Who will decide what's too loud?

Jacksonville police chief to propose new standards for noise ordinance

JACKSONVILLE — The city has a noise ordinance, but after receiving complaints that it has no teeth, Police Chief David Towe has agreed to propose new standards that are easier to enforce.

The issue arose after neighbors near the California Street business area complained about late night music disturbing the peace.

"The businesses are looking for guidelines and so are the neighbors," said Linda Graham, who wrote a letter to the mayor and City Council members requesting revision of the rules that she describes as vague to both police and the courts. About 15 residents of the downtown area signed a petition with a similar request.

Graham lives a block from California Street and said live music has been so loud she could not hear the television or sleep even with her door and windows closed. Most of the disturbance is during summer, when she says establishments may leave their doors open.

The current city ordinance says a citation may be issued if someone is disturbing the repose or peace of another, said Towe.

That leaves the definition "completely up to each person," Towe said, making it nearly unenforceable. He said he would develop a revision with more objective standards for City Council consideration.

Graham said the ordinance is so vague that police could be called if someone sneezed and another person felt disturbed. Lawn mowing on Saturday afternoon could bring a violation under the law, said Mark Breazeale, owner of Stagecoach Saloon, which was cited earlier this year for a noise violation. The case has been deferred by municipal court while parties attempt to find a civil compromise.

"I just basically tell the bands if I can't hear my customers, you are playing too loud. I've got to take orders," said Breazeale. "I've got several bands I won't have back because they are just too loud."

Breazeale has offered to buy a decibel meter for the city so it can monitor sounds and is buying one for his establishment. He said the only times his doors are open is when patrons enter and exit. Graham said the Bella Union, Redmen Hall and the Southern Oregon Historical Society ballroom in the old U.S. Hotel also have had loud performances.

Graham is the only one who has complained to him about the noise, Breazeale said.

" At Jacksonville Inn, Jerry (Evans) never had any of his guests complain," said Breazeale. Firemen who bunk at the firehouse downtown have not complained, he added.

Towe said both the businesses and nearby residents make good arguments.

"The businesses need the ability to attract and retain patrons, but the neighbors need to get to go to bed and get a good night's sleep," said Towe.

The police chief said he plans to consult with the chamber of commerce, tavern and saloon owners, other businesses, neighborhood residents and the Fire Department as he develops the proposal. He hoped to be finished within 30 to 60 days.

Breazeale said he hoped that would resolve the issue.

"I'm just trying to deal with getting the ordinance rewritten," he said. "It's a small community. Everyone should get along."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.

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