A Worse Punishment for Sisyphus: Policing Noise in a Metropolis

Hello out there, theFrontStep Readers! You may (or just as likely, may not) know my name from my blogs for Redfin. I’ve kindly been invited to write also for theFrontSteps, so here I am, on the steps, with my first blog.

So here’s the setting: last night, 2:00am, sultry night, people walking up from the bars, falling down, giggling. That noise doesn’t bother me much. I’d have to be a hypocrite if I tried to pretend I’ve never, after closing time, made too much noise under someone’s window as I staggered home. But another noise does bother me: some a-hole flooring his car and slamming on the breaks as he reaches the stop sign in front of my house. Then, from fully stationary, he floods the car again, tyring to go from zero to sixty instantaneously. Then he screeches off, circles the block, and comes back to do it again.

But we all live in a city. We can’t really expect quiet, can we? We can hope for it, and maybe in some areas, get it most of the time. But in the end, we’re sharing with a lot of people, some of them loud and possibly crazy. That’s why this new law aiming to curb SF noise interests me.

From the Chronicle:

The “Noise Control Ordinance” [which is already on the books, will now update] for the first time in more than three decades how the city regulates loud noise from mechanical sources like garbage trucks and ventilation systems along with bass and drum noise from nightclubs, which currently have no restrictions……The measure should be in front of the full Board of Supervisors for consideration on Nov. 4.

The current noise laws are essentially unenforceable because the original law, passed in 1973, based regulations on zoning, when there were only 19 types of zones. Today, there are more than 90, according to city leaders. The technology used to measure sound also has changed radically.

The proposed law would allow city inspectors responding to a complaint to measure the base level of ambient noise, which largely comes from traffic, and then sets limits on how much that can be exceeded by both commercial and residential sources.

Geez, SF. Get on that right after you solve the homeless crisis, the budget crisis, and also create world peace.

Still, noise pollution is a much identified problem, a source of health problems serious enough for most major cities to take action against it. Here in SF, for instance, we have Sound Pollution.org (among other such agencies). Surely then we’re better off in quiet nabes.

So where are those nabes? I live in Golden Gate Heights- pretty quiet, but not as much on 9th Ave (my street), where the #6 runs well after 2:00am and, as indicated, post bar stumblers as well as the more dangerous drivers come up regularly. Other streets though, especially those that don’t really go all the way through, are quieter.

North Beach? Um, hell no.

Pac Heights? For sure. If you read Arrian Binnings post, you know that property value really only goes up there. Couldn’t do that without the hush lots of money can buy.

Glen Park and Bernal? They’re alike in that it depends on the street. Coach A’s post on San Francisco Schtuff reminds of of the familial (and thus, pretty sedate) element Bernal offers; however, parts of Bernal and Glen Park are also close to the Freeway and BART, so not sedate at all.

Noe? Same as Bernal. Parts are very tranquil, but overall, proximity to Castro and Mission= noise.

Castro? See North Beach.

Mission? Never quiet.

Diamond Heights/Twin Peaks: pretty quiet. Pretty boring too though.

Ashbury Heights? See Pacific Heights.

Haight-Ashbury? See Mission.

Outer Sunset: Nothing but the sea, the wind, and some drunk guys around pitiful bonfire.

Tenderloin: Lots of noise, all of it scary.

Okay, you see where I’m going with this. If you don’t like noise at all, you may want to consider living in the suburbs. But if you can take a little (or a lot) your perfect neighborhood is out there. Spend a full day and a full night or two in your future nabe, maybe with the city’s new noise reading machine in hand, before you sign on a lease– or, more fatally, a mortgage.

Photo credit: Vicpark.com

11 thoughts on “A Worse Punishment for Sisyphus: Policing Noise in a Metropolis”

  1. great post. I don’t think SF has much chance of enforcing quiet, but I’d love it if we could see a curbing of construction noise.

  2. Howdy, RQ: yes, indeed, I saw that citations can be issued to construction zones if their noise making exceeds the allowed decibel whatever the hell. The original Chron article has all the info.

  3. With respect to the annoying asshole who guns his car up and down your block — throw a few large nails on the street when he comes by so it’ll blow out a few of his tires. I wonder if they sell those strips with sharp metal spikes that cops use to disable cars.

  4. I hate when people do that gunning their car or as alex mentioned motorcycle thing. so annoying. Those guys have little dicks for sure.

  5. Hi Anna Marie,

    Really enjoyed your post. We deal with the car noise too here in Russian Hill. Because we’re surrounded by steep slopes and tourists in rented Mustangs and Chargers, we hear a bit of a different sound. They floor it at the bottom of the hill and loudly race to the top. And because there’s not much ambient noise around Russian Hill, it really stands out. I mean hey, it’s a rental car, right??

    Three things always come to my mind:
    1) Sounds like you just burned a gallon of gas going one block. Way to go, pal.
    2) Are you actually having to slam on the brakes after going up some of the steepest slopes in the city? Another brilliant use of energy.
    3) [Redneck voice on] Hey man, that thing got a Hemi? [Redneck voice off]

    The best are the Harley’s at 2am on a weeknight. My absolute fav!!

    Bottom line: I’ll still take city noise over quiet ‘burbs any day of the week.

  6. Hey all- thanks for the comments!

    Live Smart: I bet I can get that (and anything else lethal) on the internet! Seriously, it would be deeply satisfying to hear THAT noise.

    Jan: I know! Do they not realize they may as well be wearing a neon sign that says as much?

    Arrian: I agree. Thanks for putting it all in a way that caused me to laugh so hard, my drink came through me nose a little. Haha…oww!

  7. Straight pipe motorcycles. augh! Why do their owners get a free ticket to ride and annoy thousands for their singular pleasure? If I drove blowing my horn at same decibel I would be pulled over for sure.
    I’m investing in sound control windows and walls for my renovation…

  8. We sublet an apartment in SouthBeach during the summer, and most nights were very quiet. The only time we had a noise problem was when the garage across the street was being restriped and they did it during the night.

    Berkeley is an interesting place. Somewhere around 1 a.m. everyone steps outside and screams for about 5 minutes.

  9. why do drunk people have to always sing?

    addition of a child sent us from n beach to glen park, but we’re still in the city, and we’ve got the $22,000 per year grade school tuition to prove it.

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