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City, live music advocates decry legislation that would limit noise regulations

Tuesday, April 6, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

City leaders and live music advocates spoke out Monday against a bill in the Texas Legislature that would limit the ability of cities to regulate amplified sound from bars and music venues.

The press conference at downtown club 3Ten was held in response to House Bill 3813, which was filed by Rep. Cody Harris of Palestine and seems targeted specifically at Austin with its language covering cities larger than 750,000 residents in counties of at least 1.5 million residents.

The bill would prohibit limits on sound up to 85 decibels created by bars and venues between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., even if the business is located in a residential area.

There has been no significant movement on Austin’s regulation of amplified sound in roughly a decade. The most recent work on that front come from the “agent of change” concept that seeks to strike a balance between entertainment businesses and residential developments in close proximity to one another.

Mayor Steve Adler said music advocates and neighborhood groups have worked together for years to reach a hard-earned agreement on noise levels that will allow music venues to operate while protecting quality of life in neighborhoods.

“The issue of sound has always been an important part of our community and public conversation,” he said. “This is a community that has people from all different ends of the spectrum with respect to sound. Some people would like to keep it low and some would like to have it go really high, but in a city and community it’s important for the people to be able to get together and work through those kinds of issues.”

Without naming names, Adler mentioned that a “particular local bar owner” or interest group may have pushed Harris to file the bill.

“There’s a certain acceptance of noise that comes with moving here. There are a lot of people who may disagree with me, but the important thing about a city is that we sit down with one another to work through those issues and find something that will work,” he said. “In this instance the outside interference from the Legislature would be misguided, misdirected, not welcome and not appropriate.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes multiple live music and nightlife entertainment venues, said the noise ordinance passed 10 years ago has served the city well as the population has increased and put pressure on music venues around the city.

“Constituents on both sides of that issue aren’t always perfectly satisfied with that ordinance, but it has been a balance and a series of compromises to come up with an ordinance that serves the venues well and allows us to be the Live Music Capital of the World and allows us to cultivate live music throughout our city,” she said. “It also provides for neighbors who live adjacent, to make sure they have the quality of life you would expect in a city like Austin.”

Noise issues were a major concern immediately after the city created what became the Music and Entertainment Division with the Economic Development Department.

Don Pitts, the former director of that office, said the timing of Harris’ bill seems curious since there’s been little change in how Austin governs sound issues for most of the past decade.

“Usually stuff like this comes as a knee-jerk reaction where the Legislature sees something and they want to make Austin pay, but there’s been nothing new on this that’s been done for years,” he said, adding that the bill has given the city and music and neighborhood advocates another cause to unify against.

“There’s nothing like bad public policy to bring opposing sides together.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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