Sound Ordinance Update
Update as of December 2019
After completing a comprehensive stakeholder engagement process and submitting recommendations to the City related to the Sound Ordinance, it appears the process has completely stalled. From what we know one of the biggest issues related to Sound is the lack of enforcement by the City. We have laws currently on the books related to permits and sound levels but the missing piece is enforcement of those laws.
One of the recommendations made to the City leadership was to move enforcement from APD to a dedicated city employee. The issue with having APD do enforcement is that they almost always have higher-priority items to respond to, and they are not always trained in the sound ordinance laws nor do they always have decibel readers with them.
By hiring a dedicated staff employee to do enforcement this would assure that the law is applied equally to all establishments and in a timely manner. When we asked about the status of hiring a dedicated employee we were told that the hiring requisition was put on HOLD. We tried to gain further insight into why this was stuck on hold, but have not been successful in that pursuit.
We will continue to push on this issue and shine the light on where the process is stuck.
The Music & Entertainment Division (MED) has been at work coordinating the first phase of the Entertainment & Amplified Sound Compatibility Engagement, which took place from November 2018 through June 2019.
This engagement included a series of community engagement events and focus group meetings with four stakeholder groups, including Residents, Entertainment & Live Music Venues, Hotels, and Developers. Four key themes emerged forming recommendations to City Council, which are detailed below as background.
Our first priority is improving enforcement outcomes for amplified sound violations, which is an important first step before implementing any new policy around amplified sound. The following initiatives are now underway:
Outdoor Amplified Sound Enforcement Standard Operating Procedure (SOP): Rather than rely on Austin Police Officers as the only authorized officials to issue outdoor amplified sound citations, MED is developing a new interdepartmental SOP for our staff to issue citations through an affidavit process with Austin Municipal Court.
Outdoor Amplified Sound Enforcement Staff: The Division is hiring a full time employee to facilitate our new process for Outdoor Amplified Sound Enforcement. This person will dedicate 100% of their time on all aspects of the updated enforcement SOP, including working with the Austin Police Department to align efforts.
Austin 3-1-1: MED is working with Austin 3-1-1 to consider improvements to the current process for reporting amplified sound violations to better address citizen concerns and improve outcomes.
MED will conduct an Acoustical Study to evaluate amplified sound citywide and recommend standards that address low frequency (bass) amplified sound. The recommendations will support both entertainment venue sustainability and residential quality of life, while reflecting the history and character of different entertainment areas and neighborhoods in Austin.
A pilot will be initiated in two high impact locations with the installation of sound system technology at participating outdoor venues to reduce bass impacts to residents. The acoustical study will evaluate the results to help inform low frequency standards and explore the addition of ambient sound levels after outdoor sound cut-off times in select entertainment areas.
We are spending the next several months on the study and preparing for the pilot, which we hope to launch in April 2020 and run through the end of the year. The study and pilot will include the following components:
Acoustical Engineer: An acoustical engineering consultant will be brought on to define study parameters and oversee implementation with MED Staff, stakeholders, and other consultants.
Tech Solution: JBN Sound Solutions will participate in the pilot to demonstrate how effective their unique sound systems are at reducing amplified sound impact in different types of venues. Representatives will be in Austin this month to tour venues and meet with stakeholders. Information gathered during this initial visit will inform how to best utilize their systems during the pilot.
Monitoring: Additional sound monitors have been acquired to assist in the study and pilot and arrive at the end of the month.
The City of Austin is committed to supporting live music and entertainment venues and their essential contribution to Austin’s culture and nighttime economy, while preserving the quality of life for Austinites and visitors. From November 2018–May 2019, the Music & Entertainment Division (MED) within the Economic Development Department (EDD) convened experts, community stakeholders, and City staff to formulate recommendations for Mayor and Council for improving Amplified Sound Compatibility.
Four key themes emerged reflecting stakeholder priority areas for nightlife compatibility:
Agent of Change: Develop local policies for promoting future compatibility between Austinites and the growing nightlife economy.
Compliance & Enforcement: Improve consistent enforcement of the sound ordinance to promote ongoing compliance.
Sound Standards, Monitoring & Mitigation: Research and establish amplified sound standards for low frequency bass, increase publicly accessible and real-time sound monitoring, and increase City-led mitigation testing and efforts.
Stakeholder Partnerships: Build on the success of the Red River Extended Hours Pilot, where venues and residents successfully worked together on agreements and self-regulation, while also including other community-led groups as problem solvers and advocates.