Council Passes Stripped Down “Meaningless” Noise Measure Absent Language on Union Activity or Promenade

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After listening to an exhaustive amount of public comment at its September 12th meeting and a promise to return to the debate this week; the Santa Monica City Council passed a measure (Agenda Item 8j) originally designed to combat excessive sounds that was so eviscerated Mayor Gleam Davis called the measure that passed unanimously “meaningless.”

The motion originally presented to the City Council two weeks ago had four parts: to reduce the hours that Unite Here! Local 11 could legally picket, to examine ways to enforce excessive noise ordinances on and adjacent to the Third Street Promenade, to instruct the state lobbyist to lobby for legislation that would allow the use of noise cameras to reduce car traffic noise and instruct the city staff to examine other ways to enforce the city’s noise ordinances.

By the time the council voted on the motion, the first two parts were completely removed, and the state’s lobbyist will now be encouraged to continue to lobby for laws that would allow cities to use noise camera enforcement after Davis noted that the city’s lobbyist has already been lobbying for use of these devices after previous council action.

The first domino fell over two weeks ago after Councilmember Phil Brock, one of the two makers of the motion, revealed in an interview with the Santa Monica Lookout that the noise ordinance motion was about limiting the hours union activities. After a swarm of red-shirt clad Unite Here members signed up to testify, Brock pulled that portion motion at the literal 11th hour, without telling his cosponsor Councilmember Lana Negrete who seemed both flabbergasted and upset. What followed was a stream of union members testifying in English and Spanish against the portion of the motion that wasn’t even being discussed. 

Following that, the council adjourned on a 4-3 vote with Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick joining Davis in asking the meeting be continued because of the amount of work left on the agenda.

After a mountain of bad press for Brock, Negrete and their allies; Brock vowed on social media to bring the measure back at this meeting, including the portion about limiting union activity hours.

But when the agenda for the meeting was published, the portion on the union was nowhere to be seen and the motion continued with that part pulled.

Brock reintroduced the motion and noted that noise from motor vehicles is a nationwide problem and some cities are using noise cameras to fight back against this problem. While this is a nearly universally loved position on the council, state law actually bans the use of these cameras. Attempts to change state law have thus far been unsuccessful.

From there he went on to discuss the noise issue at the Promenade where he recounted a story where he could hear a musician from blocks away and the restaurant he had dinner had to close the doors so people could converse that evening.

“In one case I was on California and 2nd walking towards the Promenade and you could already hear the music,” he lamented.

He continued with a story about a musician who targeted a business he was annoyed at by aiming his speakers and playing at a loud volume.

“We need to control that and still provide for street performers to be able to perform, be heard, but not at an unreasonable level,” he continued.

But it was Negrete whose statements got this portion of the motion pulled. After she made it clear that she was only originally a co-sponsor because she wanted to crack down on union activities, she expressed her concerns with the remaining portions of the ordinance.

If the city starts cracking down on loud music at the Promenade, she worried that it could start cracking down on good music too, not just music she doesn’t like. She recounted how a popular salsa group often plays at large volume and even though people don’t complain about them they could find themselves ticketed if they break the noise ordinance. She also worried that live music at 1212 Santa Monica would also be too loud for the ordinance.

She suggested instead future legislation where the Council could work with DTSM Inc. to create a program where they could curate the performances allowed in the public spaces at the Promenade. Brock then pulled the portion of the noise ordinance motion that pertained to the Promenade.

This left only the two portions of the original motion left that pertained to vehicle noises, part of which needed to be amended because the City Council had already passed a motion with similar language. After the amendment, it passed quickly and unanimously without much fanfare or potential impact on how the city operates.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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