Members of our Community Editorial Board, a group of community residents who are engaged with and passionate about local issues, respond to the following question: A citywide noise ordinance, pushed forward by long-standing problems in the University Hill neighborhood, will prohibit amplified noise that can be heard from a block away, even during the day. Your take?
In recent years, University Hill has experienced parties that grow all day, ultimately becoming a public safety hazard for attendees and the community by evening. This is due, in part, to real-time social media postings attracting additional attendees from within and outside of Boulder. Some of the attendees have reportedly brought firearms. In addressing this problem, the Hill Revitalization Working Group (HRWG), comprised of representatives of the university, Boulder Police, students, neighbors, landlords and the city, among others, noted that an existing amplified noise ordinance could be useful to police in keeping parties in check, but that it was currently focused on evening hours (at which times all-day parties were already out of control). Accordingly, the HRWG recommended that the tool be available at all times of the day.
Beyond relief from parties that pose a public safety issue, all residents (including students and families) are entitled to an environment where they can enjoy carrying on a conversation and going about their daily lives inside or outside of their home without having to yell over a neighbor’s amplified music. The city already has an ordinance in place that allows neighbors to seek police assistance for violations of quiet enjoyment. While that typically works in most of the city where permanent residents get to know and respect their neighbors, it hasn’t worked on the Hill. Neighbors have been retaliated against for making complaints, and the process drives further conflict. Neighbors often must file complaints year after year because the student rentals turn over annually. Allowing the police to effectively enforce quiet enjoyment by pacing off 200 feet and using a body camera is a better alternative.
The new noise ordinance applies to residential districts only, but some have questioned why it should apply city-wide when the problem originated on the Hill. It remains to be seen what the city-wide impact will be, and it may be that the ordinance is best suited for the Hill. Early on, some suggested that if the new ordinance is applied only around the university, then it would discriminate against those citizens who live in other parts of the city and desire the benefit of the ordinance. Others now suggest the police will improperly use their discretion to enforce the noise ordinance only against groups that traditionally have faced discrimination. The city has committed to monitor this issue and adjust the ordinance as necessary to address unintended consequences.
Andrew Shoemaker, Ashoemaker@sgslitigation.com
Most people appreciate and would like to live in a safe quiet neighborhood. However, this is the type of ordinance that may sound good on paper or in a City Council meeting but is rife with potential problems.
The ordinance is citywide but appears to be placating mostly residents in the University Hill neighborhood. This ordinance, with its ban on loud amplified music, targets the Uni-Hill party crowd and completely ignores other noise that affects the rest of the city. This problem that University Hill residents have with noisy students always reminds me of the “Hog Farm Cases” that are studied in the first year of law school. In those tort cases, the plaintiff moves near an already existing hog farm and then sues the farmer because of the smell. Courts routinely ruled that you cannot “move to the nuisance” and then complain about it.
This ordinance is subject to uneven application — it will be up to the discretion of the officers whom to ticket. This could result in racial disparities in terms of enforcement.
There are cultural differences regarding the kinds of music that may trigger enforcement in one instance and tolerance in another. Will Latin and rap music be targeted, and country western music given a pass? How will we know? Will the parties that don’t get ticketed show up in a study of racial disparity?
There are serious evidentiary problems with this ordinance that is based on whether an officer can hear the music after she paces off 200 feet from the subject noise. One person’s pacing can differ from another’s. One person’s hearing can differ from another’s. This would be a subjective decision with no record to use in the event there is a disagreement. It would be a police officer’s memory of the event versus a party host’s memory. As an attorney, I have been in many courtrooms and not once in my experience has a citizen been believed over a police officer.
The true scourges of most neighborhoods are the gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers. These outrageously noisy machines are ubiquitous during the warm weather months and can be deafening. Eliminating these machines would affect considerably more neighborhoods than a “party noise” ordinance does.
We also have noisy airplanes, firecrackers, motorcycles and even garbage trucks. Yet, under this ordinance, only one specific type of noise is singled out — amplified music — to quell potential disturbance mostly in a high-priced neighborhood.
Fern O’Brien, email@example.com
A block away? My take is that I pity the neighbors on the same block. If just one student house existed in each block, could the entire Hill be noisy every night even with this new law?
The Hill is a unique situation. It’s a great location to live for anyone, but especially college students. Is complaining about noise in this neighborhood akin to complaining about golf balls landing in your yard if you live on a fairway? Or parking if you live in Chautauqua? Or people who live near an airport and whine about planes?
What if you like to get up early, as I do, and prefer an early bedtime? Am I an old fuddy-duddy? Sure. Especially if I use words like “fuddy-duddy.” But if it is okay to blast music until 11 p.m. or even 10 p.m. then would it be okay for me to blast music at 6 a.m.? Many times I’ve dreamed of doing just this as revenge for the previous night’s noise. Not a good quality of mine, I know. I haven’t ever done it, though. I know I’m an outlier and I don’t expect the world to adjust to me. I adjust to it.
But parties with loud music aren’t unusual. It’s the norm when you are in college. It should be and is allowed. Limiting the noise to a block away is reasonable. I’d also propose that any one block could only have loud music one night per week. Other residents also have reasonable expectations of getting a good night’s sleep.
Community engagement and communication seem to be key here, as it is in most aspects of human interaction. Getting to know your neighbors goes a long way towards harmony. If neighbors were warned, and possibly even invited to parties, they could possibly make other arrangements. If not, they at least can brace themselves. This is the price you pay, along with those high rents, for living next to a college. Colorado established CU in 1876. Everyone who lives on the Hill moved there knowing the situation.
The main point is to be a good neighbor. We need more Mr. Rogers and less Mr. Me. Have fun but don’t be selfish. It isn’t all about you.
Bill Wright, firstname.lastname@example.org