Last summer, it seemed to city officials that residents all over Bend were angry about the same thing: noise.
Neighbors of the Masonic Center on 8th Street, residents of the westside near 10 Barrel and Century Center, and 80-year-old ladies living near Troy Field in downtown Bend were all tired of having their walls and windows rattled by concerts and all other manner of commotion.
The problem: police felt unsure about how to apply the city’s old noise ordinance, which didn’t provide enough clarity about what was and was not allowed, said city officials.
The solution: a noise ordinance task force charged with creating a law that clearly spells out acceptable decibel levels, times of day during which certain kinds of noise are ok and a new process for obtaining noise permits that gives residents lots of time to weigh in.
It looked like a good example of the city working collaboratively with different interest groups all the way up to the last City Council meeting when councilors approved two major changes to the law developed by the task force—changes that some residents and some concert organizers say aren’t fair or well-timed.
“Suddenly, these [changes] are kind of at the last minute without time for input," said Alan Petrich, a westside Bend resident and member of the task force who is frustrated by both the changes and city’s process for approving them.
The changes passed by the Council give sweeping power to the city manager to waive certain provisions of the new noise law, and give a blanket noise exemption to the Les Schwab Amphitheater for noise created there during daytime hours. No other venues or concert organizers were given an exemption.
And it’s not just that the Council made last minute changes to the ordinance, it’s that the Council had actually approved the ordinance as drafted by the task force at a mid-May meeting. But between that mid-May meeting and one on June 6, the majority of the Council had a change of heart.
“How Les Schwab was able to get the exemption, I don’t know,” said Dave Hill, owner of the Century Center, a popular venue on Bend’s westside. “Marney [the director of the Les Schwab Amphitheater] does a good job and we certainly don’t want to cast a negative light on them. We just want to play by the same rules that everybody else plays by.”
CITY MANAGER AUTHORITY
The ordinance drafted by the task force is different from the older Bend noise ordinance in several ways. Decibel levels and how to measure them have been more specifically defined; a permit must be obtained for noise between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.; a 45-day public comment period is now required before the city will grant a permit; and fees associated with noise violations will be adjusted. Decisions on those fines will be finalized later.
The Council has been clear that it will continue to monitor the new ordinance throughout the summer concert season and is open to amending the new law as needed.
Council members also said it seems critical that the city manager have the authority to waive certain portions of the noise permitting process. That was a provision in the old noise ordinance, but was removed by the task force. The authority gives the city manager, currently Eric King, the opportunity to allow for last-minute changes to a concert schedule.
For instance several years ago, Sheryl Crow was scheduled to play the Les Schwab Amphitheater in the evening, but was then invited to play an Obama event across the country. She offered to fly herself back to Bend later in the evening to do her scheduled show, but needed to play until nearly 11 p.m. to finish her set.
Under those circumstances, the city manager could waive the comment period to grant a noise permit for the concert, as it would run later than the approved 10 p.m.
That’s exactly the kind of situation Alan Petrich worries about.
“This authority has the potential to put us right back where we were before the revision,” wrote Petrich in a letter to the City Council. “The city has received a great deal of positive press for the changes—especially the new Noise Permit with opportunity for comments. Why risk destroying that?”
City Councilor Tom Greene, who was a member of the noise task force, said he is not concerned about abuse of the power.
“That’s something the Council can easily rein in if there is a problem,” said Greene.
The Council is also under scrutiny for the daytime noise exemption it granted all outdoor venues with capacity for 5,000 or more attendees—in essence, the Les Schwab Amphitheater, which is owned by William Smith Properties.
The exemption allows the amphitheater to exceed decibel levels that all other venue managers and concert organizers must follow between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. without seeking a special permit.
The amphitheater’s exemption came as a surprise to others in the music promotion industry because mangers of the amphitheater had been part of the task force but had not requested the exemption earlier.
Marney Smith, who runs the amphitheater, said she requested the exemption after the Council’s first vote because she was under the impression her venue was exempted under the ordinance developed by the task force. It was not until the city’s first formal vote on the ordinance that she understood the venue would have to conform to the new daytime decibel limits.
“That was the first time we understood,” she said.
She then met with city staff and requested the exemption. Without it, drawing some national acts would be a challenge, she said.
Council members sited an economic benefit to the community of drawing these national acts. According to a 2010 Visit Bend survey, the amphitheater generated $2.3 million in visitor spending in the Central Oregon area.
“For as much money for a venue as they do bring in here,” said Greene, “I came to terms with it.”
The one dissenting vote on the second version of the new ordinance was Councilor Jim Clinton, who said the “balance had gone too far” toward protecting businesses when the original intention behind amending the ordinance was to protect people.
“It got morphed into being more about…the reverence given to people who are making money versus people who are sitting in their houses,” said Clinton. “It’s the classic balance between the commercial and residential interests.”
Council members said they would remain open to hearing from other businesses in the community who believe they should receive exemptions and that they will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the noise ordinance throughout the summer concert season.
The council’s next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 20 at 710 NW Wall St.