Search The Tattler

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Opinion: Why Even Have A Noise Ordinance?

Council Uses Noise Ordinance For Re-Election
We Need Noise Ordinance Enforcement

With much fanfare, back in 2003, the Emeryville City Council officiously enacted a Noise Ordinance as part of its ballyhooed new promise of increased livability for our town. The council members must have thought very highly of themselves by this action as they have been featuring the ordinance in their respective re-election campaign literature ever since.

Apparently the city council members want us to know they value peace and quiet as part of livability for the residents except for the unadvertised inconvenient truth that the noise ordinance is rarely enforced.
. . . . .

The ordinance was written with a waiver clause so that those with special circumstances might be allowed to make undesirable noise on a temporary basis as determined by the council.

Big time corporate developers as it turns out, are very nearly always graced with 'special circumstances' since they are routinely granted waivers by the council majority, sometimes with no explanation as to any circumstances at all. Commonly, these are the same developers that have been generous with donations to these council members at election time.

One case in point: the ongoing Pixar expansion and their construction firm Hathaway Dinwiddie. Last December, Pixar & Hathaway requested a waiver to the ordinance in view of what they characterized as a unprecedented amount of rain that had set back their construction schedule. Apparently rain in the winter was something not accounted for, never mind the fact that when the request was made, the Bay Area was actually slightly behind on expected rainfall. Nevertheless the Council felt Pixar's pain and granted the waiver through mid June, the date needed to make up for time lost to rain. So the normally quiet Park Avenue neighborhood Saturdays became instead just another day of noise and dust.

At the end of the June 19 time of 'special circumstances', Pixar & Hathaway asked for and was granted a six month extension to the waiver, only this time no excuses were proffered excepting the "difficult and complex nature of our Pixar work" according to Senior Superintendent Ed Manifold of Hathaway Dinwiddie. Since time is money, it would appear the special circumstance in the case of the Pixar & Hathaway construction project is the need for profit maximization by all concerned.

None should draw any conclusions about any possible special favors here. What's remarkable about Pixar & Hathaway Dinwiddie is how unremarkable it is. The Pixar noise ordinance waivers are only the latest in a long list of waivers granted to developers by this council.

Former council member John Fricke on the other hand, was a fan of weekend peace and quiet and he used to keep a running tally, made available on his council website, of developer noise ordinance waivers granted by his council colleagues. We're saddened that it now appears none on the council are willing to honor the resident's reasonable expectations for an ordinance that amounts to something.

It matters not why noise waivers are given so freely by this council; be it lack of respect for the residents or simple pro-developer ideology at play or something more nefarious. If these council members are so proud of the noise ordinance they helped write as their campaign literature suggests, they can show us by abiding by its provisions, otherwise it looks like so much window dressing; only existing in order to give people the impression Emeryville is a legitimate city and to re-elect these council members.

Unfortunately, when it comes to loud crashing and banging, the city council might want us to think they're listening to the resident's interests but what's loud and clear for those paying attention is that it's the developers who really have the council's ear.


  1. Anyone who lives here remembers that we did have an unprecedented amount of rain this year. We even had a couple of days of brief torrential downpour. If I was in the middle of constructing my house, I'd want to make up for that too.

    If I remember correctly, Pixar was not granted everything that they requested, but rather a compromise between their position and that of residents. That is good governing. That is exactly how things are supposed to work. The Council approved a modified request based on community input.

    To provide an accurate picture, you don't want to look at the percentage of waivers granted, but rather the waivers granted as a percentage of total building permits. My guess: it is miniscule. That's because the vast majority of projects in this town comply with the noise ordinance. I can't remember the last time I was disturbed by construction. I wasn't even disturbed when a large project was constructed across the street (I think it even had a noise waiver.) However, when was the last time I was disturbed by a neighbor? Try yesterday.

  2. Boy, the guy above seems to be a total hack for the council. Emeryville has a Bay Area reputation for being very developer friendly; that is unless you're this guy, then it would have to be surmised the reputation is not deserved.

  3. i do wish folks would sign their names to comments. what are y'all afraid of? unless it's your job security.....

  4. Thank you Ruth, for your insightful comment.
    Of course the percentage of noise waivers was small compared to the overall number of permits! There are a perhaps 2,000 individual homeowners, compared to perhaps a dozen big commercial projects. But while individual homeowners would almost NEVER be granted a noise ordinance waiver, any developer constructing any multi-million dollar project (Pixar, Novartis, Peets, Wareham, CityLimits, OakWalk, Elevation22, Andante, Catellus), is granted a waiver by right.
    The problem with Emeryville is that there is one set of rules for locals, and a different set of rules for big developers. It's the Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the rule.

  5. Interstate 80 and the maze, Amtrak and Southern Pacific Railroad, Ongoing redevelopment and construction, Gunshots, Speeding cars, Airplanes, Bus yards, Schools, Sirens and everything else you can expect in a City located between Berkeley and Oakland. Any kind of noise ordinance is simply a kind gesture to appease the voters. Emeryville will always be loud!!! You're in an Urban environment. Quit whining about the politicians and the noise, it's getting old! Run for council, move to the suburbs or the country or accept the ramifications of the life you've carved out for yourself Brian!

  6. If you re-read the article, you'll note that it's less the noise that's objectionable and more the abuse of the waiver clause. Law should be equitable and have a rational basis. The noise ordinance in Emeryville exists to re-elect certain council members and so it represents a cynical corruption of the idea of law. It would be better to have no noise ordinance at all over what we now have. I never "carved out" a life for myself that included politician's Machiavellian manipulations.