Music to Their Ears | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Music to Their Ears

Council fine-tunes noise ordinance

Elena Pressprich

After a bumper sticker and social media campaign, advocates for live music in Bend finally got scored a victory at a City Council meeting last Wednesday. For the past several months, musicians and live music venue owners have petitioned the council to change several key pieces of a new noise ordinance passed last July. The music community had responded harshly to that ordinance; although it actually raised allowable decibel levels, the ordinance caused confusion over when a business or homeowner could be cited for a noise violation.

The opposition initially appeared to be a surprise to city officials who had tried to be inclusive in the process of drafting the law by working with a committee of neighbors, event company representatives and venue owners. Because of that collaboration in creating the law, city officials had been reluctant to weaken or overturn sections of it. Much of the opposition to the new ordinance came from musicians or venue owners who had not participated in that process.

Major sticking points were whether businesses could be cited for exceeding decibel levels without verification from a decibel meter, as well as the high cost of fines. A first offense under the original law had been $750.

After hearing from these critics that the new ordinance was having a chilling effect on Bend's vibrant live music scene (for instance, the popular Roots Festival at Century Center was cancelled last September in part because of concerns about violating the law), the council was ready for change and unanimously approved the following at last week's meeting:

• Police officers must now use decibel meters before writing a ticket to commercial enterprises for noise violations;

• Vince Genna Stadium and other athletic events are exempt from the city's decibel level standards before 10pm and after 10pm in the event of a reasonable delay such as those for poor weather;

• The first offense for a noise violation was reduced from $750 to $250;

• The wording of the ordinance was fine-tuned to ensure clarity on many issues.

The council's decisions were met with praise—not a single person objected to the changes at the meeting.

"It was awesome," said The Horned Hand owner, Wesley Ladd, who received a noise ordinance violation citation last year. That ticket was later thrown out by a municipal court judge who said the city's new ordinance was too vague.

Ladd, who announced at the meeting that he would be closing The Horned Hand in two months, said he had been frustrated by the noise ordinance but was pleased with the council's willingness to reconsider it and with his interactions with the police department. Ladd said he would be closing The Hand to open a meadery called Nectar of the Gods at 1205 NE 2nd St. The liquor license for that facility was approved at the meeting.

Tristan Reisfar, who manages Vince Genna Stadium, also praised the changes.

"At least we can play baseball without worrying about being fined," he said.

Councilor Victor Chudowsky said he wanted to see the city go further to specifically connect with outdoor event promoters to help them understand how to hold events within the guidelines of the ordinance. A pamphlet explaining how to hold an outdoor event may also be created.

The changes must be approved a second time by the council at a future meeting before becoming law. Citizens with concerns about the changes to the ordinance will likely be invited to testify.

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