City set to limit amplified sound at Lytton Plaza

Proposed ordinance spurred by noise complaints from downtown businesses, residents

Lytton Plaza has long served as Palo Alto's prime meeting ground for the discontent masses, from the Vietnam War protests in the 1960s to the demonstration against the city's freshly passed noise ordinance in the 1970s. But a musician looking to blast an angry riff on his or her electric guitar may soon have a new set of rules to follow.

The Parks and Recreation Commission is expected to approve a new ordinance later this month that would set time limits for amplified music. The proposal is far less drastic than the one the commission reviewed and rejected in October, which would have prohibited amplified sound unless the user takes out a $300 permit.

The latest proposal is far less stringent. It would limit amplified sound to 5 to 10 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday, noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday, but those who honor these hours can blast music for free on a first-come, first-serve basis. Amplified sound would also be allowed outside these hours through a $90 permit.

At its July 25 meeting, the commission was generally pleased with the revised proposal, with Chair Ed Lauing pointing to it as evidence that the city has listened to the public. Amplified sound became an issue two years ago when the city installed outlets to enable concerts at its newly established weekly farmers market. The market idea ultimately flopped but the outlets have remained in use.

According to Daren Anderson, a manager at the Community Services Department, people have been using these outlets to "power portable stereos, heaters, stoves and various other personal electronic devices."

Police have also been getting complaints from businesses and residents about loud music being played during the day and late at night, Anderson wrote.

Not everyone, however, is enthused about the new rules. Mark Weiss, a concert promoter and City Council candidate, criticized the proposed revision as "overly broad," "convoluted" and inconsistent with the First Amendment.


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Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 9, 2012 at 9:56 am

Amplified sound shouldn't be allowed period. It's called disturbing the peace.

Like this comment
Posted by Lighten up
a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 9, 2012 at 10:10 am

those of us that live nearby a downtown area can EXPECT some noise. If we want a bedroom community, then we ought to move to a bedroom neighborhood, and that is not in any downtown city area. Have reasonable limits. disturbing the peace [with music] is good.

Like this comment
Posted by Susan
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2012 at 10:43 am

So, Palo Alto is giving away free electrcity? Simple solution: Shut down that line in Lytton Plaza. This saves money,and eliminates the loud noise.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2012 at 10:45 am

I agree Lighten Up. I've lived just north of downtown for many, many years and with that I expect a certain level of noise that goes along with that. If one wants to be in a position to enjoy our downtown from a short walking distance, then you have to expect the relative downside of some extra noise and traffic. It's the city center of retail, dining, nightclubs, and entertainment. What would anyone expect. If that condition is unacceptable, then it probably wasn't the wisest decision to move there. It would be like someone moving onto Lombard Street in San Francisco and then complaining about the constant traffic and tourists taking pictures. Seriously, what do they expect?

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Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2012 at 11:21 am

I agree with Lighten Up!
This downtown is far less noisy than most ( I know it's smaller too)...But try Chicago, for instance! I think random music is muuucchhh better than constant horn honking! Get over it.

I DO think, however, there should be an "on/of " switch that controls the use of electricity. It should be off during the night, and even after 10pm or 11pm. I am a bit opposed to supplying a free cooking or heated space for anyone who wants to use it.
But music is a wonderful thing...even that crazy loud stuff that seems to make no sense to the elders...there's a beat in there somewhere!! LOL!!

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2012 at 11:42 am

I am not a lawyer but I was referencing Ward, 1989, or this:
Web Link

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Posted by jared Bernstein
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 9, 2012 at 11:51 am

Paradoxically, for many people with hearing impairments, loud sound sources (like some of the amplified music played at Lytton Plaza) can be extraordinarily disturbing.
I can avoid certain loud events, but I'd like my downtown to stay at a reasonable level. For intentionally amplified sounds (like store barkers or amplified musicians) keeping the level below e.g. 85 dB SPL at the sidewalk would provide a more welcoming and accessible situation for me.

... my two cents.

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Posted by The fountain too
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 9, 2012 at 11:57 am

The so called fountain is much noisier than a normal fountain too. Makes it necessary for people to shout in order to be heard.
Anyway it's not a fountain, it's a builder's or designer's idea of a fountain.
Get rid of it or tone it down.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Another expensive "feel good" Palo Alto effort which caters to a few. Many citations are issued for drinking centered on this area. This is not a citizen's park; it is a place which most people avoid.

What was the cost of refurbishing this area?

Like this comment
Posted by Early-To-Bed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2012 at 1:32 pm

There is no place for Amplified noise coming from this plaza after 10:00PM (Sun-Thur) and 11:00PM on Fri-Sat. The electricity should be on timer, with an override which is controlled from a central location.

Having a lively downtown, particularly in the summer is fine. But having a public nuisance in that plaza is not fine.

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Posted by pat
a resident of University South
on Aug 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2012 at 4:14 pm

You don't have to agree with me, but at least I have the courage to speak out, and not just troll like a coward.

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

Like this comment
Posted by Retired Staffer
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Now when are the police going to crack down on the drug activity--even in the middle of the day.

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Posted by Charlie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Thank you for voicing your opinions on this topic. Also, great thanks to the city of Palo Alto for listening to those who encourage public musical expression and those who dont.

Personally, I believe musical art is priceless and the city of Palo Alto has made a great compromise. The timer currently in place limits the use of 110v AC electricity required for larger musical amplifiers to the times outlined by the new city regulation.

Lytton Plaza is great place for live music with a with minimal number residences in the immediate vicinity. I personally admire those with the courage to preform in public and encourage musicians to continue propagating our culture.

I believe a committee should be appointed to provided organized daytime musical concerts in Palo Alto. This would provide both entertainment downtown visitors but also attract foot traffic to local businesses from neighboring communities. Increasing the frequency of events like the art and wine festival.

Like this comment
Posted by Jared Bernstein
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 4, 2012 at 11:29 am

Is there no absolute limit on volume (in dB SPL)?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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