Sometimes it’s hard to tell if government bureaucracies do the things they do because of incompetence, venality, or favoritism. In the never-ending story of Fullerton’s noise regulation all three seem to be uniquely intertwined.
What is inescapable is that the City of Fullerton has striven mightily to separate the issue of nuisance noise emanating from downtown outdoor areas from both enforcement and illegality.
In 2011 the ridiculous Transportation Center Specific Plan finally made it legal to propagate amplified outdoor music, thus making Jeremey Popoff’s Slidebar appear honest, although he still didn’t have a legal Conditional Use Permit. But the new regulations for noise had no more effect than Popoff’s missing CUP because the City – cops and code enforcement – refused to enforce the regulations.
What to do? Hmm. What about throwing the issue into a miasma of bureaucratic paper shuffling so that nobody would notice what you were doing, and downtown scofflaws could actually be absolved, de jure as well as de facto?
In August, 2014 the City tried this pitch with the idea that the Noise ordinance would be updated along with great swaths of the existing land use law to make thing, you know, easier to figure out. But downtown noise played a prominent part in the discussion, if not really in the staff report. The council approved noise studies as a mechanism, a cynic might say, to avoid cracking down on Popoff, Jack Franklin’s Roscoe’s, and their ilk, because that is exactly what happened.
2015 rolled around and the Community Development “professionals,” led by newly minted Director Karen Haluza, were again yakking it up about revising the Code. Well, these things take time, you know, and in the late summer of 2016 the City Council finally got around to passing Ordinance 3232, a revised Code, still, with intent of instilling commonsense and clarity. The definition of amplified music was scratched out pending future action.
But whatever the motivation, the ever-shifting sands of sound gave the bureaucrats, aided and abetted by the perpetual dishonesty of City Attorney Dick Jones, the pretext they needed to bat away complaints about the illegal noise – because the issues was under study and consideration!
The vicious circle took yet another revolution in June of 2018 when the Council was persuaded by yet another new planning director, Ted White, to pass a Resolution of Intent to once again revise the land use codes in the interests of commonsense and clarity. Of course the Noise Ordinance and downtown noise was actually a key driver in this conversation, too. Mr. White took it upon himself to introduce a new downtown noise map where any outdoor sound would be permitted; but, the standards – 70 decibels outside and 65 decibels inside – were not to be applied to the source, but to the sensitive receptor, and the burden of proof was clearly laid at the feet of the victim, not the perpetrator of the nuisance. The bureaucracy seemed oblivious to the Armageddon of Noise they were trying to create or the sensibilities of residents adjacent to the riot zone.
The Planning Commission was finally scheduled to review the latest iteration of musical chairs in November, 2018; but the discussion was mysteriously continued for three months until February, 2019 by which time two opponents of amplified music, Nick Dunlap and Ryan Cantor had been removed from the Commission. A coincidence? Who knows? Stay tuned…