For weeks before and after July 4, my Northeast neighborhood has been exploding with firecrackers and bottle rockets. Until about midnight, fireworks whistle and bang with a racket that puts the original Minutemen to shame. I love it.
But these disruptions are exactly what City Council seeks to silence with their new, beefed-up noise ordinance. It is expected that by press time, City Hall will have approved new rules about what sounds and decibel levels are appropriate in Portland--protocols that include stiffer fines and more police enforcement. These changes mark a continued movement by City Council towards a quieter, more sterile, and decidedly duller city.
In cruel appropriateness, the differences between what the Mercury and City Hall see as a "livable" Portland mirror the central conflict in American politics: The trade-off between Jeffersonian ideals of individual freedoms (our view) and the Hamilton principles of federalism that require a certain deference to the collective "good." This "good" has many labels; most recently--and not just in Portland--it has been "livability." Unfortunately, under this notion, we must all live according to the rules of a few tyrannical, thinly ear-drummed individuals.
I moved away from California several years ago precisely because the cities there were saddled with so many ordinances telling me where to park, at what decibel level my stereo could be, and generally how to live my life. It was patronizing and belittling, like an uptight school marm telling me to mind my Ps and Qs.
The most dangerous element of this new noise ordinance is that it shifts more power away from individuals and towards City Hall and the police. A few months ago, Billy Ray's received several noise complaints from nearby residents. In response, the club cushioned the windows to muffle the noise--a solution that accommodates everyone.
But under the new noise ordinance, it is much easier to simply call the cops and complain; individuals have less incentive to come face to face with their annoyances. I have found that if you ask someone to turn it down, most people are agreeable. If, however, you call the police on them, they tend to be resentful.
The new noise ordinance says that we don't trust individual citizens to work out problems. No thank you, City Hall. I already have one mom, and she sure as hell ain't Vera Katz. PHIL BUSSE.