Photo credit: John O’Neill licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Judy Ellis

I have lived in Florida for over 40 years.  The three main sources of noise I have noticed living in St. Petersburg are “boom cars,” loud parties, and downtown bars and restaurants disturbing nearby waterfront condominiums.

Boom cars have been fading away. This is probably due less to the passing of local and state laws than it is to the fad itself losing popularity. All the installation businesses have closed down. And while there are still a few boomers out there, you rarely hear them. The state law limiting noise from cars to 25 feet was struck down by the state supreme court in 2012 because it was not uniformly applied–it was only reinstated a year ago with the correct language. In the interim, however, St. Petersburg passed its own 25 foot law and instead of the usual $116 traffic ticket fine levied $218–a better deterrent but still far below what a lot of other cities impose.

Loud parties in residences have been an ongoing source of noise complaints largely because it is very hard to explain St. Petersburg noise ordinance to the call takers answering the police department’s non-emergency phone number. The ordinance bans loud noise in residential areas from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. and also sets limits on the distance the noise can be heard–500 feet during the day and 200 feet at  night. As a result, when a complainant called in requesting an officer visit a house with a loud party at 9 p.m., the call taker would often reply that the noise ordinance doesn’t start until 11 p.m. But the noise ordinance clearly states that it is “unlawful for any person to make, continue or cause to be made or continued any noise disturbance or any loud and raucous noise within the limits of the City.”

My work with the supervisor of the call takers has resulted in a much better response to noise complaints, but every time there is a new hire we have to train them on how to handle noise complaints. And, importantly, cadets at our local police academy, which serves the entire state, do not get training in noise complaints. Noise complaints, sadly, are considered less a violation of the law and more of a “nuisance.”

The owners of expensive high-rise condos on our waterfront made their voices heard before the city council several years ago and insisted that the deafening music from the bars and restaurants be controlled. Due to their efforts, our new noise ordinance requires that bars keep their doors closed and also forbids the use of outside speakers blaring music, which had been used to lure in customers. You can now stroll along Central Avenue on a Friday or Saturday night and not be deafened.

Judy Ellis is a retired paralegal who was born and raised in New York and moved to Florida about 40 years ago. Her experience with civil litigation gave her the tools to work with local and state governments and agencies in her quest to lower the noise levels in her community.  She focused on car stereos, so-called “boom cars,” with considerable success, and on leaf blowers, with no success.

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