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Increased fines for excessive noise in NYC
The following appeared in this mornings New York Times (and was taken from
the NYT.com web site). This is good news for New Yorkers, but does not
solve the problems we have in getting DEP (Department of Environmental
Protection) and the police to enforce the laws -- partly because of lack of
resources, and partly because of complicated regulations and enforcement
Tim Lannan <email@example.com)
October 15, 1997
NYC Moves to Increase Fines Sharply for Excessive Noise
By VIVIAN S. TOY
NEW YORK -- For New Yorkers who have long complained about noisy
nightclubs, jackhammers on overtime, shrieking car alarms and howling dogs,
the City Council on Tuesday offered a remedy that members said they hoped
would provide more relief than even a good set of earplugs.
Calling their measure a quality-of-life victory that should lower the
volume in many neighborhoods, Council members voted to double and triple
the fines handed out to repeat offenders among the city's noisemakers. A
dog that will not stop barking could cost its owner up to $525, while the
proprietor of a noisy bar could face a $24,000 fine after repeated
violations of the city's noise code.
Bar and cabaret owners said the increased fines were onerous and could
sound the death knell for many businesses. Some Council members opposed the
measure, saying it was too broad and could result in unfair summonses.
But residents of some of New York's noisiest neighborhoods said it might
provide a chance for them to get a good night's sleep. Rhonda Santamour,
who lives on the Upper East Side, said there were nights when music from a
bar across the street was so loud that "it's as if the drummer was in my
living room up here on the seventh floor."
The bill, which Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is expected to sign, increases fines
for repeated noise violations. The code covers noise offenses that range
from barking dogs and cranked-up stereos to motorcycle exhaust pipes and
thumping music from dance clubs.
Fines for first-time violators will remain the same, but for repeat
offenders, the fine would double for a second violation and triple for a
third or subsequent violation.
The law will continue to be enforced by inspectors from the Department of
Environmental Protection and police officers, who respond to citizen
complaints and measure noise levels with noise meters.
"New York City is never going to be a sleepy town where you hear the
crickets chirping," said Councilman A. Gifford Miller, who introduced the
bill and drafted it with the Department of Environmental Protection. "But I
think we can make it a little quieter, a little saner."
Miller, who represents part of Manhattan's Upper East Side, said his office
had fielded numerous complaints from residents who were fed up with noise
from local bars and large heating and air-conditioning units that emit loud
Miller said that many businesses consider the existing fines a cost of
doing business but that he hoped the higher fines would encourage
businesses to address complaints seriously and pay for necessary
renovations to insulate neighbors from the noise.
Christine Pellicano, who in the last decade has watched her neighborhood at
Second Avenue and 89th Street evolve from a relatively quiet residential
area to a booming bar scene, applauded the bill.
Ms. Pellicano said she hoped that the higher fines would force bars to
lower the volume and eventually defuse some of the rowdiness that spills
onto the sidewalk.
"I don't think people really grasp the severity of this," she said. "We're
not just saying 'shush!,' like we're in a library, because it's not just
the noise that's a problem, it's the crowds that it generates and the kind
of environment that it creates."
Mike Cafey, the manager of Kelly's Korner, a bar down the street from Ms.
Pellicano's home, said the increased fines could shut down small businesses
like his. "In order to keep people here and have a good time, you've got to
have music," he said. "This is just going to kill business."
Members of the New York Nightlife Association, a coalition of about 50
licensed cabarets and music clubs, said they objected to the bill because
it did not differentiate between clubs in residential areas and ones in
manufacturing or commercial areas. "We're not saying nightclubs should be
exempt from noise codes," said Robert Bookman, the association's lawyer.
"But there has to be a certain amount of tolerance to industries that are
important to New York's economy. The city that never sleeps gets its name
from licensed nightclubs."
Mark Linial, the owner of Reminisce Bar and Lounge at 73rd Street and
Second Avenue, said he feared that the new law would "give people a simple
way to make a complaint about us even if the complaint has nothing to do
with the noise level."
Ms. Santamour, who lives on 73rd Street across from Reminisce, said the
bar's managers had been dismissive about her complaints and that she had
filed a formal complaint with the city.
She said she had high hopes for the increased fines. "If the pocketbook is
where it hurts, then that's what we have available to us," she said. "I
think it's a great start."
Linial said he had spent more than $25,000 on soundproofing measures, like
hanging a floating ceiling and installing insulated doors. "This law gives
people who are out to hurt us, people who maybe just don't like the kind of
people who come to our reggae parties, a new weapon," he said.
The noise code generally limits construction noise to daylight hours,
except in emergency situations. It also specifies that burglar alarms must
stop ringing after 15 minutes and car alarms should wail for no more than 5
The Council voted, 44-4, for the higher fines, which will take effect 60
days after the mayor holds a public hearing and signs the bill. The members
who voted against the bill were Herbert E. Berman, Stephen DiBrienza, Una
C. Clarke and Annette M. Robinson, all from Brooklyn.
Berman said he felt the bill was oppressive because it encompassed some
situations that could not be helped, such as car alarms that sound off when
the owners are not nearby. "We can't guarantee people that their cars won't
be broken into, but now we're going to punish people for trying to protect
their cars," he said.
Ms. Robinson said she feared that selective enforcement would unfairly
target businesses in her district, which includes Bedford Stuyvesant and
Crown Heights. "Who determines what's excessive?" she said. "Standards
sometimes can vary based on culture and I'm worried about inspectors or
police officers who aren't familiar with the community practicing unequal
distribution of the fines."
Randy Mastro, deputy mayor for operations, said fears about uneven
enforcement were unfounded. "This is an important quality-of-life issue and
we intend to fairly, responsibly and comprehensively enforce the law
throughout the city."
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