The ordinance would limit amplified music to 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Amplification could not exceed 15 decibels of the ambient noise level, measured at a 25-foot distance from the plaza boundary. Violators would pay a $250 fine. Acoustic music would still be allowed.
Businesses neighboring the plaza, located at the corner of University Avenue and Emerson Street, have complained about impromptu daytime amplified music, said Daren Anderson, parks and golf division manager. Nearby residents have complained about the nighttime music.
The performances began after the plaza's 2009 renovation, which included the addition of electrical outlets intended for special events, Anderson said. A short-lived farmers market offered live, amplified music until 2010, but musicians performed at other times without authorization, he said. The live music has continued and expanded.
Existing codes did not solve the issue, he said. A park regulation prohibits electrical devices in parks without a special-use permit, but several musicians use battery-operated amplifiers at the plaza. Staff tried to curb the use by adding locked outlet covers but repeated vandalism made it difficult to secure them, he said. Although some musicians have complied, police lack the staffing to deal with the noise issues, he added.
The proposed ordinance is consistent with how rentals are handled at city community centers and the Palo Alto Art Center, Anderson said.
Susan Webb, a singer who has jammed at the plaza since January 2010, said she has performed 132 times in the plaza and is joined by families and all sorts of people.
"It's so much a part of people's nature to make music. It would be a shame" if the ordinance were to pass, she said.
Mark Weiss, a concert promoter, said he has produced 150 concerts at Cubberley Community Center and had an event scheduled at Lytton for Wednesday.
"I can't possibly convey my disappointment with the staff report," he said, and asked commissioners to "resist pressures from the special interest groups of downtown businesses."
Questioned by Commissioner Sunny Dykwel, Anderson said he had received six complaints from businesses and three from residents, and that most of the calls came from one business owner and possibly from the business's employees.
"I'm concerned that we haven't heard enough from the public for a decision to be made," Dykwel said, adding the permitting process is long and cumbersome and the plaza is intended as a place for groups, students and families to feel welcome.
Anderson said each performance would be required to have the $300 permit.
"I don't think we should make money off people wanting to be spontaneous," Commissioner Deirdre Crommie said. Crommie said that while some people are abusing the situation, she didn't want to restrict everyone.
Resident Herb Borock said that Pizza My Heart, which borders the plaza, plays music on outdoor speakers. He also said any ordinance changes would be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.
It is also a free-speech issue, he added.
Commissioners Dykwel, Pat Markovitch and Ed Lauing volunteered to form a subcommittee to work with residents, businesses, the musicians and city staff regarding the proposed ordinance. The issue will be discussed again before a recommendation to City Council would be made.