New Hobokenites who moved here in search of the convenience of city living but with the serenity of suburbia piss me off. It’s no secret. Helicopters are too loud for them. Buskers are too disruptive for them. Live music is constantly under attack.
My li’l cafe has music on Sunday afternoons and we’ve had the police called on us for being too loud. We were also threatened by the city with a $500/day fine for having a small speaker out front playing low-volume music. Just the other night, Funky Dawgz Brass Band was stopped by the the Hoboken police as they marched up Washington Street on their way to a gig at Maxwell’s.
What’s happened to this city? What’s happened to every city? How is it that the new norm is to replace urban vibrancy with watered-down boredom and overreaching so-called quality of life ordinances? Well, maybe it doesn’t have to be. As a shining example of ‘anything can happen’, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently passed legislation aimed at protecting music venues from noise complaints.
Introduced back in December by the Board’s President London Breed, the measure essentially prohibits neighbors of music venues from suing them as a nuisance. Now, this is not a blanket protection for any bar or venue to do whatever they please, as loud as they please. There are of course regulations in place such as decibel levels, occupancy ratings, noise curfews, etc. that they must adhere to in order to avoid any action taken against them. They simply can no longer be harassed by overly sensitive neighbors who have a problem without probable cause.
The measure also requires developers who are building near existing music venues to notify prospective residents of the potential for noisy situations before they sell or lease the property. Some landlords in Hoboken have included such language into their leases. However, if complaints are made here, the venue can still be held accountable solely based on the number of complaints filed. Even if no violations are found. City Hall’s default action tends to be one that backs the complainant, not the complainee. And that’s what needs to change.
The same tensions that exist between new housing developers and the trappings of a successful nightlife that we have here (noise, crowds, etc) are what inspired this legislation in San Francisco. At a hearing before the Planning Commission in March, club owners and employees came to show support for the legislation. Oddly, not a single representative from any real estate developers came to challenge it.
They were probably thinking it would never pass. After all, when in recent history has entertainment won against big real estate money? Well thankfully for those of us who make a living in hospitality and entertainment, those developers were mistaken.
This is a bold move on the part of San Francisco’s elected officials. In an era when the noise nazis have been winning many battles against culture, the need for — and hopeful success of — this legislation boils down to simple economics. San Francisco — like New York and even li’l ol’ Hoboken — relies heavily on tourism and entertainment as a base for tax revenue. And a big part of that is live music. Whether it be cover bands, original bands, show tunes, opera, jazz or whatever. And yes, some of it is loud but all of it is potential money for the city.
This piece of legislation is part of a series of initiatives — including film and television — that are meant to preserve San Francisco’s entertainment economy. Despite what some would have us believe, everyone loves music. Everyone. Even those of you who don’t realize you do until you walk into a Chuck E Cheese and your precious bundles start bouncing their asses off to some screeching loud ruckus.
So thank you San Francisco for paving the way. Now it’s up to Hoboken to shed it’s usual inability to pave anything effectively and follow suit. City Hall wants Hoboken to be a tourism mecca and like it or not, live music, crowds and noise are part of the formula. Without them, Hoboken is not a tourist town. It’s a place to get cannoli and take pictures of the skyline before going across the river to catch a show.
We can do better. It’s gonna take some gutsy moves against the tides of silence. If we do it right and we find the balance that will put an end to this tired ‘us against them’ struggle, we will all be happier.