Whiting Tennis
Last Wednesday, City Council was scheduled to beef up Portland's noise ordinance, making it easier for neighbors to complain to police about house parties and shut down rowdy music clubs. Concerned that the changes might silence some of the venues for up-and-coming bands around town, on Monday--two days before the city council's vote--Mercury Arts Editrix Julianne Shepherd sent a mass e-mail to concert promoters and musicians. She asked them to contact City Councilman Charlie Hales and urge him to re-consider adopting the pending changes.

For the past eight months, Hales' office has spearheaded the so-called Noise Task Force, a roundtable looking at ways to deal with everything from the sound of jackhammers and airplanes to rowdy neighbors and car stereos. Under the elusive rubric of "livability," the task force banged out broad protocols for quieting noise from clanging trash lids and rambunctious house parties.

After several musicians responded to Shepherd's e-mail and contacted Hales' office, the Mercury received an annoyed phone call from Susan Kelly, the staff member who serves as point person for this project. That morning, she had received several urgent phone calls and was upset; for several patronizing minutes, Kelly explained that noise ordinance did not single out clubs or live music. Furthermore, Kelly assured, musicians had been aptly represented in the Noise Task Force, noting that a concert promoter for the summertime Zoo Music Series had been present.

It was an odd and suspiciously defensive response to the very basic mechanics of democracy: Instead of responding to a concerned constituent, Kelly essentially told Shepherd to cool her heels.

While City Hall has pooh-poohed concerns that the beefed-up noise ordinance could serve as a means to quiet clubs and house parties, the task force's report is full of foreboding indications that the ordinance may very well be a Trojan Horse that could substantially damage the music community. According to the report submitted by the task force to City Council, the Noise Control Office receives 7,000 complaints annually; over half of these complaints, the report points out, are for bands, music and stereos. (Portland has a Noise Control Office which, technically, is intended to field noise complaints.) The report goes on to say that the Noise Control Office fails to enforce the majority of the complaints for loud music, primarily because they occur at night or on weekends when staff is not available.

Handing off enforcement to police--who, unlike the Noise Control Office, is available round-the-clock--will undoubtedly close this gap between the number of complaints and the ability to enforce them. This is precisely what the recommended changes to the noise ordinance propose. Such stepped-up enforcement translates to troubled times for taverns, house parties and clubs in residential areas. For example, clubs like the now-defunct punk haven EJ's were railroaded into oblivion by neighbors.

"It killed us," said one former manager for EJ's. A single elderly neighbor complained nightly about the noise. "Sometimes," said the former manager, "[she complained] even when there weren't any bands playing."

If passed, the ordinance will demand increased training for police officers to deal more efficiently with noise complaints. Fines will also double, further saddling clubs and businesses with debt. The ordinance concludes that North and Northeast Portland are already maxed out for noise, which means these neighborhoods--and the clubs located in them--will be targeted.

A similar ordinance was recommended in Seattle, but ultimately vetoed by Mayor Paul Schell, who proclaimed that "this is not New York and I'm not Giuliani," referring to the Big Apple's recent attempts to sterilize its unique quirks in the name of livability.

Urge City Council to do the same and not adopt the recommended changes. Last Wednesday, after drawn-out testimony to an unrelated matter, City Council was forced to postpone their vote on the proposed changes until this Thursday, July 5 at 2:30 pm. Contact City Council members at (503) 823-4000, and urge them to reject proposed changes to the noise ordinance.