Houston Noise Ordinance Debated at Fitzgerald's

Categories: Spaced City

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Photos by Matthew Keever
Omar Afra
Tensions were high and the crowd was silent at Fitzgerald's last night as two Houston Police officers walked onstage to address complaints about the city's recently amended noise ordinance. Before the police spoke, Fitzgerald's owner and Free Press Houston managing editor Omar Afra explained to the crowd exactly why the meeting had been organized.

"Why we're here is to create a dialogue between us, the city, the officers and the people who are complaining. That's our best bet in moving forward and mitigating these problems," Afra said. "There is a huge economic impact by putting your foot on the neck of the music community."

The ordinance in question gives police officers discretion when issuing citations. While they used to have to acquire a decibel-reading to give tickets, the revision makes it purely a judgment call. The local music community has likened this to getting pulled over and being issued a speeding ticket simply because the officer thought the driver was going too fast. No proof needed.

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Christopher Newport from the Mayor's Office the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs department.
"Besides forming a dialogue, the biggest thing we can do is form a constituency," Afra said. "This revision is actually just a change in the existing ordinance...The city failed to invite a musician's group, a musician or a venue owner."

"It is a failure on their part, but it's also a failure on our part," Afra said. "Because we don't have a constituency; we don't have an organization. And in order for us to make progress and have a unified voice, we've got to be able to have this infrastructure...As I see it, at the end of the day, we're all looking for the same thing."

The two police officers onstage were later joined by Christopher Newport from the Mayor's office the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs department.

"I think we all need to acknowledge the fact that this is a lot of fun for a lot of people, and I think it allows...a lot of people in this room to go out and make a living," Newport said, "But we also have to acknowledge that what we have to address in city hall is the situation where there is one bar next to someone's house, then there's two, then three, then four, then five."

"Nobody at the city wants to deal with people being upset with this problem," Newport continued, "and HPD officers, I assure you, have many other things they would rather be doing with their time than responding to the 23rd noise complaint of the night. But there are thousands of complaints, guys. And up until tonight, it's all been from one side."

Newport organized a meeting for January 24, from 7 to 9 p.m., at City Hall, adding that, given Tuesday night's turnout, the location may have to change. He provided his contact information and told the crowd to e-mail him for updates.

"It has rarely been the case, in my experience, working with these things, that everyone is happy with what comes out on the other side of this process, but I think everyone will contribute, and I think that we're going to be better off talking to each other," Newport said. "And I think we're going to have an improved product."

While many in attendance were clearly upset, the overall feeling was one of hope, and everyone seemed in agreement that the meeting was a solid first step toward making a change.

"What these neighbors are looking for, what these officers are looking for, and what we're looking for is objective, verifiable, enforceable criteria to sound," Afra said. "You've got a threshold for how much you can drink and drive; you've got a threshold for how fast you can drive. And the old way of just using a decibel reading has proved to just not hold water."

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17 comments
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Dawnkerri
Dawnkerri

If Houston wants to harass musicians, club owners, dj's...I think they/we should just move out of Houston to the burbs and let the revenue stream enrich the lives of those who can appreciate it.

Bar owner
Bar owner

To Fish wrap... the reason sound level meters don't do the trick is because the police do not want to be sound engineers. they want to be the police and do cop things.

Writer for a Free Fishwrap
Writer for a Free Fishwrap

I agree, they should go do cop things like finding and arresting murderers, murderers, child molesters, etc etc etc

BTW, you don't have to be a sound engineer to switch on a decibel meter and hold in the air. Nice try (not really).

Bar owner
Bar owner

I really dont know of a bar owner that lives next to a Bar. So one question might be,did the neusence move into the neighborhood or did the complainer move to the neighbor hood that has a bar now being judged a neisence, which may have been doing business and paying Taxes to the state and city for years. point being who's the neusence.I had the oppertunity to buy a house righ tnext to the Bar I bought about twenty years ago.This was and still is waterfrount on Galveston Bay. Need less to say I have regretted not buying it sence. It sat vacant for a year, then somebody bought it. Thats when My Problems Began.The individual that bought the house  deemed himself to be a developer, and ofcourse had great plans for the neighborhood. He didn't want to buy me out, he only wanted my dirt. It was his plan to kill my business. The best way to kill a bar business is to have the Shariff walking in several times a night.  to make a long story short we did all the things with the sound level meters and compiled all the evedence and made it available to all concerned, we even for a while curtailed our weekend Band schedual. Our anonomis complainer eventually got tired of calling the sheriff. He even tried to complain to the TABC who sent out a storm trouper in full gear. what he walked in on was a bunch of costmers sitting around the bar sing Me and Bobby magee to janice on the Juke Box. Again they dont want to be bothered by some body who thought he could get a real cheap deal and make a big profit by killing a local watering hole..

Jim C
Jim C

Forget the clubs.  What's the impact on my ability to keep my pendejo neighbors from throwing parties in their back yard, blowing the rest of their paycheck on a sound system and blasting the bass as loud as possible in an attempt to compensate for their little bitty tweeter?

Common Sense
Common Sense

Turn the damn music down if you are going to open up a club behind a 90 year old house. OR maybe don't open a business that makes money playing LOUD music next to houses, schools, retirement homes, etc.

Evan
Evan

Without a set decibel level, the new ordinance risks being an unconstitutionally vague limit on speech. The city probably does not want to spend money on a law suit, and should probably implement a new plan. 

Bar owner
Bar owner

Its a gamble.  Who's going to put up the money to go through the court process to prove the ordinance is vague and unconstitutional. In the mean time the city is collecting funds. which sets up another process to refund the collected finds once the ordenance is proved uncnstitutional..

Mary Urech Stallings
Mary Urech Stallings

Who was stupid enough to buy a house near Fitzgeralds?????

H_e_x
H_e_x

Exactly. The vast majority of houses in Houston are not near clubs or venues. Why don't they just do a tiny bit of research before cutting a check?

mollusk
mollusk

A kindred soul to the doofus who bought a townhouse right behind Wabash and then went nuts about the chickens.

sequiin
sequiin

I agree....it really pisses me off that these clubs like Numbers and Fitzgeralds and South Beach that have been there since the 70's or 80's have to all of a sudden be under threat of closing due to these ass hole people moving in from outside the loop.  If you want  a quiet neighborhood then stay out in Katy or Kingwood where you belonmg.  Move near an established club and expect quiet.....how stupid can a person be??

Writer for a Free Fishwrap
Writer for a Free Fishwrap

"You've got a threshold for how much you can drink and drive; you've got a threshold for how fast you can drive."That's why they have roadside tests & intoxication level breath measuring devices and a radar gun as proof.

"And the old way of just using a decibel reading has proved to just not hold water." BS.

Wyatt
Wyatt

I completely agree, this puts too much power/discretion in the hands of those registering complaints and law enforcement. And the Jim Breuer comment made me laugh. What the hell is going on with us?

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