Alright, we've put this off long enough. Today we're going to break down the proposed noise ordinance. Don't worry, though. We got another rockin' letter regarding 4-B at the end of the column. It's getting to be a regular thing.
The folks that live around the Pour Haus have been raising heck for a good, long while regarding the sounds emanating from that location, specifically the "rock and roll" music that local youngsters have taken a liking to. These same heck-raisers moved in next to railroad tracks, which we figure means they like noise at all hours. Perhaps they only like it in short, terrifying bursts, rather than mapped out into chord progressions and whatnot. In any case, like all laws that affect a huge amount of people, this one's being pushed for by a tiny group of vocal, grumpy complainers. Who moved in next to railroad tracks.
The Ordinance as it Stands
Sec. 82-9. - Noise prohibitions, generally; exceptions; penalty.
(a) Any noise of such character, intensity or continued duration which causes material distress, discomfort or injury to persons of ordinary sensibilities in the immediate vicinity thereof is hereby declared to be a nuisance and is hereby prohibited.
(b) Any noise of such character, intensity or continued duration which substantially interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of private homes by persons of ordinary sensibilities is hereby declared to be a nuisance and is hereby prohibited.
(c) Any person who shall violate any of the provisions of this section or fail to comply therewith shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be fined in a sum not less than $100.00 and not exceeding $500.00, and each and every day's violation shall constitute a separate and distinct offense.
(d) This section shall not apply to any athletic event, cultural event or concert authorized by the city.
This is a poorly written law, as it is entirely subjective. All somebody has to do is complain and convince a police officer and possibly a judge that they are a reasonable person that was annoyed by something, and the accused gets smacked with a fine no matter how loud or not loud they were. Anybody can appear reasonable for five or ten minutes. I went seven minutes just this morning. No, in order for a law to be legit, it's got to be based on an objective standard. The new proposal is.
The Proposed Noise Ordinance
First off, and most importantly, Wurstfest is exempt from the new ordinance, per the "Legacy Clause". See, any event that's been held in town for 20 years or more gets to blow it up as loud as they want to. This gets them out of any potential sanctions they might have been subject to under the old law. Sporting and other special events get a pass too. This is about music, after all. Specifically the music coming from the Pour Haus.
As far as actual sound limits go, the sound emanating from a house or backyard or residential street is limited to 85dB during daytime hours and 80dB at night. In non-residential areas, the limit is 85dB day or night. For the purpose of this proposal, daytime runs from 7a to 10p, with nighttime taking up the balance.
The offending sound will be measured from the property line of the complainant, using "A" and "Slow" metering. Google that if your interest is piqued, ignore it if not. They're just settings on the decibel meter. Anyway, the daytime/nighttime limits noted above will apply to where the offending sound is received, not from where it originated.
The ordinance extends to property 5,000 feet (you know, about a mile) outside of the City's limits. How a city can enforce a law outside of its legal jurisdiction is up for grabs, but hey, wouldn't be the first time. #canban
Attention Marching Band Haters: Parades and half-time shows and band practice are exempt from this proposal. Next time you buy a house, maybe consider something not near a high school if you hate America that much.
a. A fine not to exceed $100 for the first offense plus court costs;
b. A fine not to exceed $250 for the second offense plus court costs;
c. A fine not to exceed $350.00 for the third offense plus court costs; and
d. A fine not to exceed $500.00 for the fourth and any subsequent offenses plus court costs.
Of course, as this is New Braunfels, special people will get special treatment. Variances allowing noise at more than 85dB will be available to certain businesses (cough, Gruene Hall, cough cough).
In the end, this is a fairly reasonable ordinance. We shan't make a fuss about it.
This Week's 4-B Letter
You are on the right track on 4B and the control Michael Meek has over 4B including who is selected President, the things they get to work on, and even where they meet. Even though it's taxpayer money, they meet in Honors Hall at the Chamber and not in any city-run meeting space.
4A goes back 20 years to 1995 when 4A was first approved by voters. It was merged into a 4B in 2000 or so which greatly expanded the projects they could work on. The slate was expanded again in a special 2003 election. Some of the language on that 2003 ballot is below.
In 1995 city sales taxes were $3.2 million and grew to $9.5 million in 2003. In 2014 our sales taxes came in just north of $27 million. As 4B gets 25% of all sales taxes*, their haul increased from $800,000 in 1995 to $6,750,000 in 2014.
With $22 million in the bank now, they just don't have enough valid projects on which to spend a growing pile of more and more money every year.
More than a few people have written Letters to the Editor about the sorry state of affairs of our streets. Years ago, the Legislature approved something called a Street Maintenance Tax which would allow a city to reduce contributions to 4B by as little as 1/8th to be used only for maintenance of existing streets, if the voters approved it.
Our 4B gets 3/8% which was the $6,750,000 above. If there was a successful vote to redirect 1/8% from 4B, street maintenance would get an infusion of a whopping $2,250,000, while 4B would get $4,500,000 for economic development. Our total sales taxes are maxxed out at 8.25%, so the only way to keep under the max is to reduce the contribution to 4B.
The TX Citizen could championing doing this, rather than just complaining, and back this idea via a petition calling for a vote. City Council would probably not call for a vote themselves.
Then the Citizens can decide if they want better streets or the lower paying jobs we only seem able to attract.
PLEASE DO NOT PRINT MY NAME
(*Refers to City's cut of sales taxes, not total collected.)
Yeah, there's a lot we could do other than report this stuff, but then we wouldn't have time to do all the flippin' research this gig demands. Just like the body of the Christ, every part of the community has its job. We're the brain. We look at stuff and think about it. Which we guess makes us the eyeballs too. In any case, our FranklinCovey planner is full. The hands and feet are responsible for the lifting and walking around. Take it up with them.
Scott Walker has been in the news lately. That's not too surprising; he's a possible Republican presidential contender for 2016 after all, but the direction of the discussion surprises me a little. A partisan swipe by Howard Dean has much of the liberal punditry questioning if a man who didn't finish his college degree can be qualified to be president. In response, conservative sources have jumped to Walker's defense and questioned why this should be of any concern at all. The debate continues, and it will be interesting to see how well Walker weathers this particular storm, but for the moment, I'm finding more interesting how the debate itself seems to define a basic dichotomy in American culture.
America is a country that prides itself on its egalitarianism, on the idea that "all men are created equal," but it wasn't this average man that founded the country. The Founding Fathers (or certainly those we are most familiar with) were some of the most exceptional men of their time. They were well educated and often quite wealthy. It would be hard to say they were anything but the elite. And, they created a system that, while paying lip service to equality, was very skeptical of democracy as a concept. They wanted a republic that drew from the "best" in society and could be depended upon to act dispassionately and with wisdom in the governance of the country.
Strangely, this isn't something that has ever bothered the wider populous; in fact, they are more likely to embrace it than their "betters." This may be because the common man has traditionally had better things to worry about than the nature of government, and this is particularly true if government is as small and unintrusive as it was for the early part of our history. Making a living, raising a family and living in a community with others can, without much difficulty, take up the majority of someone's time. If these issues are your focus, as they are for most people, government can seem less than important.
This is probably as it should be. While the elites may have been this country's founders, they certainly didn't build it. For that, look to the common man. Long before the American Revolution, farmers and trappers and merchants and builders beat the East Coast into something resembling civilization. Most of them probably lived and died without once concerning themselves with the question of developing a fairer system of governance. Afterwards as well, the country was expanded and settled by a series of people of guts and grit, often uneducated, with little more in mind than a better life for themselves and their children. These weren't people who had much use for government; they were often moving far out of its reach.
We see a residue of this attitude in the ambush interview/civics quiz made popular by late night television. Some random person is asked to identify important current political figures interspersed with popular culture icons. The results are a shocking level of ignorance of the type of information we'd intellectually like to believe is important. But, this is just an elitist notion that has little to do with the real world. The reason that the average person on the street can identify Lady Gaga more readily than the First Lady of the United States is because Lady Gaga is more important to them in their day-to-day lives.
Today, the American populous is often called anti-intellectual (usually by elites), but there's no question that they value education. Aside from owning your own home, nothing could be more integral to the American dream than sending one's children to college. At the same time, there's some truth to the accusation. Nothing seems to raise an American's hackles more than to be lectured to. Even a careful tone can seem condescending when coming from someone who prides themselves on intellect.
Equally confusing is that, statistically speaking, the most educated of Americans are overwhelmingly liberal. These are people who pursue politics that focuses on the masses and "leveling the playing field," and yet they are the first to sneer at these people for their lack of intelligence or sophistication. The effect is a sort of paternalism that, while strangely popular with the poorest Americans, doesn't sit well with the Heartland.
On the other side are conservatives, with a healthy distrust of academia. They have good reason. Their political opponents seem to control it, and it tends to create liberals at an astonishing rate. Even so, conservatives are the proponents of the American system as it is, in that it affords upward mobility to all. None of them would even question that an education is the key to this upward mobility. Success stories like Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates are perfect for showing the best in American freedom, but they're aberrations; for most, a college education is the surest way to upward mobility.
The public is just as schizophrenic. We worship at the altar of exceptional talent. Pop and sports stars are our heroes, and we hang on every word of Hollywood actors. They make obscene amounts of money, and Americans dream about living their lives. This seems to be an extension of the American fascination with the "get rich scheme" or winning the lottery, a gauzy fantasy we all seem to have but none of us really believe. What we do believe in is hard work. We respect people who do the hard jobs in society and "work for a living." This is a holdover from our Puritan roots. The Protestant work ethic seems ingrained in the American psyche, a firm belief that hard work and godliness go hand in hand.
I don't have any answers in this column, just observations. I do know, though, that the controversy over Scott Walker is hardly worth considering. Walker did go to college. He just left before finishing his degree. What he did do was become Governor of Wisconsin and survive three attempts to unseat him, pretty good for a guy without his degree. I have my doubts that Walker's education will hurt his chances for President. It's already been pointed out that the most educated of Presidents in recent history are Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter, neither offers much in the way of argument that education is a key to success in the job. Couple that with traditional American psychology, and I see no reason why Walker shouldn't make a fine candidate.
You can read more from Kelly Colby at yourfirstshrug.blogspot.com.