprised her, and she voted against her allies in the Administration.
It’s one of the few times the 20 year veteran had opposed Landrieu, and it was the last major vote that Clarkson will make as a Councilwoman. She leaves office this coming week.
This article originally published in the May 5, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.