HAYWARD -- The city is moving forward with a plan officials hope will decimate decibel levels of tenants and motorists who like living loud about town.
In a unanimous decision, the City Council voted Tuesday to introduce an amended noise ordinance, which likely will be finalized at next week's meeting.
City staff members said the current ordinance is archaic, dating back 50 years, and only offers a vague threshold of what sort of noise is offensive, and penalties through the courts for people who produce such sound.
"It's somewhat difficult to enforce, and lacks specific criteria," said Assistant City Manager Kelly Morariu, who added that the revised ordinance will keep existing provisions intact, should they be needed.
The revisions were drafted after hearing recurring noise complaints at various neighborhood meetings.
It includes a sound-level restriction for residents that makes it unlawful to exceed 70 decibels by day, 60 by night for single-family homes, and 60 decibels at all times for multifamily units.
A vacuum cleaner registers at about 70 decibels, while conversational speech or a clothes dryer hit the 60 decibel mark.
Police responding to a noise violation call would be armed with a calibrated sound meter, and while anonymous complaints could garner a warning, someone would have to go on the record for a fine to be imposed.
Some residents said that could be a problem -- people often fear retribution
"There can be someone playing music so loud they don't bother just their neighbors, it bothers everyone in the apartment complex," said former county Supervisor Gail Steele. "But people are scared to death, and they won't do" a signed complaint.
Kari McAllister and Frank Goulart both said the permissible decibel levels are set too low, and that a child practicing a musical instrument would be easily in violation.
McAllister, a Chabot College sound technician, said horns and drums can exceed the 100 decibel mark. She added the new ordinance could be used by people as a "tool to get at neighbors they don't like."
Goulart agreed, and said the learning curve of an instrument often yields unpleasant noises.
"Kids have to play horrible music to start with," Goulart said. "When I was practicing the violin back in 1965, everybody scattered."
Hayward police Lt. Reid Lindblom said the preferred course of action in noise disputes is to mediate between neighbors and come up with an equitable solution before further action is taken.
"Of course there's discretion in all of this," he said. "We are neighborhood mediators. One man's music is another man's noise, and we try to find a middle ground."
Such sympathies were not expressed for violators of the vehicle portion of the code, which holds that drivers can be fined if a police officer hears noise a certain distance from the car.
While the initial ordinance called for a 50-foot range, council members halved it to 25 feet -- about two lanes of a thoroughfare.
Violators could be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $500 thereafter.
The council will consider final approval of the ordinance March 22.