By taking a new direction in controlling nuisance noise levels, the Clallam County Sheriff's Citizen Advisory Committee is taking the subjective judgment of a noise violation away from deputies while placing enforcement back into their hands in the form of decibel readers.
The committee voted Oct. 22 to quash the once proposed Clallam County noise ordinance, instead deciding to look into an established Washington state code as an alternative.
The former proposal to control loud noise received an ice-cold reception in July from a large public audience at a Clallam County commissioner meeting.
The audience sharply criticized the draft law for its vague descriptions of noise, openness to subjective judgment by deputies and possible overreaching guidelines for abating problem noisemakers.
Commissioners said they heard loud and clear that the ordinance was not right for the county and sent it to the subcommittee for further review and possibly a new draft or proposal.
There was an audience at the recent committee meeting as well - about 30 people. While most were not happy to see the issue of noise control continue to be discussed, there was some satisfaction to hear the ordinance no longer would be sought.
"I guess you could call it a compromise," said Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict, encouraging people to read over the state code before the next committee meeting.
"It will still achieve what I need, which is a tool to use on those making problems in our communities and for those who cannot work things out with their neighbors. But it will mean the purchase of decibel readers and their required training."
The code sets a limit on noise in the 55 to 70 decibel range in the late evening and early morning hours between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. It requires trained officers use decibel readers to determine if there is a violation.
There are many exemptions and different classifications of noise violations for a variety of environments in the code.
The Sheriff's Office routinely receives noise complaints and generally deals with them on a case-by-case basis, often acting as a mediator between neighbors, Benedict said.
However, often there are repeat calls to people who are unwilling to negotiate noise issues with their neighbors, he said.
"You've heard it before, but we get calls for loud chain saws at 3 and 4 in the morning and similar calls for backyard dirt-bike racing, which takes place right next to people's homes," Benedict said after the first meeting. "We just need a tool for those times that a deputy showing up isn't enough and a civil dispute is pending."
The current county noise law only regulates amplified noise, or essentially loud music.
Without adopting the code locally, it simply serves as a state guideline that can be used to solve a civil suit in court. With the code adopted locally, members of the local enforcement agency would be able to use its guidelines themselves.
"I don't see civil suits as a way to solve dispute problems. Most people don't have the ability to hire a lawyer and sue their neighbor," said Richmond. "And while you may be angry, litigation is often still the last thing on your mind."
"This new proposal will give us the chance to be much more precise of who is breaking the rules and what we can do about it," Benedict noted.
Benedict said he wasn't sure if he would require each officer to carry a decibel reader and get trained to use it if the advisory committee decides adopting the code is in the county's best interests and county commissioners adopt the change in turn.
The committee will review the Washington Administrative Code title 173-58 and 60 over the next two months and will meet again Jan. 28.
The Clallam County Sheriff's Citizens Advisory Committee will meet again Jan. 28 in the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles, to review the proposed adoption of a Washington code that limits noise levels in the nighttime. To find a copy of Washington Administrative Code 173-58 and 60, visit http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC.
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