Saying they haven't heard enough from the public, Palo Alto Parks and Recreation commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday (Oct. 25) to table a proposed ordinance to ban amplified music at Lytton Plaza without a $300 permit.
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 welcome.
Daren Anderson, parks and golf division manager, said the Community Services Department and police have received complaints from surrounding businesses about the impromptu daytime amplified music. Nearby residents have complained about the nighttime music.
The performances began after the plaza's 2009 renovation. Several electrical outlets intended for special events were added at that time, Anderson said. A farmers' market had live, amplified music but musicians performed at other times without authorization, he said. The market was discontinued in 2010, but live music has continued and expanded.
Existing codes did not solve the issue, he said. Park regulation R1-34 prohibits electrical receptacles 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 the outlets, 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 and was featured in a Palo Alto Weekly story, said she has done 132 performances 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," she said if the ordinance were to pass.
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 commissioner to "resist pressures from the special interest groups of downtown businesses."
Anderson admitted to commissioner Sunny Dykwel that 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 its 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 provides 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 some people are abusing the situation and she didn't want to restrict everyone.
Resident Herb Borock pointed out that adjacent business Pizza My Heart uses speakers that face the plaza to amplify music they want to play. He said any ordinance changes would be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act. It is also a free-speech issue, he said.
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.