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Clark: City ordinance shows lack of sound thinking

I’d like to reassure everyone that our upcoming 10th annual Spokane Street Music Week will go on as planned despite recent meddling with the municipal noise ordinance by overzealous City Council members.

If, however, anyone finds our benefit for the food bank to be too joyously rambunctious, we can easily change our event to Spokane Meek Music Week, where all performers will make like the little guy in the Penn & Teller act.

Either way, we buskers for hunger will take to the downtown sidewalks during the noon hours of June 11-15.

Don’t miss it!

But getting back to the noise ordinance …

The big switcheroo came last Monday in a hotly contested meeting that drew many opinionated residents, some of whom were even sane.

After pretending to listen to all points of view, the council voted 6-1 to jettison the old ordinance, which was based on a scientific system of accurately measuring decibel levels.

In contrast, the replacement ordinance will be based more on whether a police officer thinks a street musician might be playing too loudly or perhaps smells funny.

This is known in law enforcement as officer discretion, the hallmark of every jerkwater Southern burg with a speed trap.

In addition, the new noise ordinance calls for changing our “Spokane: Near Nature – Near Perfect” slogan to …

“Spokane: Shut the ($%^#) UP!!”

Now, I’ll be first to concede that the old ordinance wasn’t easy to enforce.

The main reason being that few cops wanted to strap a clunky sound-measuring device onto their gun belts.

This, cops feared, could create embarrassing problems.

Say, for example, officer so-and-so was in the process of electrocuting some hapless citizen.

How humiliating would it be for the officer to grab for his Taser and mistakenly come up with a sound meter?

The officer would have to settle for measuring the suspect’s cries for help and maybe cite him for screaming too loudly.

Where’s the fun in that?

My biggest objection to the new ordinance is that this really boils down to a reaction against a certain harmonica enthusiast whose shrill air raid siren impersonations have driven a few of our downtown merchants to the point of hair loss and frenzy.

But as annoying as it may be, legislating against an individual is simply bad government.

Put it this way: Drafting a law to deal with an excruciating harmonicat is like using a carnival mallet to smack a stinkbug.

There are more rational ways to solve this problem.

Free music lessons, say.

Or exposure to recordings by Toots Thielemans.

But all the time and hubbub invested in this new ordinance makes our elected officials look like hypersensitive ninnies.

Come on. Spokane is the second-largest city in the state.

Real cities are noisy by nature.

The cars. The hustle. The bustle.

The stumbling, drunken belchers …

Street music only adds to the urban cacophony.

What will our noise-phobic council do next, soundproof the Monroe Street Bridge when the falls are over-roaring?

You want city silence, take a drive to one of the area’s tiny dried-up farm towns.

The merchants of Almira, say, would probably kill for an injection of the street music that I heard Friday while walking to lunch through downtown Spokane.

This young kid was set up in front of River Park Square, strumming his guitar and wailing and moaning about some lost love through a battery-powered amp.

Was his performance too loud?

Probably for the uptight woman who testified in front of the council last Monday night.

She actually blamed noise pollution for damaging buildings.

Well, I guess now we know what happened to the Ridpath Hotel.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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