GPU: Turning Down the Volume

The Board of Supervisors has finished reviewing the General Plan Update’s Noise Update, approving policies that set noise reduction standards and call for a new ordinance to enforce them.

Residents who want relief from noise-related annoyances will soon be serviced with regulatory tools to address them. At a Feb. 11 update hearing, County Planner Michael Richardson outlined a range of measures in the Noise Element that target noisy nuisances.

One of the element’s implementation measures is a noise control ordinance that will “regulate noise sources in order to protect persons from existing or future excessive levels of noise.”

Another key aspect is a policy calling for Noise Impact Combining Zones – areas near noise sources like freeways, airports and industrial areas where new development may be required to incorporate sound insulation.

All this is new territory for a county that now has minimal noise reduction rules. Richardson told supervisors noise control is lacking and the current General Plan “doesn’t really help a whole lot in dealing with noise nuisances.”

The current plan advises that “local inter-agency” collaboration “should be developed” to handle noise problems, which Richardson described as “basically just kicking the can down the road.”

Supervisors are working off of the update draft approved by the county’s Planning Commission and Richardson said it tackles noise head-on.

“The Planning Commission recommendation is more proactive – it actually anticipates a compliance program that would require the county to investigate complaints of excessive noise and control those noise sources consistent with the standards of the plan.” He continued.

Richardson explained what’s motivating the enhanced approach. “Really, it has to do with the public comments we’ve received,” he said. “There’s been, consistently, a lot of public comment asking that the plan address (noise) issues.”

He named leaf blowers, loud music, cars and power equipment as commonly complained-about noise sources. Some people use their properties in ways that lack consideration for neighbors.

“People sometimes use their property as a motorcycle race track and that ends up generating a lot of noise that can cause conflict,” said Richardson.

Supervisors approved most of the element’s policies in non-binding straw votes. But a policy that requires subdivision developers to provide at least 200 feet of outdoor area per housing unit that conforms to reduced noise standards was contested.

Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said the policy over-reaches and market demand will accomplish its goals. “Whoever’s building the house is going to do whatever maximizes their profit and what they can sell the house for,” he continued. “Adding this in here seems like it’s trying to control every little bit of it and I just don’t think it’s necessary.”

Other supervisors agreed. Supervisor Estelle Fennell said the policy should be phrased as a suggestion rather than a requirement and it’s one of a handful of noise policies that will be rewritten.

But supervisors approved most of the element’s policies, including those that call for the combining zones and the new ordinance. Policies that set short term noise thresholds and call for the compliance program to investigate violations were also approved.

Supervisors will return to their review of the update’s Infrastructure Element at the next hearing on Feb. 25. They’re expecting an ad hoc group of stakeholders to be ready to offer infrastructure recommendations and if they’re not, the hearing might be cancelled.