Ordinance for music at Lytton Plaza gets shelved

Parks and Recreation Commission votes to table proposed ordinance, await more public input

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.

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Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Thank you, Sue, for sitting through the four and a half hour meeting to hear the three citizens, Mr. Borock, Susan Webb and myself give our nine minutes worth of response, before writing your story. Due to commissioner Walsh's insistence on not letting us speak for even three minutes and one second --as she stared at her watch mouthing the remaining time and signaling us by hand at two then one minute to go -- I cut this part and then hand-wrote it and handed it to you:
This is an anti-vagrancy act thinly disguised as a noise ordinance. The very few people -- our largest developer, his best friend, his son in law who owns a pizza parlor, the hired lobbyist for the business district -- who are pushing staff -- goading staff -- towards this cynical and disingenous change -- are profiling. They are targetting the poor, mostly black and Latino; in previous press in recent months they called these citizens and community members "sketchy people" and "undesirables." Besides being contrary to the First Amendment freedom of speech and assembly, and putting the taxpayers on the line for court challenges, this regressive proposal is Jim Crow and Palo Apartheid and not NOT "the Palo Alto Way."
Thank you commissioners EL, PM and EL for at least having the integrity to resist this.
Also, as I said at the meeting, I am curious how commissioner Paul Losch --absent Tuesday -- has his love of Bob Dylan (Palo Alto Weekly columnist) will inform him here: Dylan famously plugged in at 1960s Newport Folk Festival, a shocking and bold masterstroke at the time.

Also, it is ironic (and like I said disingenous) that Palo Alto would in 2011, as the place that gave the world Muybridge film sequence, Steve Jobs ipod and itunes, John Chowning AM-FM synthesizer would suddenly so urgently ban the devil's work the big bad tube amp.

Why don't they just require the people who go to Lytton Plaza to wear upside down green dollar-signs pinned to their lapels and be done with it?

"Don't follow, leaders; feed the parking meters...the pump don't work cause the vandals stole the handles.....???????? yo, microphone check one two what is this?????"

If you have to ask, maybe you don't deserve Democracy.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm

The arrogance of amplified sound musicians is amazing. They actually think that the world is craving their noise. Guess what? We aren't!

If musicians have something valuable, it will play by acoustic means, and it doesn't need to be amplified.

People like Mark need to be ignored, no matter hwo many times he craves our attention. He is hardly as important as he thinks he is.

Like this comment
Posted by Derek
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 26, 2011 at 9:45 pm

I need to get to Lytton plaza more because I didn't know there was amplified music. I am for more music, not less. I applaud delaying the vote to gather more community input. Thank you Palo Alto Online. I didn't even know this was happening.

Like this comment
Posted by Freida
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Please unplug the sound!!! It is disturbing many people.

Like this comment
Posted by Susan
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:09 am

Wish we could get an unbiased ruling. Sunny Dykwel was a member of the group "Friends of Lytton Plaza" that organized the funding and renovation of the park in 2009, intended to serve as a gathering space for all. Since, the City, Council, and Parks Commission seem to be conflicted over the use of the space, and have only succeeded in maintaining a cold, unwelcoming location under lock and key.
Lytton Plaza was donated by Bart Lytton to serve as a public space, and to accommodate a myriad of activities, noisy or not. Thus far bureaucracy has prevailed, and the public denied access. Where is all the promise of revitalization that got this project approved in the first place?
Seems "Occupy Lytton Plaza" may be in order.

Like this comment
Posted by Mason
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:21 am

And all that you said is true Susan, but how about with some reasonable limits? I value having a public gathering place. We can have that space with some limits on how much noise everyone else has to tolerate. I do not see a problem with restricting amplified sound during certain hours, and asking people to keep the volume at a reasonable level. Honestly, what's the problem with that concept?

Like this comment
Posted by Tanya W
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:25 am

I would prefer acoustic music. Maybe for the occassional special concert allow electric music. Otherwise, stick with acoustic. That way people who want to sit and enjoy a conversation or some peace and quiet can do so, and the people who want to play music (acoustically) can do so, too.

Like this comment
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 27, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I am a musician in an amplified band, and I avoid that place when the amplifiers are turned on there. It's too noisy, not done very well, and the general attitude is a challenge to passers by.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm

PARC Commissioner Paul Losch here.

I was out of town for business on Tuesday, and consequently missed the discussion around this matter. I look forward to subsequent discussions on the Commission around music at Lytton Plaza.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Hi, Paul.
Yeah, I wrote in my bit about Bob Dylan and the hubbub he caused in the sixties when he used an amp -- folk music purists thought it was a sellout -- because I had read your non-commission column about Dylan here in the Weekly. So I was a little disappointed you weren't there.

Again, if we want to discuss vagrancy or better how to help the disenfranchised -- like expanding the health clinic at Opportunity Center -- or if we want to discuss bringing real programming to Lytton Plaza, or Cogswell Plaza, or King Plaza --excellent. That's a better use of all our time, staff, leaders, commissioners. I am mainly incensed about the disingenuous nature of the tactics here. Or the idea that these very few people -- four or five, I can name them by name; they should step forward -- claiming to represent the public or even the PDA -- is ludicrous. There is no noise issue. Three complaints about more than 150 events, plus it's downtown with traffic, drinkers -- the fountain is loud. And the noise ordinance as is suffices; this is a tactic to goad staff and police to profile. Not good!

I was pleased that my friend Sunny Dykwel, who I misidentify in previous post -- which I also cut and pasted and sent to council -- seems to be switching sides here. I hope you join the PRC members who see through this.

There is a Dylan lecture at Stanford tonight, by the way, which will pre-empt my plan to go to LAC.

Meanwhile I wanted to respond to my big fan "John" (who should follow his own logic and just ignore us, if he so chooses; better than ad hominem) and the comparison to Oakland or Wall Street and just say, that I think people are willing to work it out:
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Carl
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 28, 2011 at 9:48 am

I've had to leave the plaza a few times when I was relaxing and talking with friends. The musicians started up and it was too loud to carry on our conversation. I say go acoustic or go home to your garage.

Like this comment
Posted by Mariane
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 28, 2011 at 11:06 am

Anyone can play accoustical music without an amplifier.

We have a business on University Ave and am bothered by the arrogance of people who do this and not only on Lytton Plaza. We have our own annoyance at Michael's Gelato, who's amplified music is technically inside the premise but it can be hear about a full block away. They also need to be stopped.

After a year of doing this with the singer of questionable ability Michael's Gelato still hasn't figured out that amplified music has helped kill the remaining customers he had.

Like this comment
Posted by Carl
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 28, 2011 at 11:44 am

I read the report about what the City wanted to do at Lytton. They didn't want to complelely stop electric music- they just wanted to make people get a permit and to limit the hours. I like the idea as long as they don't allow bands in there all the time. They should put some sort of limit to the number of days per month that electric bands can be there.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm

"I've had to leave the plaza a few times when I was relaxing and talking with friends"

Carl, right on!

These arrogant brats that play their noise stuff, with amplification, are not nearly talented enough to survive with accoustical levels. There will always be brats, but we, as a majoirty of society don't need to follow their tune (pun intended).

Shut down the amplification, except with specific exceptions, for permitted events (with big crowds).

Paul Losch: There is a quiet majority out here who want to enjoy our parks and plazas. Please stand up for us. Thank you.

Like this comment
Posted by Cheryl Erber
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

My band, Cherry Pi, played a free concert in Lytton Sq. to support Downtown Streets Team. To think they would ban amplified music, or put all this red tape in the way of it, is absolutely appalling and unacceptable. We need more music downtown, not less!

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm

"To think they would ban amplified music, or put all this red tape in the way of it, is absolutely appalling and unacceptable. We need more music downtown, not less!"


Both of your assumptions are self-serving. Who says we need more loud music downtown, except those who make that loud noise? Red tape is what regulation is all about. Get used to it, because the vast majority of us, who would like to enjoy our plazas, don't like your noise. If you don't have the stuff, and you don't (I have heard your stuff), then don't try to dominate the scene with amplification. If you actually had some talent, then your music would attract it own audience, one at a time, if played accoustically...this what the old folk music protest scene was all about.

It is time to take back the streets and plazas in Palo Alto from the brats!

Like this comment
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 29, 2011 at 1:53 am

"If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen..." other words, if you do not like the music, you don't have to stick around to listen!!! There still is more sunshine down the block.
I personally approve of the gorilla style of free music.

I also understand that most people are playing for their own satisfaction .. some are also hoping that Paula Abdul and her company may be in the crowd someday and they may be "discovered"..(smile!)

I do not however think that people using the plaza should be charged any money, period. It should remain free of any charges, just like Mr.Lytton envisioned his plaza to be.

In the '60's, Joan Baez played to crowds many times on the very same corner there and had amplified sound from the back of a flatbed truck parked on the street. No charge then, it needs to remain the same, a free open space for anyone. Obviously within reasonable reason, of course on the sound~ no window rattling. I really don't think anyone is really out to break your eardrums....or bum your day. Would you rather just hear the buzz of the traffic???????????? That, my friend is annoying..

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm

"I personally approve of the gorilla style of free music. "

I dare say that most of us citizens DON'T approve of AMPLIFIED gorilla music. A public plaza has serveral uses, including political discourse and protest, but if it cannot be done at the accoutical level, without a permit, then stay the hell out of our plaza!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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