Change Bend's noise ordinance

Published Dec 20, 2012 at 04:00AM

Wesley Ladd and the Horned Hand were not vindicated by municipal Judge Brian Hemphill when the latter dismissed charges that the music venue had violated Bend’s noise ordinance. At the same time, however, the city hardly came out a winner. Hemphill dismissed the charges because, he said, the city’s ordinance is unclear.

City councilors adopted the ordinance in May with the best of intentions. Noise from indoor and outdoor events can be a problem for neighbors, and the ordinance aims to limit the problem and give neighbors some leverage against blaring music that interrupts sleep.

The new ordinance also increased the acceptable levels of noise allowed in some cases. It contains means for venues to get permission from the city to exceed the ordinance.

What councilors did not do is include a couple of common-sense rules that would make the noise ordinance both fairer and easier to enforce.

The way the ordinance is written, officers can issue a citation that carries a $750 fine, but they’re not required to measure the sound. A second citation could be a $1,500 fine, a third is $5,000, and then it’s $10,000.

It’s not fair to put the businesses at risk without requiring evidence that the ordinance is being violated. The ordinance sets out noise limits as measured in decibels, and without measuring it’s impossible to decide accurately just how loud something is.

Then there’s this: Judge Hemphill said the ordinance is unclear about just where noise should be measured, at a venue’s front door, perhaps, or on the property of the complainant. Surely the latter is the logical choice and the ordinance should be clear.

Not many of us want to be awakened night after night by the noisy band next door. At the same time, deciding just what is “noisy” can be a mighty subjective task, as any teen and parent combination knows all too well. Bend residents, business owners and bands all deserve an ordinance that lays out clearly what’s what — and also tells them specifically how that will be determined.

This fall, councilors said they wanted to put that task off until after the judge ruled in the Horned Hand case. He ruled. The ordinance was found wanting. It needs repairs.