Turn It Down

Friday, March 14, 2008

FEW WOULD argue that laws preventing protesters from staging a demonstration in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue at the height of rush hour are an unreasonable infringement of constitutional rights. Rules governing the posting of political signs in public spaces also are widely accepted. By the same token, a proposal to shield D.C. residents from noxious noise is a sensible measure that, contrary to specious reasoning by opponents, has nothing to do with freedom of speech or assembly.

The D.C. Council is sitting on a bill that would give residents a measure of protection against noncommercial amplified noise. The District is the only major American city without these daytime protections, and the result has been neighborhoods subjected to excessive and abusive noise levels. Go on any weekend to the corner of Eighth and H streets NE and see if you don't sympathize with Capitol Hill residents who must contend with the constant blare of street preachers using loudspeakers. We suspect that Georgetown residents have new insights into the problem after some of the bill's supporters staged a loud and obnoxious demonstration last weekend outside the home of council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who led the effort to table the bill indefinitely.

The seven members voting to deep-six the bill include a number running for reelection. They apparently were swayed by the pleas of union leaders who have found cacophony to be a favorite weapon. Indeed, it was a bitter labor dispute involving downtown hotels that led to the city's noise law being overturned and the current loophole being created. The Post has seen its share of noisy protests, too -- but while we can work through them, we think council members ought to be responding to the thousands of residents who are disturbed in their homes.

It's not too late for the council to reconsider and approve the measure crafted by council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), which would limit the volume of amplified sound in public to 70 decibels, or 10 decibels greater than ambient noise. Not only is it more liberal than noise ordinances in other cities, it strikes a careful balance between the rights of residents to quiet and the rights of others to make noise in public.

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