(Ord. 1249, eff. 4/5/1996)


Sec. 4300 Title.

This Chapter shall be known as and referred to as the Downtown Plaza Area Noise Ordinance, and is adopted as a measure addressing public health, welfare and conduct.

Sec. 4305 Declaration of Policy and Intent.

(a)    It is hereby declared to be the policy of the City of Arcata to prohibit unnecessary, excessive and annoying noise from all sources in the Downtown Plaza area subject to its police power. The City declares and finds that excessive noise levels, offensive noise, and unreasonably disturbing noise are detrimental to the public health, welfare and safety and are contrary to the public interest as follows:

1.    By interfering with sleep, communication, relaxation and the full use of private property;

2.    By interfering with the use and enjoyment of the Arcata Plaza by the general public;

3.    By interfering with noise-sensitive land uses, particularly residential apartments and transient lodging, which are allowed within the Downtown Plaza area;

4.    By contributing to hearing impairment and a wide range of adverse physiological stress conditions;

5.    By interfering with productive commerce;

6.    By adversely affecting the value of real property.

(b)    The City further finds that noises which are boisterous, penetrating, repetitive, of unusual rhythmic or tonal character, of long duration, or that are unreasonably distracting in any other manner, are especially likely to be detrimental and harmful to the Downtown Plaza area and offensive to the area’s residents, merchants, employees, patrons and other users of ordinary sensitivity.

(c)    It is the intent of this Chapter to protect the public health, comfort, convenience, safety, welfare, prosperity, peace, and quiet of the Downtown Plaza area, its inhabitants, employees, patrons and other users by reducing excessive noise levels and by prohibiting the making of offensive or unreasonably disturbing noises.

Sec. 4310 Definitions.

All terms and phrases used in this chapter shall have the meanings as defined herein. The definition of a term or phrase shall apply to any of that term’s or phrase’s variants.

1.    A-weighted sound level means the sound level in decibels as measured on a sound level meter using the A-weighting scale, abbreviated as dBA, measured as set forth in this chapter.

2.    Ambient noise level means the composite of noise from all sources near and far measured at a particular location and time but without inclusion of noise from individual identifiable sources which are not normally present. The ambient noise level shall be measured as an average sound level during a five-minute period as measured with a precision sound level meter, using slow response and "A-weighting" and with the noise source at issue silent. The ambient noise level constitutes the normal or existing level of environmental noise at a given location, minus the source which is the subject of enforcement. However, for purposes of this Chapter, in no case shall the ambient noise level be considered or determined to be less than 55 dBA during the time period from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. or less than 65 dBA during the time period from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

3.    Amplified Sound means any sound created by the use of sound amplifying equipment.

4.    Decibel (dB) means a unit of measurement which indicates the relative intensity of a sound. It is equal to twenty times the logarithm to the base ten of the ratio of the pressure of the sound measured to the reference pressure, which is twenty micropascals.

5.    Downtown Plaza area shall mean that area defined in Section 4171 of Chapter 2 of this Title.

6.    Intrusive or intruding noise means that noise which intrudes over and above the existing ambient noise at a given location. The relative intrusiveness of a sound depends upon its amplitude, duration, frequency, time of occurrence, rhythmic character and tonal or informational content as well as the prevailing ambient noise level.

7.    Noise disturbance means any sound which violates the standards of this ordinance.

8.    Noise control officer means the Police Chief of the City of Arcata, or his or her designee.

9.    Public right-of-way means any street, avenue, highway, alley, sidewalk or similar place which is owned or controlled by a governmental entity.

10.    Public space means any real property or structures thereon which are owned or controlled by a governmental entity.

11.    Real property boundary means an imaginary line along the ground surface, and its vertical extension, which separates the real property owned by one person from that owned by another person.

12.    Sound amplifying equipment means any device for the amplification of the human voice, music, or any other sound, excluding standard automobile radios when used and heard only by the occupants of the vehicle in which the radio is installed, and, as used in this Chapter, warning devices on authorized emergency vehicles or horns or other warning devices on any vehicle used only for traffic safety purposes.

13.    Sound level means the level of sound measured in decibels.

14.    Sound level meter means a sound measuring instrument meeting American National

Standard Institute’s Standard S1.41971 or the most recent revision thereof for Type 1 or Type 2 sound level meters or an instrument and the associated recording and analyzing equipment which provide equivalent data.

Sec. 4315 Standards for Determining Violation.

Notwithstanding any other provisions of this Chapter, and in addition thereto, it shall be unlawful for any person to willfully or negligently make or continue, or cause to be made or continue, any loud, unnecessary, or unusual noise which disturbs the peace and quiet of the Downtown Plaza Area, or which causes any discomfort or annoyance to any reasonable person of normal sensitivity residing, working, shopping or otherwise using or visiting in the Downtown Plaza Area. The standards which shall be considered in determining whether a violation of the provisions of this section exist shall include, but not be limited to the following:

1.    the level of the noise;

2.    whether the nature of the noise is usual or unusual;

3.    the level and intensity of the ambient noise;

4.    the proximity of the noise to residential or transient lodging facilities;

5.    the number of persons affected by the noise;

6.    the time of the day or night the noise occurs;

7.    the duration of the noise;

8.    whether the noise is recurrent, intermittent or constant; and

9.    the tonal and rhythmic content of the noise.


Sec. 4320 Exterior Noise In General.

A.    No person shall make, cause, suffer or permit to be made any noises or sounds at any location within the Downtown Plaza area which causes the average sound level when measured on any other property to exceed:

1.    60 dBA between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. or 65 dBA between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. for a cumulative period of more than 10 minutes in any hour; or

2.    the standard expressed in item 1 above plus five dB for a cumulative period of five minutes in any hour; or

3.    the standard expressed in item 1 above plus 15 dB for any period of time; or

4.    the ambient noise level, for a period of five or more minutes.

B.    If the measured ambient noise level exceeds that permissible within any of the first three noise limit categories above, the allowable noise exposure standard shall be the ambient noise level.

C.    If possible, the ambient noise level shall be measured at a location along the real property boundary on the property adjoining the parcel which is the location of the alleged offending noise source. If the intruding noise source is continuous and cannot be reasonably discontinued or stopped for a time period whereby the ambient noise level can be measured, the ambient noise level shall be determined by traveling away from the noise source to a point where a steady state decibel reading is achieved. If this test is not possible, the noise level shall be compared directly to the noise level standards in section A above.

D.    Adjustment for character of sound. In the event the alleged offensive noise, as judged by the noise control officer, contains a steady, pure tone such as a whine, screech, or hum, or is an impulsive sound such as hammering or riveting, or is repetitive or rhythmic in character, the standards set forth in section A above shall be reduced by five dB.

Sec. 4325 Offensive or Unreasonably Disturbing Noises.

A.    Notwithstanding the standards set forth in Section 4320, no persons shall make, cause, suffer or permit to be made any offensive or unreasonably disturbing noise which disturbs any person within hearing distance of such noise.

B.    Offensive noise means any noise which is loud, boisterous, irritating, penetrating, repetitive, rhythmic or unusual, or that is unreasonably distracting in any other manner, such that it is likely to disturb people of ordinary sensitivity in the vicinity of such noise.

Sec. 4330 Exceptions to the Provisions of this Article.

The provisions of this Article shall not apply to the following:

1.    The emission of sound for the purpose of alerting persons to the existence of an emergency or in the performance of emergency work;

2.    The emission of sound from warning devices necessary for the protection of public safety, as for example, police, fire and ambulance sirens, and the testing of such devices;

3.    Those short-term construction activities which are conducted in a reasonable manner and employing appropriate measures intended to prevent or reduce unnecessary noise impacts to adjoining properties;

4.    Delivery vehicles making deliveries to businesses located within the Downtown Plaza area between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

5.    Activities authorized by or consistent with a Conditional Use Permit previously approved by the City and which includes standards for noise.


Sec. 4335 Specific Prohibitions.

A.    Noise disturbances prohibited. It is unlawful for any person to unnecessarily make, continue, or cause to be made or continued, any noise disturbance.

B.    Use of musical instruments restricted. It is unlawful for any person to use any musical instrument or device of any kind in any public space or right-of-way within the Downtown Plaza area for any cumulative period exceeding fifteen minutes within any twenty-four hour period. This section shall not apply to any person who has been duly authorized to engage in such conduct by the granting of a variance by the noise control officer pursuant to Section 4360 of this Chapter. Such variances shall normally be limited to parades or special events sanctioned by the City.

C.    Establishments with musical entertainment. It is unlawful for any person operating a business establishment with musical entertainment to permit the operation or playing of any loudspeaker, musical instrument or any other source of amplified sound in any manner so as to create any noise which would:

1.    exceed ninety-five dBA as read on the scale of a sound level meter at any point normally occupied by a customer, without a conspicuous and legible sign stating: "WARNING SOUND LEVELS WITHIN MAY CAUSE HEARING IMPAIRMENT"; or

2.    cause the sound level on any other property, including public spaces, to exceed the standards expressed in Section 4320 of this chapter.

D.    Radios, television sets and similar devices. It is unlawful for any person within the Downtown Plaza area to use or operate any radio receiving set, phonograph, tape or compact disc player, television set or any other machine or device for the producing or reproducing of sound in such a manner as to disturb the peace, quiet and comfort of residents, employees, patrons or other persons using or inhabiting the Downtown Plaza area and of reasonable and normal sensitivity.

Sec. 4340 Amplified Sound.

A.    No person shall use or cause to be used at any place in the Downtown Plaza area, whether on public property or private property, any sound-amplifying device or equipment without first having secured a permit to do so from the noise control officer, except as provided in subsection F herein.

B.    Any person desiring to obtain a sound amplification permit shall submit a written application to the police department no later than 30 days prior to proposed date for commencement of the amplified sound. The application shall include the following:

1.    a description of the activity proposed to be conducted for which the sound amplification permit is requested;

2.    a description of the amplification equipment or devices to be used;

3.    a statement of the measures that the applicant will take to insure that the sound amplification will not unreasonably disturb other people in the vicinity;

4.    the exact time periods and location where the sound amplification will take place;

5.    the name of the person who shall be responsible for monitoring and insuring compliance with the terms of any permit that is granted;

6.    any City fee for processing the application; and

7.    any other information that the noise control officer determines is reasonable needed to assure compliance with the provisions of this chapter.

C.    The noise control officer may grant the sound amplification permit if he or she determines that the sound amplification will be conducted in such a manner as not to unreasonably disturb the neighbors of other persons in the vicinity of the site and that the measures, if implemented, will be adequate. In granting a permit, the noise control officer may impose such conditions as may be appropriate or necessary to protect the public peace, safety, and welfare.

D.    Any permit granted pursuant to this section shall be revocable at any time by the noise control officer for good cause.

E.    Any person aggrieved by any decision rendered by the noise control officer pursuant to this section shall have the right to appeal the decision to the City Council. Any appeal shall be in writing and shall be submitted no later than thirty (30) calendar days following the date of the decision.

F.    The permits otherwise required by this section shall not be required under the following circumstances:

1.    Sound-amplification equipment or devices used on privately-owned property where the sound produced does not carry beyond the real property boundary or does not unreasonably disturb any person outside the property where the sound is generated.

2.    Sound-amplification equipment or devices used in conformity with a conditional use permit issued under the provisions of Title IX, the Land Use and Development Guide.

3.    Sound-amplification equipment or devices used on emergency vehicles or by government employees in connection with any activity undertaken for the protection of the public welfare or safety;

4.    When a permit has been issued for sound amplification pursuant to "Chapter 1 of Title X of the Municipal Code for events held within the Plaza or upon any City grounds, or on any public street or sidewalk.


Sec. 4345 Enforcement Procedures.

A.    Upon observing a potential violation or receiving a complaint, the noise control officer, equipped with a sound level meter, shall investigate the matter. The investigation shall consist of a measurement and the gathering of data to adequately define the noise disturbance and shall include the following:

1.    the type of noise source:

2.    the specific location of the noise source and in relation to the complainant location, if applicable;

3.    the duration and characteristics of the noise;

4.    the date(s), time(s) and specific location(s) of noise measurement(s);

5.    the noise level(s) as measured by the sound level meter with "slow" meter response and using the "A" weighting scale; and

6.    information about the person responsible for the noise.

B.    If it is determined by the noise control officer that a violation of the provisions of this chapter exists, the following procedure shall be followed:

1.    A written warning shall be issued by the noise control officer or his designee to the person responsible for the event causing the noise disturbance.

2.    If the noise disturbance persists for more than a reasonable period of time necessary to discontinue the noise following the notice, or recurs at any time within an eight-hour period, then the person responsible for the noise disturbance shall be guilty of an infraction and shall be subject to the penalties described in Section 4350.

Sec. 4350 Violations and Penalties.

Any person violating any of the provisions of this Chapter shall be deemed guilty of an infraction and shall be subject to the penalties stated in "Chapter 3 of Title I of the Arcata Municipal Code.

Sec. 4355 Subsequent Violations.

Each subsequent violation of the provisions of this chapter within each twenty-four hour period shall constitute a separate offense and shall be subject to additional penalties.

Sec. 4360 Variances.

A.    The creation of noise which violates the provisions or standards of this chapter shall require the issuance of a variance. The noise control officer shall evaluate all applications for variances and may grant said variance or permit subject to such terms, conditions and requirements as he or she may deem reasonable to achieve the purposes of this chapter. In considering the merits of a requested variance, the noise control officer shall consider the extent of any nuisance caused by the offensive noise, the length of time of any non-compliance with the standards of this chapter, the time of day of the noise, the magnitude and character of the noise, and the potential number of people affected by the noise. An application shall be submitted no less than ten (10) working days prior to the date when the variance is needed. A nominal fee shall be charged to each applicant for processing a variance request. Applicants for variances may be required to submit such information as the noise control officer may reasonably require. Variances shall be granted by notice to the applicant containing all necessary conditions, including a time limit on the permitted activity. The variance shall not become effective until all conditions are agreed to by the applicant. Noncompliance with any condition of the variance shall terminate the variance. A decision of the noise control officer may be appealed to the City Council within five working days by any aggrieved person.

B.    Variance requests related to use of public buildings and grounds shall be reviewed and issued concurrent with the permit required for such use by Section 10006 of Chapter 1 of the Municipal Code.