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DC Nightlife Noise

to promote the enforcement of DC’s Noise Ordinance for nightlcubs

This website is a call to action to Mayor Vincent Gray, new Mayor Muriel Bowser, DC Councilman Jack Evans, Director of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration Fred Moosally, the DCRA Director, Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, and ANC commissioners.  DC residents who have been damaged for years by amplified music coming from nearby restaurants, taverns, and nightclubs want DC’s Noise Ordinance to be enforced.

The Challenge
  • Big woofers
  • Open air
  • Pounding music
  • Lost sleep
  • No enforcement
The Problem: Seven clubs in Club Central (south of Dupont Circle) have open air lounges / roofdecks to play "dance music" at hearing-damage sound levels with dominance of highly amplified low frequency [bass from big woofers] music that travels and penetrates 130 apartments in two nearby condominium buildings.  The World Health Orgnization finds that such music disturbs sleep to the extent of damaging health.  DC noise law blindly rolls all the possible sounds into one legal maximum allowed sound level - 60 decibels of normal conversation - but then fails to enforce even that law.

Note: we want to solve one big problem with alcohol businesses:
     sleep-disturbing music

New Noise Law Hearing   July 9

Councilman Vincent Orange held a Committee hearing on his new nightlife noise bill Nightlife Regulation Amendment Act of 2015.

Testimony by all interested parties: the DC enforcement agencies, the aggrieved citizens, and the alcohol businesses and their lawyers.  ABRA Director Moosally changed the expected tone by opening with a greatly improved enforcement scheme for actually detecting and punishing the violations in new ways that should improve enforcement - if ABRA were actually to implement it and follow through with prosecution. We strongly support the proposal, (read ABRA proposal), which includes recommendations we have made to ABRA and Orange's office.

However, we remain concerned about ABRA's lax enforcement track record, which was mentioned repeatedly at the hearing. Orange quipped that he had a lot of noise in his office from resident complaints about enforcement.

Moosally's plan:  use a plainly audible standard for violation if amplified noise heard 50 feet away at night or 100 feet in daytime without use of sound meters; protection of residents in commercial zones; no more visits to complainant's residence; no music after midnight in outdoor space; stiffer penalties up to revoked license for violations.  He said he had enough staff to make this realistic proposal work.

Orange said he would replace the original bill text with the ABRA proposal, which will be considered by the DC Council this fall.

In the meantime, we urge Moosally to implement the proposed enforcement techniques as much as possible under current law. ABRA's first test could be a "pilot" effort to use new techniques to tackle longstanding noise problems in the Club Central area.

Witnesses from ANCs, residences, citizens associations, and even restaurants, were generally positive with the ABRA proposal, calling it a good starting point. Additional time for public comment will be offered before a final bill reaches the Council. Many thanks to the many people from several city areas who spent hours and testified briefly about this noise problem.

From the Club Central neighborhood, Sarah Peck testified on our efforts to control the nightlife noise. Read Peck testimony. ANC Commissioner Abigail Nichols described the growth of the Club Central noise problem.   Read Nichols testimony. Carl Nelson presented a White Paper on the science behind the boom-boom music/noise in the residents' bedrooms driven by the strong propagation of low frequency sound. Read the White Paper and Nelson testimony.

It is still four steps to quiet: passage of the bill by Orange's committee, passage by the Council, signature by the Mayor, and vigorous enforcement by ABRA. Even if all that happens, it will be at least Christmas before peace descends. 

Unless ABRA gets serious now and effectively enforces the existing law.

Noise news you can use
 
Sample
Settlement Agreement
approved by ABC Board
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ABC Board Orders 

Latest News

Jul 8. Press release Residents to Sound Off About Lack of Nightlife Noise Enforcement at July 9, 2015,  DC Council Hearing.  Read press release.

Jun 4. In prep for the July 9 hearing, we met with Orange who listened to our stories and reminded us how his bill would move toward enactment.  Sarah Peck presented a proposed expanded law that would set new standards and enforcement methods. Others presenting views from their territories: Joan Sterling of Shaw-Dupont Citizens, Robin Diener of Dupont Circle Citizens, Abigail Nichols ANC2B Commissioner, Dennis James of Kalorama Citizens, Sara Maddux of Federation of Citizens Associations.  Orange said he expects the Restaurant Association to oppose any law with more teeth. Orange also emphasized that bills have to pass the Committee before even being considered by the whole Council, and that the Committee members have to be convinced enough of the merits to vote with Orange.  A list of the materials presented.

A later suggested revision package for noise code 25-725: stiffer penalties, explicit protection for residents in commercial zones, violation if heard in residence or audible 50 feet from source or louder than legal limit by 10 dB(A) or 5 dB(C), install auto-monitoring sensor in outdoor patio. [Note: the dB(C) scale gathers all the low frequency sound power that the standard dB(A) scale ignores. dB(C) is important because low frequencies penetrate residences farther away than assumed by the present law.]

Jun 4.  A law we would like to see.  When asking the political system to write a law, it is most useful to draft one for the lawmakers. We proposed such a law for DC nightlife noise control to Councilman Orange based on principles by Robert Chanaud - Noise Ordinances: Tools for Enactment, Modification and Enforcement of a Community Noise Ordinance.   Read the suggested rules and the suggested language for the Orange bill.

May 29. A DC hotel blasted a near neighbor who said the hotel has been "hosting Friday night deck parties at ear shattering decibels" and refused to turn down the volume because the music was created by "an outside organizer ... [over which] they had no control over the volume". The neighbor said "She then condescendingly told us that if we didn't like it we could call the police. We did. It quieted for just a few minutes but was then up to full blast."  Good news: the neighbor says ABRA showed up, without passing through his residence, and told the hotel to shut down the music. He also posted the incident on the hotel's Facebook page and will file a complaint with the hotel chain. 

May 25.  Midtown proudly allowed a private party in its newly sound-protected roofdeck.  Unfortunately for their claims, it was the only Club Central club operating at the time, which made a clear test of its sound propagation into neighbors' residences.  Both the Jefferson Row and Palladium condominium residents could hear it inside.  One resident recorded it on video as evidence for the noise authorities.  Play the video. YouTube version. Midtown is the white penthouse with the flashing light. 

May 19. Praise the lord, at least [Orange] is thinking about it. The city is either unwilling or unable to enforce exusting law, said Sarah Peck in Perry Stein's Washington Post story, Council Member wants noisy bars, restaurants to record decibel levels.   Stein reviewed a year's struggle by the Coalition to get the outdoor music levels from the clubs into compliance with the noise laws. Stein reports that Orange said he hopes the introduction serves an an impetus to discuss how to ensure the city nightlife establishments do more to comply with noise laws.  Read the article.. A hearing is tentatively scheduled for July 9.

May 12. Website District Hopper reports that Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh has joined as a co-sponsor of Vincent Orange's new nightlife noise bill.

May 5.  Since residents' noise complaints are mostly about losing sleep, we sent ABRA Director Moosally a letter outlining the science behind sleep disturbance from low frequency noise, especially bass-dominated music, from which the World Health Organization recommends using dB(C) scale for measurements, not the dB(A) scale of DC law that is used for generic noise. Read the letter to Moosally.

Meeting with ABRA. At the coalition’s request, we met April 30 on nightlife noise with ABRA Director Moosally, ABRA staffers,  DCRA, five police officers, and Mayor's assistant [Judah Gluckman]. Resident reps from Palladium and Jefferson Row condos, and LeDroit Park.     Moosally announced that there is a new noise bill introduced in the Council, a new tour by the Noise Task Force with emphasis on roofdecks, and added investigators for 7-day coverage.  Residents complained of too much investigators' invasion of residences to verify what is obvious on the street and in the complaints register - that there is a continuous noise disturbance out there that needs fixing, and of general lack of effective noise law enforcement. Moosally conceded that the ABRA procedure for investigators was being changed to recognize that the law did not require limiting noise violations to 10PM to 7 AM, and that the noise may not have to be heard by investigators in the residence with the windows closed and any HVAC devices turned off.  DCRA noted its mission does not include nightlife, and that sound readings don't find violations because there is too much ambient noise to find a 4 dB difference for any one club.  Nevertheless, Moosally said the Noise Task Force would be active starting in early May and more investigators would be active in June and July.  Residents asserted 1) that the Ozio decision by the ABC Board correctly treated the noise disturbance law; 2) that we need a new law that recognizes the nightclub proliferation near residents, and 3) that we also need an outside expert in such problems to study the DC problem and make recommendations (outside local politics) for a workable scheme.  The Mayor's rep Gluckman recorded his notes and action items in a memo [read the memo]. 

May 9. The Coalition wrote Councilman Orange to thank him for introducing a bill for a new system for enforcement of nightlife noise rules.  The bill proposed hourly readings by each club of sound emanating from the club, and a regular written report to ABRA of the measured sound levels.  We offered some suggestions on how the system could be structured and enforced.  Read our letter .

May 9. DC is suing the owner of a Dupont Circle house who has irritated neighbors and police for allegedly renting out the premises to organizers of loud parties and private concerts ... (new) D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed suit against the property owner, citing “egregious and unsafe business practices” as well as more than a hundred police calls to the property, many in response to reports of excessive noise or disorderly conduct.   [Abigail Hauslohner, WashPo article]. A residence cannot just declare itself a business open to the public, especially if it also makes a lot of noise. Only nightclubs can get away with making a lot of illegal noise.  Maybe the AG will notice the nightclub illegality, and ABRA's impotence, and actually do something useful about it. We have alerted him to the problem. 

May 3. Video of music from Dirty Martini [on youtube] making yet another illegal noise disturbance which will no doubt be ignored by ABRA because it is a Sunday evening and no staff at ABRA have nightclubs as a near neighbor.  Same time, noise disturbance by Public Bar which actually agreed to turn down the volume.No, of course not permanently when there is no enforcement.

April 30.  meeting with ABRA Director, police, DCRA, and Mayor's office  for more excuses about what is not being done to stop noise disturbances of residents near Club Central. Details soon.

Feb 20.  “we are going force this issue to the forefront,” said Councilman     Orange as he recognized that we have a problem with club noise enforcement.  He is the only Councilmember who has actually come to Club Central on Saturday night to hear the problem.

Feb 20.  We testified on ABRA performance at end of marathon (8 hour) Oversight Hearing of Councilman Orange's Committee on business stuff.  About 100 citizens had their say for three minutes each. Sarah Peck, Abigail Nichols, and Carl Nelson emphasized that noise control of the nightclubs depends on ABRA enforcement of the rules on noise disturbance dictated by recent ABC Board decisions.  Read testimonies of Peck, Nichols, Nelson.  Sara Maddux testified for the DC Federation of Citizens Associations Read Maddux Testimony  .  ABRA Director Moosally and three ABC Board members were also present. 

Feb 20. Fix entertainment endorsement rules, testified Mark Rosenman, board member of Cleveland Park Citizens Association, so residents can protest whenever a new or transferred endorsement is proposed.  Otherwise bad operators could obtain a license to disturb the residents, at least until a case can be made for challenging the license through the endless complaint process. Another reason for ABRA to fix its enforcement scheme. Read Rosenman testimony.

Feb 3.  The ABC Board ruled that Bar Code (L Street NW) shall not emanate noise that disturbs residents.  Specifically, BarCode must limit its outdoor patio to 45 patrons and neither Barcode nor its patrons can emit noise that can be heard in residences. The closest residence, the protestants, is the Presidential condo at 16th & L Streets. Read the Board Order

Jan 21. The ABC Board declared open season on the residents of a condominium 45 feet from the Takoma Station Tavern which the board found to have no effective barriers to amplified music sound, and therfore allowed the tavern to operate only until 11 PM weekdays and midnight on weekends with no noise restrctions.  It declared such sound to be not unduly burdensome, without asking how many condo residents preferred, or needed, to sleep before those hours. No doubt no member of the Board lived there. Read the Board Order. Note that the law on noise disturbance does not make exceptions from limiting noise emanation to 60dB in residential areas. Residents who have a problem will have to start again from Go with the burden of proof to prove noise disturbance after it starts booming. From our experience with Club Central, that process will take at least a year. 

Jan 14. The ABC Board denied a motion by the Coalition to more sharply define the order for Dirty Martini not to annoy residents with amplified music. The Board said that the conditions imposed by the Board in this case create bright line operating standards that are easy to enforce  Read the Board Order.  We want the enforcement authorities to see and enforce that bright line even in a noisy environment of DC nightlife.  

Dec 18. The Coalition submitted a letter to the new Mayor and the new Attorney General asking for priority attention to alcohol serving businesses that emit amplified music that far exceeds the legal limits of DC law.  The letter was signed by 14 residents and citizen representatives and associations that are disturbed by such noise.  It asks specifically: 1)  Host a public hearing on nightclub noise.; 2) Announce that enforcement of the noise laws is a top priority and require the responsible agencies to provide their plans to improve compliance and enforcement.;  3)  Hire an independent, qualified consultant to investigate the District’s current noise enforcement regime, identify model laws and best practices, and draft recommendations for reform.; 4)    Restructure the regulatory framework to ensure that one agency is responsible for enforcing the noise law, and is held accountable.; 5) Take immediate steps to improve enforcement.  Read the letter.  Additional signers are welcome as members and supporters of the DC Nightlife Nose Coalition.

Dec 15.  The ABC Board referred a resident's noise complaint (one of many) [Case#14-CMP-00687] against Dirty Martini to the ABRA staff for settlement. That means the Board accepted the complaint as valid and deserving a penalty but not so severe that justifies a full show-cause hearing (unless the business refuses to settle with ABRA).

Dec 11. Contain the music.  The ABC Board re-inforced its new take on the DC noise law for alcohol licensees by ruling for the residents against Dirty Martini when it found that the nightclub is making too much noise. In its Board Order, the Board ordered Dirty Martini to change its business practices to cease disturbing residents with music, including by specifically closing the exterior door between the club's "Dirty Bar" and an open air patio. The message for clubs in the District is that sound needs to be contained within the establishment to avoid violating DC law (and to avoid further restrictions on a liquor license, or the risk of losing it altogether). The scene will thus shift to enforcement which ABRA's investigators should be able to manage without sound meters and without entering residents' homes at all hours. 

Nov 20.  Review meeting with Fred Moosally, ABRA Director, and the Noise Task Force team (ABRA and DCRA) on progress, or lack thereof, in protecting Dupont residents from loud music from nightclubs.  Joining DC Nightlife Noise coalition were leaders from ANC2B, DCCA, and Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance.  A statement was also submitted by a resident group from the 600 block of Florida Ave NW.

Nov 19.  ABC Board echoed the Ozio standard by banning amplified music that would reach residents within 700 feet at Climax (Florida Ave NW) but only after 11 PM on weekdays and midnight weekends.

Nov 19. ABC Board approved the Settlement Agreements with Rosebar, Sauf Haus, and &Pizza.

--------   Earlier News items, full stories in News and Views.   ----------- 

Nov 12.  ANC2B signed on to Settlement Agreements with three alcohol businesses in Club Central: Rosebar, Sauf Haus, and &Pizza.  

Oct 5.  Complaints about the Sunday evening enforcement-free music assault at least drew a police officer.

Oct 1.  Stop the Music, said the ABC Board in denying nightclub Ozio's motion for reconsideration of its ruling against Ozio's roofdeck's dumping loud music into the nearby residences.    Read the Board Order.

Sep 24.  ABC Board denied a bar's application for patron-related disturbance of the residential neighborhood, even without an entertainment endorsement.  Saloon45 at 18th & Swann St Read the Board Order.

Sep 17.  18th St Lounge reached a Settlement Agreement with the residents of Jefferson Row and Palladium condominiums.

Sep 15. Necessary protest. Dupont residents filed a protest against the Sauf Haus license in the face of  a large outdoor roof deck as a temptation to Sauf Haus's joining the other six bars with roofdecks in pounding out 100 dB music during sleeping hours. 

Sep 10 Nightclub noise  Dupont Current editorial   ... the board wisely sided with nearby Jefferson Row condo owners. ...   keep the Ozio roof closed when the club features entertainment, and bans amplified sounds that can be heard inside a residence.  ...  But the board’s order already accommodates more noise from Ozio than city law allows near residentially zoned areas. ...  More will be needed, though, ....   more D.C. government involvement in noise issues.

Aug 27, 2014    ABC Board ruled that Ozio nightclub must not disturb the neighbors. Must allow no live bands on its roof, close the roof when entertainment is playing, generate no amplified sound that can be heard in neighbors' residences.    Read the Board Order.  The decision helps neighbors of nightclubs with outdoor amplified music deal with the many clubs throughout DC that want to give patrons both ear-splitting music and outdoor fresh air and moonlight.  Ozio will appeal, reports Perry Stein in City Paper

Aug 25. CityPaper article by Perry Stein After Residents Complain, Dupont’s Ozio Forced to Limit Music on Its Roof 

Aug 13. Residents lose. ABC Board board threw out the resident's noise measurement because it was not done by licensed acoustics engineer with professional sound meter, and said establishment cannot be unreasonable if a licensee has taken commercially reasonable steps to soundproof  Read the Board's Order.

Jun 25. New residents to encroach on existing noisy nightclubs. A new building at 13th & U NW feeds the argument made by alcohol biz that neighbors should live somewhere else which is being continually ignored by developers

failure to enforce existing regulationsunenforced regulation happens wherever political forces favor business operators.[quotes from John Taylor, American Economic Review, May 2014]

May 18.  Residents of the Palladium complain in vain. electronic ABRA complaint fails and call to 311 produced only a termination.

Albert Einstein once declared, "Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced."  

May 11. Adams Morgan Commissioner Guthrie tells ABC Board “The regulatory bodies that should be in our neighborhood have been falling short — considerably short.” 

May 8. Dupont residents made a settlement agreement for peace, order, and quiet with Rosebar on noise (music).  Rosebar keeps the loud music it wants inside with excellent sound absorbing walls and downward aiming the sub-woofers. Sound tests established the maximum loudness inside that would not be heard outside at the intersection of St Matthews Court (a.k.a. the alley) and N Street where seventy new "luxury" condos are being built.

May 8. self-identified blogger Frymaster: there may, in fact, be an issue with sound, but handheld SPL meters on the sidewalk won’t find it. ... It’s the bass! Pro sound systems have improved massively over the past 20 years, modern, top-level professional subwoofers can reproduce the lowest octaves with far greater power than ever before.  lying in a bed in a quiet apartment, even 50dB of 40 Hz at 120 BPM is gonna annoy the crap out of you.

May 5. Sarah and Abigail testified at the Council Committee on ABRA's Budget that new enforcement is needed, and recommended that ABRA be authorized to study the sound propogation of loud bass-dominated from the nightlclub scene into the residential areas.  

Apr 28. Noise Task Force reported noise in one of fifty tests in Club Central in its first six weeks. But the Dupont residents found about 49 out of fifty in violation. The residents did note that the volume of offensive music has substantially decreased lately.

Apr 21. A deal - Midtown and Dirty Martini (with common owner Michael Romeo) made a Settlement Agreement with the Palladium residents to limit the noisy music from the roofdecks. Needs ABRA review.

Apr 13. Early Sunday evening, boom, boom music from Dirty Martini. See two videos: 1.  walking down the alley from N Street, and 2. phoning ABRA with the music playing behind the bar.

Apr 11. Dupont Circle Citizens Association  passed a resolution of support for the coalition.

Apr 10. Dirty Martini protest hearing bans sound measurements. So, the residents had to rely a broader provision of the law of a number-free "noise disturbance."

Apr 7. ABRA issued an advisory letter that permits settlement agreements without protest. Letter to Cleveland Park Citizens Association.

Apr 6. Dirty Martini pounds out the music early Sunday night to disturb Palladium sleep.  Video clips of propagation of 87dB music playing in Dirty Martini roofdeck:  1.  in the alley behind the club;    2. 50 feet in the alley from the club rear ;  3. alley opening onto N Street;  4.  approaching club streetside entrance.  Resident Peck notified police and ABRA; 911 agreed to dispatch an investigation unit.  

Mar 26. Press release : CM Orange Witnesses Noise from Dupont Circle Clubs

Mar 26. Washington City Paper article by Perry Stein. Dupont Circle Citizens Take on Loud Nightclubs, One Decibel Reading at a Time.

Mar 21. Press Release on Hearing ABRA Hearing Lasts 7 Hours in Dupont Circle Protest

Mar 19. ABRA Protest hearing on re-issuance of license for Ozio nightlcub. Protestants from Palladium Condominiums ask for a mandate to Ozio to contain the music.

Mar 17. InTowner article Newly Formed Neighborhood Group Seeks Ways to Curb Excessive Nightclub Noise  by Ben Lasky

Mar 16. An anonymous DC citizen wrote the Director of ABRA, .... If bars & nightclubs keep the noise indoors, no one will know or care. ... 

Mar 16. DCist blog Restaurant, Bar Noise Crack Down Commences

Mar 16.  Noticeably less noisy. Club Central had noticeably lower dB readings early this AM as the Noise Task Force starts its newly re-committed work. 

Mar 14.   Shhhhhhh! You’re in a D.C. Bar! by Perry Stein in Washington City Paper blogs on the Noise Coalition's pressing the city noise checkers into active investigation. Sarah Peck was quoted: I don't know whether it's all show, or whether it will be a true enforcement, we will be watching and consulting.

Mar 12.  Press release by ABRA ABRA Kicks Off Compliance Campaign on Noise Laws

ABRA fingers DCRA responsibility.  ABRA investigator supervisor answers noise enforcement challenge with "That's a DCRA problem."

Warning notice.  ABRA Director Moosally sent a letter to all licensees  that the Noise Task Force will be conducting noise level checks outside establishments in the coming months against a standard of 60dB(A) limit on sound emissions.

New noise enforcement action. ABRA Director Fred Moosally outlined new noise enforcement action: increased noise checks. The nightclubs spoke up, mostly through the head of the Nightlife Association. 

Despite Promises, Mayor Gray, DC Officials Still Not Enforcing Noise Law in Dupont Circle   The DC Nightlife Noise Coalition walked Club Central on Saturday night, March 8, Recorded disturbing levels of amplified sound emanating from local night clubs.  For the complete story, read our press release March 9.

noise mapClub Central noise sources map shows that two major sources power the disturbances felt by the residents.  The cross-hatched boxes are clubs contributing to the late-night noise. Public bar was not cross-hatched because our inspection of that club showed that they were containing the interior noise.   Ozio was not cross-hatched at the time the map was created but has since proved to also be a source. The large black dots are the two points that act essentially as generators of noise to the nearby residences.  [created by Sarah Peck]

Mar 5. Press Release: Council, Mayor Vow to Control Dupont Circle Club Noise

Feb 20. Mayor Gray's office told Palladium residents that No one should be forced to listen to sustained noise in excess of what the law allows.

Testifiers. February 19, four Palladium residents testified at the annual ABRA Oversight hearing.  We expressed concern that ABRA, DCRA and MPD are not enforcing the DC Noise Control Act.  ABRA Director Moosally admitted the law does limit amplified sound levels to 60 decibels or below.  He also admitted that the Noise Task Force has not visited the Club Central Area despite our complaints and has not issued citations for violations.
for all news, see News and Views

The Beginning

Residents of the Palladium Condominium, located in Dupont Circle, published a White Paper by Sarah Peck,   “The Enforcement of the DC Noise Ordinance To Control Nightclub Noise.”  The Paper presents noise data showing that nightclubs in the Club Central area -- the 1200 blocks of 18th Street and Connecticut Avenue -- are exceeding the statutory limit for amplified noise.   The Paper also urges the Mayor to (1) declare support for the enforcement of the Noise Control Act; (2) appoint an ombudsman to work with residents adversely affected by night club noise and to advise the Mayor; (3) improve enforcement of the law by DCRA, ABRA, and police; (4) revise applicable regulations to prohibit outdoor amplified music by commercial establishments in residential areas.  Comments should be directed to Sarah Peck at contact@dcnightlifenoise.com

Read the entire White Paper (revised Feb 3)

An inspiration, Here I am, surrounded by all kinds of noise (my lodgings overlook a bath-house).   Seneca's letter to Lucilius. (Seneca letter 56.1-2)


Action Needed: Enforce the Noise Control Act:

Our recommendations to Mayor Gray:

Contact Us  Write us at contact@dcnightlifenoise.com .

    enjoy the music .............................  and let the family sleep

speakerpolicemansleep

Published by Sarah Peck, 1325 - 18th St NW,   e-mail Sarah Peck ...  or  webmaster   Last update May 13, 2015