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Nightlife noise nannies discover decibel democracy

Outdoor sound checks at D.C. nightlife venues yield mere handful of violations

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noise, NIMBY, gay news, Washington Blade
noise, NIMBY, gay news, Washington Blade

All three gay bar venues inspected by the inter-agency ‘noise task force’ were found to be in compliance with city ordinances.

A nascent NIMBY noise crusade in the District has been at least momentarily silenced.

Along the way, a rarified ragtag collection of urban noise objectors has discovered a timeworn credo: Be careful what you wish for.

That is the lesson learned last week by a small group of D.C. anti-noise complainers who launched a campaign in January to stifle the sounds of city nightlife in the bustling downtown commercial zone along Connecticut Avenue south of Dupont Circle. An ad hoc group, comprised almost exclusively of a few inhabitants in a single residential building adjacent to the busy thoroughfare, had demanded that D.C. agencies conduct sound checks outside area bars and nightclubs and for outdoor patios and rooftop decks.

They hoped to prove that the nighttime establishments were violating the city’s ordinance restricting external noise to no more than 60 decibels – equivalent to the sound of a normal conversation between two people. Undeterred by the fact that ordinary streetscape sounds and passing auto traffic exceed the maximum level, with a Metrobus commonly registering in the mid-to-high-80s on a decibel meter, they pushed for a citywide crackdown.

That’s exactly what they got. Except now they don’t like the outcome.

In fact, the District government did more than simply check the sound levels in their area. As announced at a March 10 community forum featuring officials from the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the agencies launched a citywide inspection program three days later. An inter-agency “noise task force” was deployed to check ambient noise levels on an unannounced and random basis, including at venues that had generated complaints by the group and others.

The result? An April 29 report covering a seven-week period of inspections indicated that 191 sound checks across the city yielded only five venues registering above the limit, resulting in two DCRA citations and seven ABRA infraction warnings. Significantly, of the mere handful of businesses reported as violating the impractically low legal standard, each was also recorded one or more times in full compliance with the law.

All three gay bar venues inspected were also found to be in compliance.

Only one venue among the many in the vicinity of the protesters’ residential building registered above the threshold. The business, long in operation and without prior complaint by any group members or other area residents, had already planned voluntary and significant sound mitigation solutions currently underway once the owners first became aware of the group’s concerns.

Incredulously, one of the two leaders of the D.C. Nightlife Noise Coalition publicly announced she was not affected by noise inside her housing unit from the downtown venues, but was simply a stickler for enforcement. “I’m doing this because I want the law to be complied with,” Sarah Peck told Washington City Paper.

Peck is apparently someone you’d want organizing your sock drawer.

Abigail Nichols, Peck’s comrade-in-combat and a longtime opponent of nightlife businesses, is also a Dupont advisory neighborhood commissioner strikingly out-of-step with her colleagues on this issue. In addition, Nichols has long protested liquor licenses, battled regulatory reforms and recently gained the support of the notoriously anti-business Dupont Circle Citizens Association for this latest campaign.

What is most troubling about the actions of this tiny group, however, is that they will likely continue filing liquor license protests in an effort to extract unpopular restrictions and limits on operating hours and activities for outdoor spaces. With fair and forthright good faith dealings decidedly not their trademark, they will seek to curtail sidewalk patio and rooftop deck hours on an across-the-board basis rather than engage in individual solution-oriented approaches to any legitimate and actual public problems.

They would curtail a wildly popular and widely appreciated amenity of urban living and hamper the city’s largest private sector business segment now generating over $400 million in sales tax revenues alone.

Even though all their noise has amounted to nothing.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Mark Rutstein

    May 8, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    HERE! HEAR! LOL :)

  2. Frymaster

    May 8, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Long story short: there may, in fact, be an issue with sound, but handheld SPL meters on the sidewalk won’t find it. That said, maybe people who don’t like nightlife shouldn’t live in the nightclub district, right?

    I’m no fuddy-duddy. You don’t mix rock bands and set up PAs for the same ‘cuz you plan on going to church the next morning. But you also learn a thing or two about acoustics along the way. I don’t know the details of the complaints, but I can guess what’s really behind this. It’s actually stupendously common.

    It’s the bass! Pro sound systems have improved massively over the past 20 years, as anyone who goes to a good club could tell you.

    Specifically, modern, top-level professional subwoofers from Funktion One, Avalon (EAW) and Fulcrum can reproduce the lowest octaves — from 20 – 80 Hz — with far greater power than ever before. (You know I’m not lyin’.) Modern technique is to “bunker” the subs in concrete and sand if possible to maximize the output. Altogether, this generates an ungodly amount of acoustical energy that get into the foundations of the building and then into whatever is beneath that.

    Unlike sound in the air that decays pretty quickly, sound travels through solids much more efficiently, so it decays over a longer distance. These super powerful, super long sound waves can easily travel a couple hundred feet into the foundations of surrounding buildings. Yes, they can be on the next block. Once they get into these other buildings, the energy travels all through the structure, yes, up many floors of a high rise. The rooms then act as resonators.

    The bad news is that there really isn’t a fix. A well-known club on Folsom St in SF has spent significant money trying to isolate their subs and with very little effect.

    So, yeah, the SPL meter on the sidewalk shows an average level in a moderate range. But lying in a bed in a quiet apartment, even 50dB of 40 Hz at 120 BPM is gonna annoy the crap out of you.

  3. Patrick Coyne

    May 9, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    What’s the story with gay bars and loud music, I wonder if there is a higher is rate of deafness in the older gay community.

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Opinion | Lovitz for Pennsylvania state representative

Accomplished gay candidate is longtime equality advocate

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Jonathan Lovitz, gay news, Washington Blade
Jonathan Lovitz (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It’s an embarrassment of riches for residents of center city Philadelphia, which includes the “gayborhood,” as they prepare to vote for their next state representative. 

The post has been held by Rep. Brian Sims, who’s gay, since 2013. Sims is giving up the seat to run for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. More on that later.

Two out LGBTQ candidates are among those competing in the 182nd District’s Democratic primary to replace Sims — Jonathan Lovitz and Deja Alvarez. Lovitz, who’s gay, has served as senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce for five years. If elected, it would be the first time a seat held by an LGBTQ state representative transitioned to another LGBTQ official and he would be the first LGBTQ Jewish elected official in Pennsylvania.

Alvarez, who’s transgender, is director of community engagement at World Healthcare Infrastructures and serves as chair of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee. She would become the first out trans person to serve in the Pennsylvania Legislature if elected.

Both are excellent candidates who would make their own bit of history if elected, but Lovitz stands out as the strongest choice to replace Sims in the legislature, a change that local residents desperately need.

To paraphrase Oprah in her famous endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton: Just because I am for Lovitz, doesn’t mean I am against Alvarez. I am acquainted with Lovitz and know him to be an ethical, smart, hard-working professional who is deeply dedicated to his work and to the residents of Philadelphia. He would make a fearless and tireless advocate for Philly and for equality issues in Harrisburg.

At NGLCC, Lovitz has helped write and pass more than 25 state and local laws, including in Pennsylvania, extending economic opportunity to LGBTQ-owned businesses around the country. As the country struggles to emerge from pandemic restrictions, we need more legislators at all levels of government who understand the importance of small business. Lovitz has the experience in business and in his work on equality issues to deliver tangible results for Philadelphia. 

Contrast his record with that of Sims and it’s a no-brainer that the people of the 182nd District have nowhere to go but up. Sims has sponsored or introduced scores of bills in the past year, but only one has been enacted, according to BillTrack50. Sims has been criticized in the district for his endless media tour and social media self-promotion. He is more interested in thirst-trap selfies than in constituent service. He lacks the professionalism and temperament for elected office, favoring profane outbursts and juvenile insults over diplomatic compromise and legislative achievement. As Christopher Pinto wrote in the Philadelphia Gay News, “Almost a decade in the State House, and he has no legislative victories that he can claim as his own. He spent more time out of the district than inside it, flying from one speaking engagement to the next, while abusing his state issued travel budget and being shrouded in a lengthy ethics investigation.”

Lovitz will not succumb to such vanities. He is a grounded professional who understands how to craft legislation and, more importantly, how to get it passed. He won’t alienate colleagues as Sims has done. 

On equality issues, Lovitz has worked on behalf of marginalized communities at NGLCC and last year he organized PhillyVoting.org, which works to boost turnout among Black and LGBTQ voters. 

“The ongoing violence against our communities, especially against our trans siblings, is a stunning reminder that our work together continues,” Lovitz wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Gay News. “Once again the movement for long-overdue social change in America is being led by communities of color, especially right here in Philly,” he wrote. “And the LGBTQ community must continue to stand in solidarity with them.”

Lovitz understands the moment. He has a passion for business and for helping entrepreneurs to succeed, something cities desperately need after more than 200,000 small businesses have shuttered due to COVID, according to the Wall Street Journal; more than 1,000 Philly businesses closed in just the first five months of the pandemic, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Voters, donors, and our national advocacy organizations should support his bold campaign and help retain an out LGBTQ voice in Harrisburg while improving constituent service for residents of the district. 

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society

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My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years

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OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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