Travis County Judge looks at noise control in Austin

August 2015

Live events sector



The Austin Monitor tells us that Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt has dismissed concerns that a plan to reform outdoor concert regulations in the county could potentially violate state law.
The Travis County Commissioners Court is currently looking ar streamline the permitting process for mass gatherings which would implement a tougher stance against loud music after certain nightime hours on unincorporated lands. The Texas Mass Gatherings Act of 1989 gives county judges authority over the permitting process. Critics of the plan – including promoters of some of the festivals that would be affected – argue that Texas counties have no authority to regulate sound levels beyond what state law allows – although the Texas Penal Code defines “unreasonable noise” as anything over 85 decibels, or somewhere between a blender and a garbage disposal.
However Judge Eckhardt told the Austin Monitor that the plan before the court simply sets a baseline expectation of when events must pull the plug on amplified music. The proposed change would set that baseline at 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. However, Eckhardt stressed that permit applicants who wish to extend this period won’t necessarily be denied: “If they feel that it’s important for them to be able to go beyond that, they can discuss it with their neighbors. They don’t have to get unanimous consent from their neighbors, but if it is reasonable, then we would go beyond those time parameters,” Eckhardt said. Eckhardt struck out on the quest to reform the permitting process back earlier in the year following complaints from neighbors living in the Carson Creek Ranch area near the airport. The outdoor venue has hosted several big events this year, including the Austin Psych Fest, Euphoria Music and Camping Festival and the Life in Color paint party.
The founder of Euphoria, Mitch Morales, told the Monitor that forcing promoters to negotiate with neighboring property owners in order to extend the hours for amplified music would create financial uncertainty. “It’s difficult to be making plans for the future, to be operating a camping festival, if the county arbitrarily or based on feedback from a limited amount of people tries to impose restrictions,” Morales said. “It takes it away from a black-and-white to a gray area where the law is open to interpretation. I think that’s a dangerous, slippery slope.”
Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols told the Monitor that the judge is also looking at the Texas Administrative Code, which mandates as a matter of public health that mass gatherings must limit sound at the site’s perimeter to 70 decibels, or about as loud as a vacuum cleaner.
Since the Mass Gatherings Act allows a county judge to deny permits if she believes preparations for an event won’t ensure that “health will be maintained,” Nuckols said the current proposal is fully legal.
The Commissioners Court delayed a final decision on the proposed changes in order to allow more time for discussions with stakeholders. The vote is now tentatively scheduled for its Aug. 11 meeting.

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