Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Silent Mike: Or Take out the Noise and Take Out the Funk

Today the City Council's Environmental Protection Committee will hold a hearing on the Mayor's radical revision of the city's noise code, something that hasn't been done for over thirty years. Unfortunately, there has been too little legislative oversight of this complex undertaking and we're afraid that the consequences from this revision will put a major, and costly, hurt on New York's restaurants and night life industry.

The Alliance will be joining the New York Nightlife Association and the New York Restaurant Association at today's hearing in an effort to put the brakes on Intro 397-A which, if nothing is done to slow it up, could actually be passed before the end of the year. This is in spite of the fact that no one really knows the full cost that the proposed changes will mandate if the Intro becomes law.

Make no mistake about it. This is another one of those measures that, while ostensibly designed to improve the city's quality of life, actually becomes a coercive regulation that the city uses to squeeze money from New York's small business community.

One of the bill's measures that really gets us is the highly subjective provision that makes it a violation if a club's music is "plainly audible." We're talking about the kind of standard that is quite simply an open invitation to abuse by police responding to a complaint (in the manner of I have to do something since someone complained).

The Alliance has seen a similar subjective standard on odor transformed into a license to persecute. In the Bronx, LSK Turkey factory was the subject of a vendetta by a local resident who just didn't want the properly zoned factory as his neighbor. Since the city's odor code has a zero-tolerance standard, any business that disturbs folks for any reason becomes vulnerable to the regulatory odor zealots. The same thing will happen with noise regulations if the proposed Intro becomes law.

The mayor has used the level of noise complaints to the city's 311 system as a justification for the proposed noise statute. What he leaves out, however, is the fact that 56% of all the nose complaints were neighbors complaining about neighbors (65% in the Bronx). 11% of the complaints were about noise from vehicles and only 8% of the complaints were because of clubs and bars (some of which were undoubtedly because of patrons congregating outside the club and were not directly noise made by the business itself).

In typical fashion, though, the fine structures proposed by Intro 397-A are the following: $2,000-8,000 for a commercial businesses first offense; $150-$525 for noise from a vehicle and $50 dollars! for a neighbor. So the fine structure is the exact opposite of the number of complains received. Once again small businesses are the city's monetary piƱatas.

Interestingly, the city's biggest noise culprit, the jackhammer-driven construction business, is given a pass by the new regs – an emphasis on collaborative noise reduction plans is being worked out – a sensitive approach that should also be extended to the multi-billion dollar night life industry.

Many of the regulations are complicated and net yet understood and a great deal more study is needed before anything is codified into law. In the more than a year since the first hearing no thought has been given to the complexity of the various changes.

The Council needs to slow the process and establish a "Noise Code Review Committee" made up of government, business, community and technical experts. There is too much at stake for this noisome code to be passed without proper due diligence.