Woodburn City Council took aim at noisy nuisances when it unanimously passed an improved ordinance.
Even a good ordinance can usually be improved. That was at the crux of a report prepared by Woodburn City Attorney Bob Shields, Police Chief Jim Ferraris and City Administrator Scott Derickson, delivered to the council on Monday, Feb. 25.
The city officials pored over the current noise ordinance, which was established in 2005, with the intention of clarifying and strengthening it.
As a basis for comparison and court-tested viability, they also researched ordinances of other Oregon municipalities: Albany, Beaverton, Eugene, Grants Pass, Gresham, Hillsboro, Keizer, Lake Oswego, McMinnville, Medford, Milwaukie, Portland, Prineville, Salem, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin, West Linn, and Wilsonville.
Some portions of the amended ordinance involve private-party certification for noise violation citations and the use of stronger noise detection meters. So in a sense, a victim with a noise meter becomes deputized.
"There is an innovative provision that we put into it that I don't think I saw anywhere else," Shields said in reference to the certification element, which is modeled on Oregon's traffic code.
"With the state traffic code, there is a provision where a citizen can certify that the state traffic code has been violated and bring that into court," Shields continued. "So we wrote an analogous provision…that once the private party certifies the (code breaking) noise complaint, based on that the officer can file a citation."
The report noted: "The ordinance should allow private parties to initiate noise complaints provided that a Certification is obtained that the private party's complaint is not false and that the private party will be available to testify in court."
"I thought the innovation of allowing the private certification is unique and out of the box," Derickson told the council. "It does address one of the areas which I think the city council saw in some data we provided, in that people call and the police show up and there is no noise occurring.
"This is a way to grapple with that. That's been an issue everywhere I've worked."
"This is good legislation that (if it passes) will give us tools that we don't have today." Ferraris explained. "We've talked about this several times in the past, and the reality is our officers are responding to 911 calls for service emergencies. And they are responding to crimes in progress. They are responding to felonies.
"Quite frankly, even though it impacts peace and harmony in the neighborhood, a noise complaint falls a little bit lower on the priority level than a crime in progress."
Councilor Mary Beth Cornwell underscored that the certification aspect could also serve to ensure that the person issuing the complaint stands behind it, discouraging anonymous calls.
"If the person making the complaint doesn't say, 'I did it,' it doesn't give (that complaint) any credibility," Cornwell said. "As citizens we need to be aware that we have to step up and say 'if this is an issue with me I'm going to stand behind it,' and let the chips fall where they may."
Ferraris said complaints without such backing or anonymous calls constrain the degree to which police can act.
"Yes, we need people to give us the information and their name," Ferraris said. "This is across the board; it doesn't matter if it is a noise complaint or a burglary call, we need people to be the named complainant. Otherwise it really hamstrings us on how far we can go."
The ordinance issues two allowable decibel levels: 60 decibels, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; 50 decibels for 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Those limits are each 5 decibels lower than what was previously allowed.
Among the sources of noise reviewed were construction activity, power equipment, engine noise, sound producing or reproducing equipment (musical instrument or stereo) and noisy animals.