Concert promoter blasts industrial noise at illegal levels to drive away homeless people
The reason for the seriousness the city gives the issue of controlling excess noise is expressed in the very first paragraph of the noise ordinance: "Persistent exposure to elevated levels of community noise is responsible for public health problems including, but not limited to: compromised speech, persistent annoyance, sleep disturbance, physiological and psychological stress, heart disease, high blood pressure, colitis, ulcers, depression, and feelings of helplessness."
Many of the cities homeless already suffer acutely from conditions on this list. Asked how an already vulnerable population could be affected by random industrial noise known to (and in this case intended to) cause agitation, Offer-Westort said, "It's crazy to try to create these conditions, they are quite literally trying to create a civil disturbance, and not on their own property, but in a public space."
With the adverse effects of noise pollution well-outlined, the ordinance goes on to state, "In order to protect public health, it is hereby declared to be the policy of San Francisco to prohibit unwanted, excessive, and avoidable noise."
The ordinance pays particularly attention to licensed entertainment venues like the Bill Graham auditorium: "No noise or music associated with a licensed Place of Entertainment shall exceed the low frequency ambient noise level defined in Section 2901(f) by more than 8 dBC."
As a matter of comparison the difference between a whisper and a quiet conversation is roughly an eight decibel increase, a relatively narrow margin. It seems reasonable that if you're standing outside a venue, and the music coming from inside sounds louder than the person talking next to you, the city's noise ordinance has been exceeded.
So motorcycles, saws, and other industrial sounds that were described at the auditorium late at night would range around 100 decibels without being amplified. Amplify it enough to shake the window in the building, one can assume it's louder than a power tool, louder by far than the noise ordinance permits.
Everyone who has ever held a loud late night event in the city know the consequences of breaking the noise ordinance. A knock on the door by the SFPD that comes with a ticket and the end of your gathering. Do it again in a year and the fines doubles.
The strategy at the auditorium seems to be having some effect, but where the homeless will be shuffled off to is anybody's guess. The reality of the homelessness crisis is there is no place for the homeless to simply move off too. With their numbers in the thousands, only bold political action on behalf of the city's leadership can solve the problem.
"The root of the problem is that people can't afford rent. Everyone who rents in San Francisco knows that it is way too expensive to live in this city," says Offer-Westort. "We stopped creating public housing. Housing has become a commodity, an investment rather then a home, and that has driven up prices."
Passing back through the area later at night, the building was quiet for the moment. A tow truck was loading a car out front with a beeping alarm, a motorcycle roars by, a boombox is playing across Civic Center Plaza, a man is yelling around the corner only to be drown out by a broken wheeled shopping cart clanking by. If this is the normal late night quiet of the streets, it's a wonder the homeless get a moments sleep at all. But the building itself remains quiet right now.
A lone homeless man has bedded down in front but has not yet fallen asleep. Young and dreadlocked, he tells me that he has been in town only two days and is unaware of the controversial blasts of noise.
"God I hope they don't do that," he said from his sleeping bag. "It's supposed to rain tonight. Why would they do that? As long as you are up before sunrise and move on, who are you bothering?"