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Task force seeks creation of city Music Department

Monday, November 3, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Nightclub owners and neighborhood activists offered their assessment of the draft recommendations of the Live Music Task Force during a public meeting at City Hall last week. The 15-page document includes dozens of individual suggestions for improving the climate for live music in Austin. Task Force Chair Paul Aveisi said each recommendation was the result of painstaking deliberation and compromise, with the most important suggestion being the creation of a Music Department within city government.


“This should be as powerful as it possibly could, as powerful as political will can make it,” he said. “That is our big ask. It’s not going to be an easy ask. I can’t tell you how important it is that we as a music community stand as one as requesting this Music Department. Without that, it’s very likely that these recommendations get a proverbial pat on the back and we are sent on our way.”


Many of the music industry representatives in the crowd offered their support for the creation of a Music Office. “We hope it would have two separate offices…one that would deal with noise issues, taxes and incentives, and permits…and a separate office to further the growth of local music business infrastructure. They are two completely different areas of expertise,” said Austin musician Troy Dillinger, who has organized a group called Save Austin Music.


Dillinger also requested a city-wide music plan. Such a plan is part of the task force’s recommendations, but would likely not begin for at least several months. Dillinger’s group has produced a public service announcement, which he says could run on local radio and TV stations. He would also like to start a web site devoted to local music listing. For these two projects, he wants a total of $15,000 per month.


“We’d like $10,000 per month for advertising buys, $5,000 per month for the web site. The budget could be drawn from the city’s emergency discretionary fund,” he said. “We understand that this is a large curve ball we’re throwing, but let’s remember that we’re addressing a financial emergency that’s accompanying a national financial crisis.”


Dillinger would also like for specific funding to be earmarked from the city’s hotel and motel bed tax revenues for music promotion and development. “The City of Austin collected nearly $50 million in bed taxes last year, of which over $5 million went to fund Austin arts,” he said. “Live music programs received far less than $1 million of that money, while the remainder went to fund fine arts. We support our brothers and sisters in the fine arts community, but we generate income for this city and we demand our fair share,” he said. “It is not unreasonable for Austin music to spend 5 percent of the bed tax revenues that we help generate to further the development of our industry.”


Finally, Dillinger proposed a new working group to craft revisions to the city’s noise ordinance. He suggested bi-monthly meetings, organized by the city, to work on new language or enforcement policies which could be presented to the city in 90 days. That suggestion met with resistance from Bob Woody, who owns several properties downtown. A lawsuit by Woody lead to the current noise ordinance, and he said he would fight to keep the ordinance as-is.


Neighborhood representatives also told the task force they were concerned about noise. “There is one glaring hole in the recommendations. Nothing really addresses the compatibility between residential areas and outdoor live music venues that open up very close to these residential areas, said Dinette Chimenti, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council. “We have some problems now in our neighborhoods with venues that open up adjacent to neighborhoods. That venue can play music up to 85 decibels. Folks who live next to these music venues can’t sleep at night, they can’t carry on conversations in their homes. We have a problem, and that is peace and quiet in people’s homes. That is something I think you guys need to address.”


Zilker Neighborhood resident Jeff Jack concurred, and described the current ordinance as ineffective at protecting families from unwanted noise. “Quite frankly, 85 decibels at a property line is too loud,” he said, “and allowing it until 10 or 11 o’clock during the week and midnight on the weekend is too long…right up against a house.” He pointed out that the city had established a zone around ABIA in which new residential construction was prohibited because of noise, and the contours of that zone were based on a maximum noise threshold of 65 decibels.


The task force’s recommendations will be presented to the City Council on Nov. 20. Musicians are planning a rally downtown at Antone’s at 1pm that afternoon, with a march to City Hall for the 2pm briefing session.

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