OPINION: Proposed noise ordinance impractical, probably impossible

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Imagine that grumpy old man you might see on television shouting, “Stop that racket!” and shaking his fist at the slightest sound from his neighbors. Manhattan City Commission is that grumpy old man and Aggieville is the neighbor.

The City Commission work session meeting on Aug. 30 spent quite a bit of time discussing possible changes to the current noise ordinance for all of Manhattan, which gives officers responding to a noise complaint the power to determine if the noise level is reasonable.

Naturally, concerns about how to apply the discussed changes to Aggieville and the downtown areas came up.

“If it’s too loud at the edge of Aggieville, then everyone has to turn it down,” Commissioner Karen McCulloh said at the meeting. “That’s what we’re saying … it’s not like it’s just one bar that’s too loud.”

The proposed changes would limit the decibel level in most areas of Manhattan to between 60-70 decibels. To be clear, this means 60-70 decibels standing some distance away, not in the middle of it. In order to actually keep track of the decibel level, responding police officers would need expensive, ultra-sensitive decibel readers, according to Riley County Police Department Captain Josh Kyle.

Kyle even agrees adding a decibel limit to the ordinance would not be a successful enforcement method, but maybe would be a guideline for prosecution should a certain house or venue have multiple complaints against them.

When factoring in ambient noises, though, how is an officer supposed to get an accurate reading of an area? Anything like wind or cars driving by can affect the decibel level the reader would pick up on.

The decibel limit would just be too hard to determine and officers would have to resort to the current method of dealing with noise complaints and use their own judgment.

During the meeting, the decibel limit was compared to the speed limit. If a driver is going 1 mph over the speed limit, that person would be technically breaking the law but most likely wouldn’t be given a ticket until they’re going 10 mph over the speed limit. City commissioners seem to think the same concept would apply to the decibel level.

There’s a big difference, though. Cars have speedometers to tell drivers how fast they’re going. How many people just have a decibel reader lying around? People throwing parties or Aggieville bar owners wouldn’t be able to tell if they were breaking the law until a cop showed up with a ticket.

All the proposed changes will do is make life more difficult for RCPD. People know when they’re being too loud, and if they don’t, RCPD is more than capable of reminding them.

Many of the noise complaints are about Aggieville. If you live close enough to Aggieville, you should expect to be able to hear at least a little bit from that area. It’s an entertainment district. There aren’t quiet hours.

The only change that wasn’t discussed really during the meeting that should have been was eliminating the jail time of up to six months for extreme offenders. No one should ever have to go to jail for cranking up their favorite jams. If it’s really that bad, go ahead and fine them, but attempting to limit the decibel level of people trying to have a good time is just absurd and impractical.

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Kelsey Kendall
Hi everyone! I'm a senior in journalism and cultural anthropology. My favorite things are storytelling, coffee and meeting new people. In that order.