Century Center held its last show on New Year's Eve, causing critics of the city's new noise ordinance to shake their heads and bemoan the law as draconian and the reason for the center's closure. Really, it's time to move on.
It's often said that a good compromise leaves all parties equally dissatisfied.
By that measure, Bend's revised noise ordinance appears to be a good piece of legislation.
Ever since the law was adopted last May, some promoters and lovers of live music have complained about the constrictions on the hours and levels at which music is played. Opponents have disseminated bumper stickers, circulated a petition and conducted Facebook campaigns claiming the law has a chilling effect on the music scene.
Meanwhile, city residents have lobbied city councilors and the police department to enforce the new ordinance with greater gusto, believing that there must be some kind of balance between live music and the right to peace in one's home.
As the new law has played out there has been much consternation, most notably after The Horned Hand was issued a ticket for being too loud after 10 p.m.—a citation that was later dismissed by a local judge—and now with the closing of Century Center live music venue. While it's not clear that Century Center's event center closed because of the new noise law, it is clear that the balance between the venue and its neighbors was at the crux of the closing.
These interfaces are only likely to become more intense as our town grows. Thankfully, we will be able to look to the process of developing and rolling out this noise ordinance as a model for dealing with future conflicts.
The city looked to a task force to draft its revised ordinance (Century Center and Horned Hand were invited but did not participate). The task force and city council sought, and received, lots of input—from music promoters and musicians as well as people who live near music venues. The policymakers listened to all sides and made their decisions with deliberation and fairness. The entire process was commendable. And it is a good law. It sets clear, sensible and enforceable limitations on sound generation that respect residents but allow for plenty of live music at reasonable hours.
So far, the only fly in the ointment seems to be enforcement. And on this point, we agree with the live music advocates—there must be more clarity. Last month's dismissal of The Horned Hand citation should prompt police to enforce the law with greater care, using decibel meters whenever possible before issuing citations and scrupulously recording where they take their readings, but the law itself is not necessarily flawed.
The continued indignation is unwarranted. Live music still rocks most every night of the week. Venue operators needn't quake in fear. They just need to study the law and adhere to it. Doing their own studies of decibel readings from nearby homes or installing soundproofing foam as Players owner Josh Maquet did would help.
Dissatisfaction with the law may simply underscore that it was needed. If the city council takes up the issue again, we recommend its members stand by the core of the law, require more diligent enforcement practices and be proud of the community process that created the legislation.