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Police gain weapon against booming bass

A change in the city's noise ordinance will allow officers to check for vibration and volume.

By LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Sometimes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Marvin Staley can put his hand on the wall of his 10th-floor apartment and feel the vibrations coming from the Big Catch below.

"Boom, boom, boom," the 71-year-old said, describing to the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday what he feels when the night spot at 1100 First Ave. N. pumps up the volume on its outdoor music.

Staley and others have called the police to no avail. The low bass sounds coming from the Big Catch, a block away, don't register with the noise meters used by city officers.

But that could change. On Thursday, the St. Petersburg City Council added a provision to its noise ordinance that would allow city police officers to target those lower octave sound bands that can penetrate through walls and reach the soul, yet still be legal.

"I've heard the last call for alcohol at 1:20 in the morning for the past seven months, and something has to be done about it," said Robert J. Leonard, a resident of the 14-story John Knox apartment complex for low-income seniors.

"You can't have these people playing outdoors that close to 450 elderly retired senior citizens. It's an outrage. It's certainly a situation that offends my golden years, and it offends theirs."

Until now, the city could ask potential violators to turn down their music or other sounds only if it registered 60 decibels and above, depending on the time of day. A normal conversation is about 60 decibels.

So if an air conditioning unit lost a bearing and began a high-pitched whir, or a construction crane was driving pilings into the ground at the wrong time of day, the city could typically do something about it.

But if a night club played bass-driven music, sleepless residents often had no recourse.

The ordinance, which was prompted by complaints, allows the city to use noise meters that measure these lower-toned band levels. These are sounds that shake the windows, rattle the dishes and vibrate the pictures on the walls. The measurement is taken from the home of the person complaining about the sound, said St. Petersburg police Sgt. Gary Robbins.

So how are residents supposed to determine if they're in violation? Robbins said any sound that causes someone to have to yell over it to be heard is a violation of the ordinance. Fines can range from $30 to $500, depending on the violation.

For the first time, the ordinance also gives a resident who wants to throw a party the ability to get a waiver from the city so they won't be in violation of the noise ordinance.

City Council member Bea Griswold wanted to make sure that Thursday's changes would help residents such as Staley and others who have trouble sleeping because of the noise.

"I think it's amazing that so many people are terribly bothered by this, and when you get to measuring it, it's okay, it's within the (existing) ordinance," she said.

In other business, the council:

Declined, on the advice of its outside counsel, to dismiss its lawsuit against Bayfront Medical Center over the hospital's adoption of Catholic religious directives. The city wants more assurances that the hospital will operate independently of the BayCare hospital alliance. Bayfront and BayCare wanted the suit dismissed by Dec. 31, the date an agreement calls for them to sever operations.

Agreed to accept $23,144 in dockage fees from Oy Sub Expo, owner of the Russian Juliett Class submarine docked at the city's port for past two years. The company owed the city $34,513 in dockage fees. The sub was towed from St. Petersburg on Dec. 5 to Tampa to be refitted for a Harrison Ford movie.

Learned that the city may not have to sue the state over a telecommunications law passed earlier this year. The city thought the bill, the Communications Services Tax Simplification Law, trampled on its right to regulate cable companies. But it has recently had input on a bill -- expected to be shepherded through the Legislature next session -- that will address the city's concerns.

Scheduled a Jan. 4 public hearing to consider a March 27 referendum on the lease or sale of eight acres of city-owned land to the Canterbury School.

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