The Austin Noise Ordinance, particularly as it relates to live music,
is a topic of discussion in the Place 4 City Council race. Running
for this position are Toby Ryan, Eric Rangel, and the incumbent, Laura
Morrison. I am offering this website as a venue to discuss the noise
ordinance in as much detail as they like. I’ve asked all three
candidates the following questions and promised to copy their
responses word for word.
Question 1 – What do you like about the noise ordinance as it
currently stands, and why?
Question 2 – What do you dislike about the noise ordinance as it
currently stands, and why?
Question 3 – Suppose you are given a blank piece of paper and asked to
write a brand new Austin Noise Ordinance. How would you write an
ordinance that is fair to residents and venues while preserving the
characteristics that you see as being important to Austin’s identity?
Here’s how Laura Morrison responded:
Question 1 – What do you like about the noise ordinance as it currently stands, and why?
In 2009, I supported and cosponsored the recommendations of the Live Music Taskforce
addressing outdoor live music venue sound permits, marking a significant union between
neighborhood activists and the music community to find common ground and work
The compromises reached in the new ordinance are by no means perfect, but they
include several improvements to the city’s outdated permitting process, such as including
consideration of what land use existed first. If a new residential condo tower is being
built next to an existing live music venue, the developers of the tower need to focus
on soundproofing for their tenants. Likewise, if a new venue is being built next to
an existing residence, the venue needs to work with the neighbor so the two uses can
Within the new process, there is more opportunity for a conversation between the venue
owners and the adjacent residents. I supported the creation of the Music Department,
which was transformed into the Music Office. There, we have three staff members,
including an experienced sound engineer, working to help address concerns, with
recommendations that can strike a balance to allow the venues to play music with
minimal disturbance to adjacent residents.
The success in resolving conflicts has been outstanding, including venues along South
Congress, Lamar Boulevard and Barton Springs Road.
Question 2 – What do you dislike about the noise ordinance as it currently stands, and
The current permitting process has additional room for improvement, and we are
continuing to adjust it. We have found that the previous permitting process was rigid
and inflexible, as it assumed a “one size fits all” for music venues. We are working on
new options for music venues, including a multi-day permit that allows venues to host
festivals or do weekly series. During this year’s SxSW, the city saw a 20% increase in
venues using the multi-day option, which avoids the need of temporary venues to get
Additionally, as I mentioned briefly in the first question, I believe our development
regulations need to be strengthened for soundproofing of residents being built near
existing music venues. This is especially important in the downtown area, where new
condos and apartments are being built around established entertainment districts.
Also, now that we have a Music Office to help resolve conflicts between venue
owners and adjacent residents, I believe the ordinance should be more focused on the
development of a sound impact plan. Earlier this year, I cosponsored changes to make
the sound impact plan a formal process for permitting. The way noise travels is unique
for every location, and the focus on decibel limits is incomprehensive. If we can do a
better job at containing noise or redirecting it, we can avoid unnecessary conflicts and
Question 3 – Suppose you are given a blank piece of paper and asked to write a brand
new Austin Noise Ordinance. How would you write an ordinance that is fair to residents
and venues while preserving the characteristics that you see as being important to
The key to writing a new noise ordinance is engaging stakeholders on all sides of the
issue to work together to find a balance. It is my fundamental belief that the more
perspectives we have reviewing a proposal, the better results we will have for our
Over the past 3 years, I have worked diligently, collaborated, and had success in bringing
the neighborhoods and music industry together at the table to arrive at consensus
approaches that have really helped to make progress in finding the balance. There may
be people on both sides that would prefer to take hard lines and continue to fight, but that
gets us nowhere. We can only move forward by working together. Austin must remain
the Live Music Capital of the World.
Toby Ryan did not respond.
Eric Rangel did not respond.
What’s wrong with the other two? Why didn’t they respond?
I was a little disappointed to not hear from Toby Ryan. He seems to bring up the noise ordinance often, so I would like to have seen him expand on his criticisms and provide his ideas for improvement.