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Muffing the Noise Ordinance 

The council gets this week's Boot.

Ah, summer in Bend. The mountain biking, the fishing, the hiking, the camping, the float trips down the river. The street festivals. The barbecues. The beer.

Not to mention the roar of the power mowers and leaf blowers, the whine of the chainsaws, the barking of the dogs and the high-decibel blasts of music from outdoor concerts.

Cities have struggled with the problem of noise since the days of ancient Rome, if not longer. Solving the problem is tough, because one person’s noise (“non-harmonious or discordant sound”) is another person’s livelihood – or his entertainment – and what’s tolerable at one time and place can be unbearable in other circumstances. How loud is too loud? How late is too late?

Resolving the noise issue in Bend has become more urgent as the city’s population has grown and outdoor events featuring music have multiplied to an astonishing (some say “ridiculous”) degree. An old tourism promotion claimed New York City was a summer festival; Bend really is one – almost non-stop from Memorial Day well into September.

The opening of the Les Schwab Amphitheater created a special challenge. It’s brought nationally known performers to Bend, who in turn have attracted thousands of visitors (and their money) to the city. But not everybody who lives within earshot of The Schwab thinks it’s a treat to have to listen to Coldplay or Willie Nelson at high volume until 10 p.m. virtually every weekend night throughout the summer.

Last month the city council passed an ordinance prohibiting amplified outdoor sound that’s clearly audible from surrounding residences. A little belatedly, the council realized that enforcing such a restriction would pretty much eliminate big-name concerts at the amphitheater.

Hurriedly, the council moved to patch things up. Last week it amended the ordinance to exempt outdoor venues with a capacity of more than 5,000. (LSA is the only place meeting that standard.) The prohibition against loud amplified sound between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. remains in effect for the amphitheater as well as the rest of the city.

The council made the right move in carving out an exception for the amphitheater. It’s an important cultural and economic asset to the community, and it would be nothing short of a tragedy if Bend lost it. At the same time, the way the council went about it – acting almost sneakily at the 11th hour, without adequate public discussion or input – leaves a bad taste. And the way the exception was tailored for the amphitheater and only the amphitheater savors of special-interest lawmaking.

The noise ordinance has to undergo a second reading before the ordinance becomes law0; presumably that will give the public a chance to have a bigger say in it. It also could give the council the opportunity to add some language about noise nuisances like barking dogs and power tools, which on a day-to-day, year-round basis probably diminish the quality of life in Bend far more than outdoor concerts do.

Meanwhile, we’re giving the council THE BOOT – gently – for its less than elegant handling of the problem so far.

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