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PR- 320-05
August 17, 2005


Council Has All But Ignored One of New York’s Most Vexing Problems

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today called on the City Council to pass the overhaul of the City noise code.  Noise is the number one complaint to the City’s 311 citizen service hotline and since the revision of the noise code was first proposed on June 7th, 2004 there have been nearly 410,000 noise complaints to 311. The proposed overhaul provides a flexible rationale to keep New York’s businesses thriving while addressing the number one quality of life complaint in New York.   The Mayor was joined by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Deputy Commissioner Robert Avaltroni, Amy Boyle of the League for the Hard of Hearing, Felice Farber of  the General Contractors Association of New York, and Steven Spinola, President of the Real Estate Board of New York.  The press conference was held in Astoria Park, the same location where Council Speaker Gifford Miller stood in support of the overhaul of the noise code 14 months ago and where Operation Silent Night was launched in 2002. 

“It’s a disgrace that the Council has not passed this legislation yet,” said Mayor Bloomberg.  “This Administration has made great strides to eradicate excessive noise from our streets, and proposed to do even more by overhauling the outdated Noise Code.  It’s been more than one year since we proposed this legislation and there has been practically no movement by the City Council on addressing the single most important quality of life issue to most New Yorkers.  Gifford Miller stood here a year ago and said that the Council would address the issue in the summer of 2004, and since then the silence has been deafening.”

“When Mayor Bloomberg wanted to revise the decades-old Noise Code, the DEP set out to limit noise throughout the City by using practical standards that are easier to enforce and easy for the public to understand,” said DEP Deputy Commissioner Avaltroni. “The inadequacies of the current Noise Code are clear to DEP, to New York City residents bothered by noise, and the businesses that have to try to work within the law.   We need our new Noise Code to be passed so that we can more effectively address the City’s number one quality-of-life issue.”

The Administration submitted its noise code to the Council on June 23, 2004 and it was introduced and referred to the Committee on Environmental Protection at the Stated Council Meeting on June 28.  After Mayor Bloomberg called on the Council to hold hearings on the bill at his State of the City address on January 11, 2005, Environmental Protection Committee finally held a hearing on the bill on January 26.  The Administration made numerous attempts to meet with the Council both before and after the January 26 hearing.  The first and only meeting that the Council would agree to was on May 24.  On June 1, the Council sent the Administration a letter summarizing the testimony at the January 26 Hearing. On July 29, the Administration responded to the Council’s letter reiterating its previously discussed positions. 

At the January 26 hearing, the Administration pledged work with the Council to change the legislation regarding recorded music from ice cream trucks.  The Council has yet to engage in discussion on this issue or on any substantive or specific changes to the legislation. 

“31 million people in America live with hearing loss, and noise is one of the leading causes,” said Amy Boyle of the League of the Hard of Hearing. “Although noise-induced hearing loss is permanent, it is 100% preventable.  The League for the Hard of Hearing, a not-for-profit organization serving the community for 95 years, applauds Mayor Bloomberg for his efforts to create a revised noise code which promotes a healthy, quieter environment while embracing the vibrant essence of New York City. The League commends the Mayor and the Department of Environmental Protection for their serious attention to the issues of noise and hearing health, and for their support of relevant education, legislation, and enforcement of New York City’s noise code.”
“This bill is a balanced solution to the need to continue to build in our City while maintaining a high quality of life for our residents,” said Steve Spinola President of the Real Estate Board of New York.  “Construction is by its nature very noisy and this is a fair approach to noise mitigation during construction.”

“Noise complaints are the number one quality-of-life complaints that contractors face in New York City,” said Felice Farber of the General Contractors Association of New York.  “The current code confuses both contractors and residents about what is required and what can be expected. We need to have a full public dialogue on the construction noise issue; so that everyone is working off the same page and that responsible development and infrastructure rehabilitation can go forward.”

The new Noise Code announced in June of last year will remove outdated code sections and replace them with ones that use the latest acoustic technology and will provide for flexible and reasonable enforcement.  The legislation focuses on five areas:

  • Reducing sound resulting from construction: The new code provides updated and sensible means of limiting noise from construction sites located near residential neighborhoods. By establishing uniform best management practices for all work sites, using greater discretion in granting permits for night and weekend work and mandating “noise management plans” that include portable sound barriers, noise jackets for jackhammers at all construction sites the code will decrease noise pollution.
  • More practical regulation of sound from commercial music sources: The existing noise code prohibits sound from commercial music establishments such as bars, clubs and cabarets, louder than 45 decibels as measured in a residence.  That standard fails to capture intrusive bass-level music and vibrations, which cannot be captured by a conventional decibel scale. The new code establishes a more flexible standard and enforcement schedule for music sources that includes no penalties for first offenses if compliance is achieved as well as a new standard to measure bass-level and vibrational sound. 
  • Closing a loophole in current code provisions governing air conditioning and air circulating devices: Air conditioning units on buildings, particularly clusters of them, are a growing source of noise complaints.  Although the current code has a standard for air conditioning units of 45 decibels, it has been interpreted to apply only to a single unit. Because of this loophole, a cluster of air conditioning units could be generating 60 decibels of sounds, but there would be no violation unless a single unit is creating more then 45 decibels. The updated code will create a uniform standard of 45 decibels for all installation of air conditioning units and mandate that existing units that exceed 50 decibels in the aggregate reduce their output by five decibels. 
  • Simplify enforcement by using a “plainly audible” standard instead of conventional decibel limits, which require use of a noise meter: The existing code requires use of handheld decibel meters to issues many summonses.  Although decibel meters are useful at obtaining acoustic measurements, they require frequent calibration, have a three decibels plus-or-minus margin of error, and the Police Officers, who are often responsible for enforcing the noise code, do not always have them available or have received the training necessary to operate them. The code adopts a standard of “plainly audible” at specified distances. 
    Police Officers and DEP noise inspectors will be allowed to issue summonses for a multitude of violations including car stereo, loud music, barking animals and loud mufflers using a common-sense standard and without a noise meter.  This standard has been used and upheld by courts in many other states.
  • Increase enforcement effectiveness by limiting the Code’s use of a standard of “Unreasonable to a person of normal sensitivities:” The existing code prohibits ‘noise that is unreasonable to a person of normal sensitivities.’ This standard is too vague to be consistently defensible. The new code replaces it with more specific and defensible standards.   For areas not specifically covered in the code, sound is prohibited from any source that increases the ambient noise in a residence by ten decibels during the day and seven decibels at night.

The new code will augment the highly successful anti-noise initiative, Operation Silent Night. Silent Night targeted 24 high-noise neighborhoods throughout the City with intensive enforcement measures. Since its inception in late 2002, using sound meters, towing of vehicles, seizure of audio equipment, summonses, fines, and arrests, the initiative resulted in the issuance of 5,597 noise summonses, as well as 4,830 felony arrests and 15,066 misdemeanor arrests.  The initiative has also resulted in the seizure of 218 vehicles.  The Police Department is constantly evaluating neighborhoods for inclusion in Operation Silent Night . There are currently 17 enforcement zones in the program.


Edward Skyler / Jordan Barowitz   (212) 788-2958


Charles Sturcken   (Department of Environmental Protection)
(718) 595-6600

Michael Collins (DCPI)   (646) 610-6700

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