Sounds of the City Are Not
Music to One Man's Ears
candidates for mayor of Los Angeles are focusing on "quality
of life" issues, but neither has uttered a single word on
the greatest threat to the quality of life in Los Angeles: noise
pollution. In major US cities, noise levels have increased six-fold
in the last 15 years. The Census Bureau reports that noise is
Americans' top neighborhood complaint.
isn't simply a nuisance; it's harmful. Excessive noise is associated
with increased blood pressure, headaches, low frustration tolerance,
ringing ears, and loss of sleep, and it affects sexual activity
and student learning. Noise levels above 70 decibels increase
the risk of heart attacks by 70 percent. Twenty-eight million
Americans currently suffer from hearing loss. Dr. Luther Terry,
a former U.S. Surgeon General, notes that "excessive noise
exposure during pregnancy can influence embryo development."
Angeles is noisiest place I have lived, by far. I often wake up
to the sounds of garbage trucks and jackhammers. On my short drive
to UCLA, I encounter obnoxious leaf blowers, blasting car stereos,
and honking horns. In the parking lot, I am assaulted by the sirens
of inane car alarms and the pointless chirping of keyless entry
systems. When I walk to my building, I am besieged by hedge trimmers,
weed whackers, and sidewalk sweepers. In my office, I can often
hear the beep! beep! beep! of delivery vans from three
blocks away. When I go the student union, I face blasts from the
video arcade and the blare of television sets.
are just as bad off campus. When I go to a grocery store, I am
subjected to shrill music on the public address system. When I
go to a movie, I am assaulted by thunderous trailers. Virtually
all L.A. restaurants feature pulsating "background"
music. When I go to LAX, I encounter ludicrous, repetitive announcements
about the need to guard my valuables.
Angelinos have it far worse. There's never been a police, fire,
or ambulance siren on my block. I'm not under a flight path, near
a freeway, on a bus route, next to a train track, close to barking
dogs, or within shouting distance of stores or nightclubs.
glimmer of hope was the leaf blower ban first enacted by the City
Council in 1996. Regrettably, the Council quickly reversed course.
Bowing to pressure, the Council voted to ban only gas-powered
leaf blowers. However, the partial ban is virtually meaningless.
Gas-powered leaf blowers are everywhere (intent on rooting out
Public Enemy No. 1: the leaf). Many gardeners defy the ban by
using methane instead of gas. I have called the city to complain;
my calls have not been returned.
York is "the city that never sleeps." However, Gotham
City is far ahead of the City of Angels in confronting noise pollution.
In 1998, Mayor Rudy Giuliani stated that "noise pollution
is a major problem. Even in a city as exciting as New York, people
should be able to sleep without being disturbed by car alarms,
blasting music from a club, or similar annoyances."
has tripled the fines for repeat offenders of the city's noise
control code (enacted in 1982). He is enforcing the law that requires
all car alarms to automatically shut off in three minutes. He
is encouraging car alarm owners to register with their local police
precinct so they can be notified when their alarm goes off (before
their car is towed). He has created Operation Last Call, a multi-agency
task force designed to address the nuisance of local nightclubs.
York also has a series of institutions to oppose the bombardment
of noise. Its Department of Environmental Protection has a quality
of life hotline; 70 percent of the calls concern noise. The mayor
has a Council on the Environment. There is a citywide group (Friends
Against Noisy New York). On April 25, there were observances of
International Noise Awareness Day.
aren't the quiet-loving citizens of Los Angeles organizing against
the noise bullies? Why don't the police and the city enforce the
ban on gas-powered leaf blowers? Why aren't the candidates for
mayor addressing this hazard to our quality of life?
why does this city have to be so loud?
Published in The Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2001