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Venues ask for guidance on sound ordinance

Thursday, December 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Conflicts between downtown music venues and residents continue to fester. At this week’s Austin Music Commission meeting, venue operators and musicians asked for more clarity and consistency in the city’s sound enforcement.

In response, the commission formed a working group with the intention of clearing up the rules and eliminating some of the confusion that has members of the music community clamoring for help.

Jamie Wellwarth, who is the production manager of South Congress’ Continental Club and C-Boys Heart & Soul, said that he was recently threatened with a ticket if he did not produce a “live music permit” for an indoor show. He said he had no idea what that permit was, and asked the commission to help everyone — including police — better understand the city’s sound ordinances.

“(The police officer) was going to give us a ticket for something that doesn’t exist,” said Wellwarth. “I would like that addressed somehow.”

Austin Music People Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan said that her constituency wanted to be good neighbors, but found it difficult to operate within the law because of inconsistent — and confusing — enforcement.

“We’d like to see consistent enforcement so that everyone knows what the guidelines are, how to obey them and how to stay out of trouble,” said Houlihan.

Austin Police Lt. Christian Malanka said that between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, there had been 130 citations written downtown, with no citations issued during November. Of those citations, Malanka said the “vast majority” were issued to DJs, not live bands.

“There are more venues downtown than the number of citations we have written,” said Malanka, who urged those speaking on record to get all the facts before “berating the police department.”

Malanka made it clear that the two downtown officers responsible for enforcing sound knew the code as it is written. He said he didn’t know about enforcement outside of downtown, but as described, the officer who asked for a live music permit at C-Boys didn’t seem to be doing the job correctly.

He reminded those in attendance that 12,000 people lived downtown, and it “didn’t matter who was there first.” Further, he pointed out that many venues had retained their names, but given owner and management turnover, it was debatable who was actually “there first.” But that is ultimately neither here nor there for the police, who are only responsible for enforcing the existing code.

Malanka did acknowledge that the police had better things to do — like patrolling Sixth Street — and challenged those who were complaining about enforcement to either work within the parameters of the ordinance or work with the city to get the ordinance changed.

“I want everyone to thrive. I want everyone to do well. I have thrown everything I can into making the live music scene succeed,” said Malanka.

Commission Chair Brad Spies agreed with some of what Malanka said, but suggested there was room for more cooperation as well as clarity.

“Every once in a while, it seems like there is a round of increased enforcement on the sound issue. And that’s been happening for the last six weeks or so,” said Spies. “My thought, personally, is in order to achieve some semblance of harmony, everyone has to give a little bit.”

The working group is expected to come back to the commission with its recommendations before the end of the month.

Earlier in the meeting, Houlihan suggested that venue owners could use a poster that clearly outlined city regulations. That poster, if displayed in a club, could ensure that venue owners, employees, musicians and law enforcement were all working from the same page.

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