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"California's Alameda County noise ordinance takes aim at daily life"

Monday, May 31, 2004

Noise ordinance takes aim at daily life 
Unincorporated areas seek to reduce sounds like loud radios, motor
scooters and barking dogs by adopting Sound Exposure Level (SEL) noise
By Karen Holzmeister
The Oakland (CA) Tribune

It's difficult, residents of unincorporated areas say, to rank which
types of noise are more aggravating. 
Boomboxes? Motor scooters? Barking dogs? 

Last Wednesday, they asked Alameda County officials for help in dealing
with this blight on daily life. 

And Deputy County Counsel Raymond McKay reported his office is
developing a new county noise ordinance with standards more readily
enforceable than current guidelines. 

The current "noise element" in the county's General Plan uses a decibel
level to define excessive and nonexcessive noise. 

Proposed changes -- which will be brought to the county's Unincorporated
Services Committee on June 23 -- would change the benchmark to a purely
audible noise. 

County supervisors would have to approve the revisions before any
updated ordinance becomes law. 

McKay told committee and community members Wednesday that purely audible
criteria -- such as noise heard 50- to 100-feet away by a person of
reasonable hearing -- have been ruled constitutional. 

Howard Beckman of San Lorenzo, who provided McKay's office with
information on the audible system of noise evaluation, described it as
"an immediate and direct enforcement tool" for law enforcement officers.

That concept heartened George Graves of Cherryland, who said that a
neighbor's dog "barks continuously when I am working in my yard." 

Supervisor Nate Miley mentioned that he helped prepare a comprehensive
noise ordinance in Oakland several years ago when he was on the City
Council. The ordinance, for example, sets appropriate noise standards
for parties, construction sites and park activities. 

Federal law may pre-empt anything the county might suggest for airports,
such as the Oakland International Airport or Hayward Executive Airport,
McKay said. State law may supersede local ordinances on vehicle noise. 

Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker said she serves on an Oakland airport
committee which monitors and reviews noise problems. 

Lai-Bitker's predecessor, Wilma Chan, now a state assemblywoman, has
authored legislation to deal with noise from revved-up motor scooters,
which Beckman referred to as the "sound of giant bees."

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