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Noise News

The Newsletters of the Citizens for a Quiet Environment

September 1999: Volume 1, Number 3

September 1999: Volume 1, Number 3

Public Hearings Set For Noise Complaints
City Council Candidates Answer Noise Questions
Editorial: Want Some Peace and Quiet? You'll Have To Fight For It!
Council Takes No Action on TV-News Helicopters
City Health Department Wants Police to use Substandard Equipment
City To Use "Quiet" Asphalt on Coors
Chicago City Council Reaffirms Boom Car Law
Many Cities Taking Action to Control Excess Noise
Target Stores Don't Play Background Music
Noise Causing Unseen Problems For The Public
EHD Proposal Would Promote Decibel Creep
Sound Wall May Not Stop Noise From San Mateo
Noise Resources and Info on The Internet
We Need Your Support To Continue Our Battle Against Noise and Your Right to Quiet

Public Hearings Set For Noise Complaints

At the request of Mayor Baca, the Environmental Health Department has set three public meetings to hear citizen complaints about noise problems. The dates, times and locations are as follows:

Wed., Oct. 20-6:30 p.m. - Barelas Senior Center, 714 7th St. SW
Tues., Oct. 26-6:30 p.m. - Los Volcanes Senior Center, 6500 Los Volcanes NW
Sat., Nov. 20-9:00 a.m. - Palo Duro Senior Center, 5221 Palo Duro NE

The Mayor has told Sarah Kotchian, Director of Environmental Health, that he wants to see a strong, comprehensive noise code to replace the current 20-year old ordinance.

Although both the EHD and CQE have been working on recommendations for changes and additions to the noise code, the Mayor wants to be certain that all of the public's noise complaints are heard and considered before a final revised code is presented to the council.

We urge you to attend one of these meetings and to speak out about noise problems plaguing you. Big turnouts at these meetings will help insure meaningful change in the noise code.

City Council Candidates Answer Noise Questions

To let you know where your candidates stand on noise issues, CQE sent the following questionnaire to all candidates for the four seats open on the City Council. Key to responses:

# Candidate District # Candidate District
1 Vincent Griego 2 8 Hess Yntema* 6
2 **Michael Gurrero 2 9 Sam Bregman 4
3 Jeffrey Rich Munoz 2 10 Cara Chavez 4
4 Carton Pennington 2 11 ** Bradley Winter 4
5 Alan Reed 2 12 **Tim Cummins 8
6 Tabitha Hall 6 13 Robert Mast 8
7 Daniel Serrano 6 14 **Gregory Payne 8

* Hess Yntema has served as an unpaid consultant to CQE
**Michael Guerrero, Bradley Winter, Tim Cummins and Gregory Payne did not respond to the questionnaire by the deadline given to all candidates.

1. Should dogs, while outside, be allowed to bark for more than a given number of minutes in any hour before the owner can be cited for a noise violation?

Yes: 3 No: 8,9,13 Don't know: 1,4,5,6,7,10

2. Do people have the right to create noise that disturbs the right of others to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes and property?

Yes: 0 No: 1,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,13 Don't know: 0

3. Should the city pay a reasonable premium to purchase "quiet" equipment, paving materials or other "quiet" technologies?

Yes: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13 No: 10 Don't know: 1

4. Should amplified, outdoor paging systems be replaced with electronic pagers?

Yes: 1,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,13 No: 10 Don't know: 0

5. Should strict maximum sound limits be placed on noise permits when they are issued for special events?

Yes: 1,3,7,8,9,13 No: 0 Don't know: 0

6. Should businesses where sound levels routinely reach more than 90 decibels (the level where permanent hearing damage can occur) be required to post signs warning patrons of that danger?

Yes: 1,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,13 No: 0 Don't know: 3

7. With the exception of medical or police aircraft, should current and additional future private companies be permitted to land helicopters in or near residential neighborhoods?

Yes: 10 No: 1,3,4,5,6,7,8,13 Don't know: 9

8. Should noise abatement and control be considerations in the adoption and enforcement of traffic laws?

Yes: 5,6,7,8,9,13 No: 0 Don't know: 1,3,4,10

9. Should the creation of noise be a major consideration in all city planning, zoning and services?

Yes: 1,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,13 No: 0 Don't know: 0

10. Should restrictions be placed on car stereos in Albuquerque as they are in Chicago, St. Paul, Tucson and other cities?

Yes: 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,13 No: 0 Don't know: 1

11. Should the Police be equipped with sound level meters in order to immediately take readings and enforce code violations?

Yes: 3,5,6,8,9,10,13 No: 0 Don't know: 1,4,7

12. Should the Police be expected to respond to noise complaints when it is not possible or not practical for Environmental Health or Animal Control to do so?

Yes: 3,4,6,8,9,13 No: 10 Don't know: 1,5,7

13. The Americans With Disabilities Act requires certain amenities from business to help the blind, those in wheel chairs and others. Should those businesses also be asked to meet certain requirements for those with a hearing disability?

Yes: 7,8,9,10 No: 0 Don't know: 1,3,4,5,6,13

14. Should any place of business be required to obtain a noise permit to temporarily set up speakers outside the building than can be clearly heard on adjacent properties?

Yes: 1,4,6,7,8,9,13 No: 10 Don't know: 3,5

15. There is currently not one person on staff charged with full time noise control and none with specialized training. A decision has been tabled on the hiring of a trained Acoustical Engineer as an additional staff person for the Environmental Health Department. Do you favor funding this position?

Yes: 4,6,7,8,13 No: 3 Don't know: 1,5,9,10

Editorial: Want some Peace and Quiet? You'll Have To Fight For It!

Much like what's happening here in Albuquerque, proposals for much needed improvement in the Seattle, WA noise code were developed and brought forward his last spring. It was no secret the changes were in the works but many, with a vested interest in creating noise, ignored the issue until they realized it was going to impact on them. When that happened, the screams could be heard clear down in Portland and possibly even in San Francisco.

"Why weren't we consulted? Why weren't we told? You can't do that, you'll destroy my business! That's against my rights!" These were just a few of the claims made when the ordinance finally got to the Council. What happened? The proposed changed were sent back to a review process.

The same thing has happened in numerous other communities. City Councils are, naturally, concerned about the health and the good will of the business community. The business community is not bashful about letting the Council know what they want and don't want. They also seem to discover, once something passes that they opposed, that they can live with the changes after all and that its not nearly as difficult to comply as they claimed it would be.

Its up to the public to let the Council know the same thing the business community tells them; what we want and what we don't want. We want peace and quiet in our homes and we don't want other people's noise forced on use. We need to make the Council understand how strongly we feel about this. That can only be done by making the effort to attend any public hearings set to discuss noise and speaking up at those meetings.

Getting a strong noise ordinance for Albuquerque and having it enforced will only happen if you're willing to stand up and say, "I've had enough, I'm not going to take it any more," and then you get in there and fight for it!

Council Takes No Action On TV-News Helicopters

At a recent meeting of the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee of the City Council, the Committee voted to pass on to the full Council, without recommendations, a bill requiring that helicopters from the city's three TV stations be kept at the airport rather than being allowed to land at the station's studios, all located near residential neighborhoods. The Committee also urged the two sides to get together for mediation in hopes that the issue could be resolved without Council action.

At the next Council meeting, the full Council tabled the bill, scheduling it for consideration in October, and ordered yet another mediation period for the two sides whose positions seem to be cast in stone. The bill will now not be considered until after the October Council election. The bill was sponsored by the Councilwoman Adele Baca-Hundley and had the support of CQE and various neighborhood and other groups.

Many in the city feel that this bill would not be necessary if the current noise code were being enforced. The code outlaws machinery creating noise more than 10 decibels over the normal level in a residential neighborhood. That level is 53 dB(A) in the typical neighborhood according to a study done for the Environmental Health Department. That means the legal limit would be 63 dB(A) in most neighborhoods and the typical helicopter, on takeoff, will be in the vicinity of 85 dB(A) or even higher. Nobody in City government has ever offered an explanation as to why this regulation has not been applied to the TV stations as it has to other noise sources.

The City's Planning Department approved the use of the three stations' property for heliports even though it was creating a violation of the noise code. Now, were the City to enforce the code, Councilman Sam Bregman and others fear a lawsuit by the stations. The City is, naturally, also susceptible to a suit from aggrieved citizen voters, but this does not seem to weigh as heavily on their minds.

In Englishtown, NJ, legal action was taken to correct a noise problem by means of a writ of mandamus. This is a legal instruments compelling a government entity to act in accordance with the law. In Virginia, a similar strategy was followed, suing the government and obtaining a court order requiring the government to enforce the law.

People wanting more information on the helicopter issue may contact Mr. Greg Hicks, President of the Huning Castle Neighborhood Assn. at 243-7492 (day) or 843-8780 (night).

City Health Department Wants Police To Use Substandard Equipment

In a misguided effort to save money and increase enforcement, the Environmental Health Department is considering proposing that $50 Radio Shack noise meters be used by the police in place of professional quality instruments that meet the international standards for equipment used by other major cities. Regulation meters can cost $700 to $1000 so the $50 price tag is certainly appealing but unworkable.

Legal noise limits for levels of 45 to 50 dB(A) are also being considered for proposal by the EHD in their suggested noise code revisions, yet these substandard meters cannot even register noise at those levels. According to Prof. Federico Miyara, an internationally known acoustics and electronics expert, these substandard meters cannot measure sounds in the range below 54 dB(A).

Miyara goes on to point out that these meters can be off by as much as 7 dB(A) and cannot be adequately adjusted. In noise readings, a 6 decibel increase in noise equates to a 75% increase in noise energy. Normal procedure for professional code enforcement officers is to allow a few decibels leeway when taking noise measurements for code enforcement. Use of these meters would require leeway of possibly 8 dB, which means almost double the allowable sound. Use of such meters could cause innocent people to be convicted of a noise violation while guilty people might be set free - all because the meter was not accurate.

Eric Zwerling, the Director of the Rutgers Noise Technical Assistance Center says, "The use of a sound level meter that does not meet known and accepted standards is simply unacceptable for enforcement purposes." He also points out that a case was recently thrown out of court in Mobile, Alabama where one of those inaccurate amateur meters was supplying the proof of a noise code violation.

Zwerling recently appeared as an "expert witness" for Mayor Rudolf Guiliani in a New York City noise case. His department at New Jersey's Rutgers University trains police and code enforcement officers from all over the U.S. in noise code enforcement.

City To Use "Quiet" Asphalt On Coors

Rubber impregnated asphalt will be used on the section of Coors Blvd. from Montano South to St. Joseph's drive, scheduled for widening soon. This is only the second time this new technology has been used in the Albuquerque area, the other being the new sections of road at the Montano bridge.

This type of asphalt was developed in Phoenix and later adopted by Los Angeles where it has been used extensively. It is also used in Alaska, and several European countries.

According to Los Angeles County, this product has numerous benefits over regular asphalt. It is quieter, more skid resistant, lasts longer and, although it cost more per cubit foot, a thinner layer can be used so the actual cost per mile is lower. In addition, it can recycle millions of used tires that currently take an enormous amount of space in land fills and present a serious fire hazard.

CQE believes the State Highway Department should send a group to Los Angeles to be trained in the use of this "quiet" material as the department has, in the past, not seemed well informed on this 20 year old process.

Chicago City Council Reaffirms Boom Car Law

In June, the Chicago City Council defeated an amendment to that city's strict "boom car" law that was proposed by a Council member. The bill would have weakened restrictions and penalties on loud auto stereos.

Under the existing code, it is illegal to play a car stereo so that it can be heard 75 feet away. The vehicle can be seized, the owner fined up to $500, and $115 in towing and storage fees are incurred when the vehicle is impounded. Car owners, retailers and even the Consumer Electronics Manufacturer's Association lobbied for the weakening language but the amendment failed.

Chicago is only one of many major cities that place such restriction on car stereos. Tucson, St. Paul and many others have "boom car" laws and, so far this year, five different cities in Washington state alone, have passed such regulations.

Many Cities Taking Action To Control Excess Noise

Cities throughout the country are taking action to control growing volume of urban noise. Seattle, WA is in the midst of a complete overhaul of their noise code and enforcement procedures. Sunnyvale CA joined over forty other California cities in banning or placing restrictions on leaf blowers and has also forced car dealers to remove outdoor paging systems on their lots and buildings.

Bethlehem, PA passed a "Boom Car" law and a group from Santa Fe contacted CQE for information on such laws with the intent of pushing for such legislation in the Capital City.

Eureka Springs, AR places restrictions of 65 decibels on the level of outdoor live or broadcast music going beyond the property lines of the business creating the noise.

Westerville and Columbus, Ohio have, by ordinance, placed limits on the sound emanating from the Polaris Amphitheater while in Morristown, NJ, action is being taken to quiet train horns.

Target Stores Don't Play Background Music

The first thing some people notice when entering a TARGET store is the quiet. They don't play background music, a policy established by the home office. The company says their intent is to provide a pleasant shopping environment for their customers whom they term "guests."

Last winter, Noise Pollution Clearinghouse volunteers attempted to compile a list of major businesses that have a corporate policy of "no background music." Only two chains were found, TARGET STORES and OFFICE DEPOT, and the latter had begun "experimenting" with music in some stores.

In England, serious opposition to background music exists. London's "Pipedown" group got a supermarket chain to remove the music they played and convinced another not to put in into their blissfully quiet business. They also convinced Gatwick airport to remove such music after a study found only a minority of the public liked it.

A study of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf in England found that 34% of the public find background music to be annoying; another 36% are not even aware of it. This leaves a minority of 30% who might get some pleasure out of what a larger percentage object to.

CQE urges those who object to background music being forced on them, particularly when it is played at a high volume, to let the offending business know that they find it objectionable. Speak to the manager. Say that you find the music unpleasant and a major consideration in whether you'll return.

Noise Causing Unseen Problems For The Public

Numerous health and learning problems have been found to be caused by noise pollution. Unlike hearing loss, most are not readily identifiable as noise related.

Dr. Luther Terry, former U.S. Surgeon General wrote, "...noise is invisible and its impact on our total environment, including people, has proven to be more difficult to define than that of other environmental pollutants." Dr. Terry reports that studies have shown chronic exposure to noise has been linked to increased risk of heart problems, stroke and even birth defects.

One place where noise invisibly impacts is on children's learning. Cornell University researchers found that children in school bombarded by frequent aircraft noise don't learn to read as well as children in quiet schools. The school's Susan Lang reported that the aircraft noise causes kids to "..have difficulty acquiring speech and recognition skills." Studies by Dr. Arline Bronzhaft, of New York University found the same problem with children in classrooms facing New York's elevated trains. Those children fell behind classmates on the "quiet" side of the same school.

The "findings" of the Quiet Communities Act of 1997 report that, "20,000,000 citizens of the United States are exposed to noise levels that can lead to psychological and physiological damage, and another 40,000,000 people are exposed to noise levels that cause sleep or work disruption."

EHD Proposal Would Promote Decibel Creep

A change to the noise code currently under consideration by the Environmental Health Department would allow noise levels to slowly creep up in Albuquerque. They are contemplating allowing noise to exceed the ambient or average noise in a neighborhood by 5 dB(A) before a violation is said to occur.

A study done for the EHD found the average ambient noise level in Albuquerque residential neighborhoods is 53 dB(A). This means that the allowable limit would be 58 db(A) in those neighborhoods.

Over a period of time, small increases could be introduced into an area, each raising the sound level 1 or 2 dB(A) in those neighborhoods.

Over a period of time, small increases would be introduced into an area, each raising the sound level 1 or 2 dB. None of these would be sufficient to cause a violation but eventually the ambient could be up to 58 dB, making the allowed maximum be 63 dB.

CQE opposes this provision and feels the code should carry the same maximum levels as those of most other major cities, namely 55 dB(A) daytime and 50 dB(A) nighttime in a residential neighborhood. The World Health Organization recommends 50 dB and 45 dB respectively.

Eric Zwerling, the expert on noise code enforcement at Rutgers University, said, "...the permissible sound level limit should be set at a specific sound level such as 50 dB(A) at night, and allowances for ambient sound levels should be made in the standard operating procedure used for enforcement officers." CQE supports this position.

Sound Wall May Not Stop Noise From San Mateo

The Fair Height Neighborhood, after 5 years of battling for it, is finally going to get a city build sound wall along a stretch of San Mateo between Marble and Constitution. The wall will vary in height from 8 feet to10 feet at a cost of about $500,000.

Interestingly, whether the wall will adequately muffle the noise problem will not be known until it has been built. Dr. Joe Mullins, a retired UNM professor, physicist and volunteer consultant to the neighborhood, felt the wall should be taller. He told the Albuquerque Tribune, "The wall will be pretty and any wall will do some good," but then went on to say, "the wall really ought to be 12 feet high."

Area residents have complained for years about traffic noise along this section of San Mateo. Unlike the balance of the street, this section has no buildings on the East side to stop noise and, unexplainably, a speed limit that is higher than other restrictions of the road.

Anyone who travels that portion of San Mateo knows that the majority of the cars are exceeding the speed limit. Cars exceeding the limit by 5 m.p.h. will create 70% more acoustic energy than those observing the often unenforced limit.

The higher speed, irregular road surfaces, bad repairs and lack of noise buffering buildings has resulted in noise readings as loud as 83 decibels during the afternoon rush hour. That's the equivalent of a diesel truck passing by just 50 feet away at 40 m.p.h. and at the level where hearing damage can begin with extended exposure. These measurements were taken not at the street, but at the residential property lines all the way across the park from the street.

Susan Linnell, an Albuquerque artist has been retained by the city to make the wall attractive and additional landscaping, says plantings and big boulders will enhance the wall's appearance. If it turns out the wall doesn't stop much of the noise, at least it will be attractive to look at.

Noise Resources and Info On The Internet

Muzak Study

Noise Center of the League for the Hard of Hearing

Noise Pollution Clearinghouse

Right to Quiet Society

Rubberized Asphalt

Scientific Interdisciplinary Ecology & Noise Committee

World Health Organization Community Noise Report

We Need Your Support To Continue Our Battle Against Noise and Your Right To Quiet

Noise pollution won't go away on its own! The EPA had its funding for fighting noise withdrawn so its now up to each local community to deal with noise or allow it to increase.

After studying the noise codes of over 30 other cities and doing extensive research, CQE has prepared a comprehensive report on noise for presentation to the City Council. It contains a host of recommendations. We need funds to print this report.

CQE can become a permanent part of the community but this can only happen with your support. It costs money to prepare literature for distribution at such events as the Earth Day Fair or the public meeting CQE held at Winrock. It costs money to print and mail this newsletter to keep you informed on noise issues. We've distributed literature at neighborhood association meetings that needs to be reprinted.

We are seeking members for a bigger, better CQE. An independent, non-profit group that will lobby for noise abatement and control and will represent you, the public, not any special interests or powerful governmental departments. We plan to hold a meeting of all paid members early next year to adopt by-laws and get more formally organized.

We will gratefully accept any donations but prefer to offer you a subscription to a quarterly newsletter and membership in the organization.

To join, send a check or money order payable to:
Citizens for a Quiet Environment
P.O. Box 1714
Corrales, NM 87048

Our e-mail address is
Telephone: 897-0840

"People living along main traffic arteries face a 20% higher risk of heart attack than other people"
-German Working Group for Noise Abatement

Link to CQE Webpage