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Supervisors approve draft noise ordinance for unincorporated areas 

A throng of South County residents hope that an updated noise ordinance meant to govern quiet hours in the unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County will put an end to the "vibrating walls," "rattling windows," and "pulsating bass" caused by their loud neighbors.

"The noise problem has become unbearable; it's a weekend thing," said Rose Kaye, a homeowner in the Galaxy Park area of Nipomo, at the April 9 Board of Supervisors meeting. "The main causes of the noise are frequent parties with loud music, fights, shouting, revving of engines, fireworks no matter what time of year ... go-karts racing through the streets constantly. The noise permeates the walls and the windows."

Many residents of the unincorporated regions of the county—especially in Nipomo and near the Cypress Ridge Golf Course in Arroyo Grande—face similar plights to Kaye's. They've complained to 4th District Supervisor Jimmy Paulding since he assumed office in 2023. Those discussions produced a draft ordinance to strengthen the county's enforcement abilities, which supervisors approved unanimously on April 9.

Repeated offences thrived because of a penal code that prevented the Sheriff's Office and the county Department of Planning and Building's code enforcement division from enforcing punishment. Previous New Times reporting found that both departments couldn't issue citations for noise violations because the penal code requires them to prove malice on the culprit's part.

click to enlarge MORE CULPRITS During the April 9 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson added rowdy short-term vacation rental tenants to the list of "bad actors" who create unreasonable sounds and disturb the peace in unincorporated SLO County. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • MORE CULPRITS During the April 9 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson added rowdy short-term vacation rental tenants to the list of "bad actors" who create unreasonable sounds and disturb the peace in unincorporated SLO County.

The Sheriff's Office and code enforcement also don't have the training or equipment to measure noise by decibel levels.

"This upcoming budget year, the county initially asked us to cut our budget by 4 to 6 percent," Sheriff's Office spokesperson Tony Cipolla told New Times. "If we had the money and found appropriate training, another challenge would be sending patrol deputies to the training and not wanting to have an insufficient amount of patrol deputies available to respond to calls for service."

Planning and Building Director Trevor Keith said that it's tough to produce a defensible noise level reading that could lead to issuing a citation.

"It's less about the resource constraints and training," he said via email. "We have found that noise meter readings get debated regarding their accuracy with vacation rental/event noise readings. These can be problematic within our code enforcement process."

The approved draft ordinance bans sound above 65 decibels, like loud music, shouting, hooting, singing, and whistling, which can be heard clearly from 100 feet of the property line from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. It exempts sounds from religious services and state and federally recognized public holidays emanating during those hours. Commercial agricultural operations and outdoor entertainment events on commercial and private properties equipped with valid land use permits or outdoor commercial entertainment licenses are also immune from the ordinance.

The updated rules hold the property owner liable for prohibited noises. The county will provide a written notice to the owner if law enforcement or a code enforcement officer determine a noise violation. But the person creating the unreasonable noise is the primary target, Assistant County Counsel Jon Ansolabehere told supervisors. The first violation costs $100 in administrative fines, and the amount increases for subsequent breaches. The property owner can also appeal administrative citations before a hearing officer.

"This is really a tool that we needed in order to go for the problem properties," Ansolabehere said at the meeting. "

Second District Supervisor Bruce Gibson identified problem properties in his North Coast district as some of the noisy short-term vacation rentals. He recommended coordinating the updated noise ordinance with the vacation rental section of the coastal zone land use ordinance. That section calls for a permit revocation process if a short-term rental racks up three violations—including noise violations—within six consecutive months.

"The very few that have complaints issued against them have made life miserable for their neighbors, and we've long sought a mechanism by which the bad actors ... can be held accountable," Gibson said at the meeting.

Most community members who spoke at the meeting said they were satisfied with the noise ordinance update, but some of them asked to extend the rules during the day as well. The current county ordinance limits daytime outdoor noise to 70 decibels.

Ansolabehere said that the county made the draft ordinance similar to those of other jurisdictions, which set restrictions from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. He added that the staff could later work on monitoring daytime noise if supervisors directed them to, but it would require a separate ordinance.

"The idea of regulating daytime noise separate from the decibel provision ... has a very different policy construct," he said. "I think we want to be a little more intentional and a little bit more thoughtful when it comes to how we regulate that." Δ


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