The Berkeley City Council voted Nov. 17 to amend the city’s noise ordinance, unanimously allowing nightclubs, open-air festivals and other venues to exceed sound limits if they obtain the proper permits from the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board.
The revised ordinance will also make it easier for city staff to impose restrictions, giving more leeway to Health and Human Services to measure sound decibels and respond to complaints.
Not everyone agrees with the council on the amendments, however.
A group of neighbors from Panoramic Hill showed up at the meeting with a list of questions for the council, asking whether high decibels from concerts at the Greek Theater and nearby fraternity parties would permeate their homes.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates asked whether the updated ordinance would restrict the changes to only the downtown area but was informed that it included the entire city.
“There have been some concerns raised by campus communities on loosening the sound ordinance,” Bates acknowledged.
Michael Kelly, president of the Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Association—which filed a lawsuit against UC Berkeley’s plans to expand Memorial Stadium—told the council that nobody from the city had informed them that the issue would be discussed at a City Council meeting last Tuesday.
“The Greek Theater, which is operated on state property, takes its cue from community noise standards,” Kelly said. “So if we are talking about a five-decibel increase, will it apply to it?"
City Attorney Zach Cohen told the council that the ordinance would not be applicable on state property, such as the Greek Theater or People’s Park.
He added that although People’s Park was maintained by UC, they did look at city standards.
The Berkeley City Council in June, 2009 asked City Manager Phil Kamlarz to craft recommendations on how the city’s noise ordinance could “better accommodate the city’s economic development goals by facilitating live music venues downtown and amplified sound permits for festivals.”
Most councilmembers agreed at last Tuesday’s meeting that the revisions would allow flexibility for entertainment venues in commercial areas while allowing enforcement of the standards.
John Caner, the new executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said he supported the noise ordinance amendment “as it pertained to downtown.”
Caner said that easing the sound restrictions would attract more businesses downtown. He said that the new nightclub proposed for the former UC Theater on University Avenue was taking measures to make sure that noise from concerts did not waft out through its walls, disturbing adjacent businesses.
Current sound permits for festivals and other outdoor events allow a limit of 10 decibels above the ambient noise level. The revised ordinance would increase it to 15 decibels.
“We have a balance in the ordinance,” Councilmember Kriss Worthington told the Planet. “Contrary to how it was represented in certain media, the likelihood that enforcement will happen will actually increase.”