Davis Housing Element Fails Affordable Housing
Proposed Noise Ordinance Is Ill Advised

This sounds fishy!

Sound-spikesBy Robert Canning

At next week’s city council meeting, council will be asked to change the city’s sound ordnance. With little discussion or notice, city staff have added an item to the agenda that could have big implications for city planning and residential neighborhoods in Davis.

In a nutshell, the amendment would, as one person has put it, allow someone to stand in front of your house and blow an air horn for a minute or two every hour without violating the sound ordinance. This would be allowed because city staff have decided it is better to measure sound by averaging it over an hour, rather than use a simple measure like the maximum allowed sound, how the current ordinance works. A quick check on the web shows that two other college towns – Chico and San Luis Obispo – have existing sound ordinances that use the “maximum” sound standard. Others have found that most cities use the maximum allowed sound rather than an average.

And this makes sense. Using maximum allowable sounds – particularly during quiet periods like nighttime – eliminates repetitive loud noises like, to use an extreme example, pile drivers and other such concussive noises as the Chico ordinance notes. San Luis Obispo has sound levels for daytime hours that are meant to limit loud noises such as leaf blowers and the like.

Staff note that "...it is typical for urbanized cities in California to utilize hourly average noise levels." First, is Davis an “urban” environment, and 2) what other cities use average noise levels? Los Angeles and Sacramento use maximum noise levels in their noise ordinances. (To be fair, San Diego uses the average standard.) Although the Census Bureau lists us as “urban area” No. 48 in California, just below such urban wonderlands as Watsonville (No. 47), Madera (No. 46) and even Napa (No. 43), who in town thinks of Davis as an urban environment.

For twenty years Davis has lived with its current sound ordinance (as updated in 2005), which uses the “maximum” language. Staff justify the needed change – to just one section of the ordinance – by saying that they have “received inquiries related to noise and varying interpretations of the existing Noise Regulations.” Staff notes that the General Plan update anticipates a review and update of the whole sound ordinance, but for some reason they “feel” the need to change this section now.

In addition, staff state that no commission input is necessary. This is troubling. Commissions, particularly ones like the Planning Commission which has legal authority, are meant to hash out the pros and cons of neighborhood zoning and the general atmosphere of living in Davis. Shouldn’t changes to sound ordinances get a hearing in that commission? And not only do city staff want to bypass the commission process, they ask the council to “waive full reading” of the ordinance change and just approve what staff wants because they “feel” it is needed.

In my opinion this is not how good governance works. This needs more deliberation, particularly by the city’s commissions such as Planning or Parks and Rec. And to drop this amendment in an agenda on a Friday before a long holiday weekend invites the notion that maybe staff don’t want much discussion of this item. Just sayin’, you know?

Robert Canning is a retired clinical psychologist and lives in Old East Davis near the “much too noisy” railroad tracks. He is also treasurer of the Vanguard.


J.J. Surbeck

Thank you for this alert. This is such a bizarre behavior on the part of City staff that one is left to wonder what's behind it, hence the need for more time and even more so more open discussions and transparency. What are they trying to hide or whose interests are they trying to favor?

Noise is a major stressor in our daily lives, as ignored as it may be by most people who shrug it off as unavoidable, when in fact many sources are entirely under our control. Our quality of life is dramatically improved (more calm, better sleep) when noise is as limited and controlled as it can be.

Let's ask for more noise control, certainly not less.


Planning Commission, for sure. If I was still on the BTSSC I would certainly take note that a Commission dealing with transportation was left out of this. Wouldn't it fall under NRC for multiple reasons and Social Services, too - the latter as lower income people tend to have to deal with more industrial and mobile noise pollution?

(The BTSSC was not invited to give input to the pavement plan, the solar parking lots plan, the traffic aspects of the police reform discussion, and others.. and does its chair show any leadership in this regard?)

Sound is vibration. To jump ahead a bit, we need to do a lot to make I-80 quieter. Less congestion might increase noise as vehicles encounter more air and tire resistance as they speed up.

But then also I-80 or major arterial noise don't have those high peaks, but it is still damaging as it is constant. Shouldn't we measure BOTH average and peak?

Lauren Ayers

It's been a long time since I was a Davis resident but it was rather surprising how deaf the City Council were back at the end of 2019 on a similar issue: safety of cell phone antennas. A group of activists urged the City Council to look beyond staff assumptions that Federal standards protect us from harm and that "their hands were tied" on limiting the microwave frequencies of the new 5G antennas Telecom companies want to install on utility poles.

It's true, cities are required by FCC regulations to accept these antennas, some as big as refrigerators, which will be attached to utility poles outside every third to sixth house (depending on what is necessary for coverage).

However, other cities, including Seattle and San Jose, are taking legal action to oppose Telecom in "streamlining" antenna installation. So why did City staff encourage the Council to give that industry the cheapest path for using public resources like utility poles?

Safety testing for the frequencies used in cell phones and WiFi has not been updated since the Telecommunications Act passed in 1996. Besides the emerging evidence of harm to humans, numerous independent organizations and scientists have shown that microwaves from antennas are hazardous for plants and insects, bees in particular, as shown in the documentary Generation Zapped. Some other reliable sources: Environmental Health Trust and Children's Health Defense.

When I take my electromagnetic frequency (EMF) meter to any mall, library, school or hospital, it is in the red (danger) zone in almost every part of those institutions. In contrast, my EMF meter shows green at our house because we "wire up" with Ethernet at and keep our cell phones Airplane Mode. But those new antennas will soon make most people’s homes read in the red zone for microwave frequencies. All because of staff recommendations that council members accepted without verification.

Janet Krovoza

I think this has everything to do with the fact the sound reports from Bollard Associates that Ash Feeney (lead author of the June 1 staff report) commissioned for the city in the summer of 2019 to assess the noise impacts of pickleball at Slide Hill and the zip track at Arroyo used the wrong standard -- average rather than maximum.

Unknown if this was a deliberate or an innocent error -- Bollard actually cut and pasted a table from the Davis municipal code into their report and changed the heading of the limits column to "Average" from "Maximum." City staff were apparently not aware of the switch until my husband and I brought it to their attention in an email on April 26. (Via public comment, we also alerted the city council on May 18 and the Recreation and Parks commission on May 19.)

Now city staff -- without any public discussion or council or commission input -- is seeking to introduce regulations that would conveniently render these discrepancies irrelevant, while not incidentally significantly weakening the city's noise standards and enabling it to declare both the pickleball courts and zip track in compliance.

Using the incorrect standard of "average," as Bollard and city staff did in their discussions and analysis, produced misleading results showing most noise at the pickleball courts and all noise near the zip track was handily below the city standards of 50 dBA between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. and 55 dBA between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Actually, Bollard’s tests show that pickleball neighbors experience noise in excess of 60 dBA and very close to 70 dBA, and zip track neighbors (of which I am one) to noise well above the nighttime limit and preciously close to the daytime limit. (The report measured 17 impulsive noises above 50 dBA at my back fence – easily heard throughout my house -- during the 8-minute test period, and my readings weren't even the highest in the neighborhood.)

Bear in mind sound is logarithmic - so a 10 decibel difference is twice as loud to the human ear. And that ANSI standards recommend assigning a 12 dBA adjustment to “highly impulsive sounds” --the kind produced by hitting a pickleball or slamming into the end of a zip track -- which would translate to noise greater than 80 dBA near the pickleball courts, and above 65 dBA at Arroyo Park.

To introduce a radical, provocative and far-reaching change to standing city noise regulations (which were surely carefully crafted after months of research and discussion) at the nth hour without the opportunity for fulsome public discussion and debate, and on the flimsiest of pretenses, is truly a disturbing development, one that does not reflect well on our city government.

Rik Keller

The City of Davis is proposing to actually redefine the meaning of “noise level” itself.

Here is the existing definition in Section 24.01.020 of the Municipal Code:
“Noise level means the maximum continuous sound level or repetitive peak level produced by a sound source or group of sources as measured with a Type S2A or better sound level meter using the “A” switch weighing scale and the meter response function set to “SLOW.””

Here is the proposed new definition:
“Noise level means the sound level produced by a sound source or group of sources as measured with a Type S2A or better sound level meter using the “A” switch weighing scale and the meter response function set to “SLOW.””

The revised definition entirely deletes the crucial ideas of “maximum continuous sound level” and “maximum repetitive peak level”. It has replaced those with a vague and meaningless definition based on this unintelligible justification in the staff report: “Noise level should be defined not by a maximum or minimum, but merely as the sound level produced by a sound source. The recommended amendment will simplify the definition by eliminating the standard within it.”

It appears that City of a Davis staff have proposed to modify the Noise Ordinance in a patchwork manner without consulting any professionals in the field, and without a basic understanding of basic terms and concepts, such as CNEL, RMS, Ldn, Leq, Lmax, and so forth.

This is an embarrassing amateur-hour debacle.

Nora Oldwin

Remember the pickle ball debacle? Same issue- complete lack of transparency and notice to those affected by city decisions. (Staff decided to make changes to a neighborhood tennis court which would turn it into a pickle ball tournament site. Parking, but especially noise, were impacts which the city just. . . . . didn't consider and didn't include the residents in any conversation about whether this was any sort of good idea or not. The neighbors had to mobilize to get the transparency which should be part and parcel (speaking of property) of dialogue with everyone who would be affected by city decisions.)

So . . . this is not the first time in the recent past that we've seen a failure of transparency with regard to decisions which impact real people. Noise was front and center with the above referenced sports debacle - and now here we are again it seems.

Of particular interest to me is the recent survey mailer the city sent out about gas powered leaf blowers. Gas powered leaf blowers are horribly noisy and for that reason (along with using them when it's windy, causing all sorts of particulate matter to go swirling everywhere and then. . . . to come. . . down) several cities have banned them (Berkeley being one such). Our city is considering doing something like that, based on the survey questions I saw in the mailer. How, though, if the noise ordinance is altered, can that expenditure of time in designing a survey, sending it out, receiving the answers and deciding what to do next, can we take that gesture- to collect our feedback about a noise issue -seriously?
As Lauren points out, noise is not just something in and out of the ears. It causes stress for the whole body, and then the mind/emotions follow. Look at the studies (which we provided to the CC during the Pickleball controversy) about snowmobiles causing measurable stress on affected animal life- noise has a huge effect on how we feel ourselves in the environment.

We need notice, and transparency - and we need to have a real discussion about noise and how it is thought about and handled. We can't possibly do that with proposed last-minute changes that bypass commission input, or that don't take into account the input of the public that has to live with these proposals.

Joe Krovoza

Thank you to all for the thoughtful replies. To follow up on Janet’s post, linked below are the relevant documents illustrating how the Bollard Acoustical Consultants sound reports for pickleball (Slide Hill Park) and the zip track (Arroyo Park) were misrepresented — and then the incorrect use of Average Noise Level was relied upon by city staff in both instances. Janet and I requested that the misleading report for Arroyo Park be recalled; the city has thus far ignored this request. Now staff is seeking to change the noise ordinance citywide so that the code will match the consultants error and their continuing reliance on the error.

Instead of putting everyone through this major noise ordinance revision, the city should own its mistakes. What is needed is for the city to respect its own rules. The staff report for the proposed ordinance revision says the current ordinance isn’t clear and suggests there are varying interpretations. The ordinance is clear, the city just doesn’t want it to apply to them.

Janet and I have tried to politely work with the city on this issue for over two years. We have asked it to correct the errors of its consultant and its staff. The city’s response now is to propose changing the noise ordinance in a radical manner.

Supporting noise ordinance and noise assessment documents, highlighted to demonstrate the misrepresentation that has taken place: https://sites.google.com/view/pickleball-zip-track-noise-rep/home

I will also note that the situation related to Arroyo Park’s zip track began when the city didn’t follow its own guidelines — those related to notice for park impacts. Instead of respecting their guidelines, the zip track was placed close to homes in an area where a variety of park-neighborhood issues had been worked out amicably for nearly 20 years. Documenting of the disregard for noticing, and how the city did do proper noticing for the smaller zip track at Pioneer Park, is included at the link above. Alas, with proper public process all of this could have been avoided.


The leaf blower survey is about both electric- and gas-powered leaf blowers. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XXK5FWS

The gas-powered variety are more noisy and otherwise polluting, but both stir up the same amount of dust. Both make leaf removal too easy, thus denying and sterilizing habitat surrounding trees. They literally remove nutrition for trees and harm or even kill the many animals that live with the trees.

The survey does not try to determine if people want to and have a reason for removing leaves, or understand the actual purpose of leaves, or the value of soil. This narrow approach is perhaps just as inexcusable as the re-definition happening with the noise issue.

Joe Krovoza

Not to be lost in all of this, the current noise ordinance at 24.01.020 Definitions specifies who will be governed by Chapter 24 of the Davis Municipal Code: “…Person means a person, firm, association, co-partnership, joint venture, corporation, or entity, public or private in nature, including any city, county, district or other public agency.”

The new definition removes: “, including any city, county, district or other public agency.”

The city shouldn’t exempt itself from the rules they set for others. The staff report does state: “Maintenance of public property adjacent to residential areas may exceed noise thresholds and this type of activity should not be included in this definition.” [emphasis added] And yet the deletion removes the city and likely all government agencies under all circumstances. This is overly broad, creating a double standard.

If gas-powered leaf blowers are banned all the time or for certain times of day, would city leaf blowers still be okay? Private tree trimmers not okay, but public trimmers are fine? Is anyone complaining about city maintenance noise? I for one, am fine hearing maintenance noise as I know something’s getting done and it won’t take long.

Such a major, blanket exemption such as exempting one's self should be handled with greater clarity, the rationale explained, and all of this should be reviewed and openly discussed.

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