Let’s Get Loud, L.A.

Why a new plan to ticket residential noise violators for ”quality-of-life” infractions makes Kyle Fitzpatrick want to scream

Every morning, I am woken up by the natural sounds of Los Angeles: a mother wails in a foreign language as the sun rises, demanding everyone on her block wake up; someone lays onto their horn, making an arthymic aural pattern that makes my alarm clock sound like a pur; children scream, playing a game that I imagine is called Wake Up The Neighbors; glass bottles tumble out of trash cans, plinking into the recycling center at the end of my block; and, sometimes, the fire station half a mile away joins in my personal choral serenade with sirens.

These are the noises that I have gotten used to. These are the noises that exist here because Los Angeles is a city–a busy, full, urban hot spot where sounds thrive. I’m fortunate enough to have learned mechanisms to cope with them regardless of what time of day they occur. I’ve even learned to tune out the locale’s loudest offender: the helicopter.

That is why I find news of L.A.’s interest in ticketing residential noise violators for “quality-of-life infractions” ridiculous. What might some infractions be? “Loud parties” and “barking dogs.” The fees associated with these offenses could range from $250 to $1000, with revenue from the collection of fines expected to reach about $2 million a year.

We all can agree that noises need to be policed—but who is to judge when a party or a dog has gotten out of control? My old landlord would knock on my door to complain when I dropped something heavy on the ground, which–for the record, I was never happy about, either. Another landlord gave me a hard time when I had friends over on Saturdays at 4 p.m. My dog barked for five minutes out of a 24 hour period at a garbage truck and I received a very dense, lengthy letter from a neighbor named Mark who suggested I buy a bark collar—or move. Mind you, I live in a dog friendly building. (And I own the quiet dogs.) Where do you draw the line? Until there’s a reasonable standard by which to measure all noise violations in the city (I’m looking at you, helicopters) this seems unfair, at best.

What concerns me most is how basic this new plan is: It is the extension of Not In My Backyard syndrome, or NIMBY, when residents support urban development so long as it doesn’t impact the space around them. Despite the catchy acronym, NIMBY it’s not a cool or positive thing. As we have written before, quiet is important and cherished in our city. But decreeing a citywide silencing lands for me on the list of short-sighted moves like trying to save Los Feliz from a hotel, whining about a new Target, and trying to ban the Metro from expanding. The urban planning of Los Angeles is very much inspired by and exemplifies suburban sprawl. But we’re at our best when we see ourselves as a large, diverse, and–yes, loud–family. No one wants a noisy neighbor. But who wants to have their neighbor punished for living so close by their very normal lives are sometimes audible? That seems so not L.A.

Kyle Fitzpatrick is a writer, an infrequent performer, and a lover of dogs, art, shorts, champagne, and L.A. You can find his musings Fridays on CityThink. For more, check out his locally focused art, design, and culture website, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.