Help for the Neighborhoods

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

HELPING TO make city neighborhoods a bit more pleasant is the theme of two measures before the D.C. Council today. Both -- an ordinance limiting noise, and a ban on fireworks -- are sensible ideas that other cities have enacted to good effect. Neither would require any great expenditure of public money. Strangely, though, the bills may well have a hard time because of misplaced notions about government overstepping its bounds.

The more controversial is a proposal to limit the volume of amplified noise in public. The bill by council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) was prompted by the travails of residents who are subjected to abusive noise levels from loudspeakers being used by demonstrators. The most egregious example is the Capitol Hill neighborhood near Eighth and H Streets NE where street preachers congregate. Opponents, largely from organized labor, have wrongly portrayed the issue as one of free speech and assembly. Nothing in the carefully drafted bill would curtail public protests. It simply establishes allowable noise levels, higher than in other cities and calibrated above background noise. The unions, pulling out all the stops in a bid to kill the measure, first succeeded in tabling the bill. It resurfaced and was given preliminary approval with some amendments. Efforts are afoot to further water down the bill, making it meaningless. Let's hope council members, especially those being targeted by unions as they seek reelection, think of what's best for the public.

Similarly, residents would benefit from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's push to ban fireworks, except those staged under permitted conditions by experts, such as at Mall celebrations. Current law makes certain fireworks illegal, but the statute is so complicated that enforcement is a nightmare. More important, it is mistaken to think that any fireworks are safe. Even sparklers, which some recall with nostalgia, pose dangers. Just ask the parents of the Maryland boy whose pants were set ablaze by a sparkler last year or the 6-year-old Chicago girl who was hurt badly by a device that can burn at up to 1,800 degrees. Last year, fireworks injured 13 people in the District and elicited more than 4,000 complaints from residents in just one 12-hour period. Mr. Fenty is right to want the ban in effect for this Fourth of July.

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