The Spokane City Council delayed voting on a proposal Monday to ban devices that emit irritating noises intended to scatter young and homeless people from public spaces.
The law would ban any device “intended to emit into public spaces painful or annoying high-frequency sound intended to be audible only to children and young adults.” It applies only to public property, but would be enforced citywide, not just downtown.
“It’s a discriminatory act, and there are other ways to solve these problems,” said Councilwoman Kate Burke, who sponsored the legislation.
Burke was joined by Councilwoman Karen Stratton and Councilman Breean Beggs in opposing a motion to delay a vote on the proposal.
The Mosquito device emits a noise audible to people between 13 and 25 years old, according to Moving Sound Technologies, its manufacturer. A newer model can be adjusted to emit a frequency that can be heard by people of all ages. To address concerns about the machine’s impact on passersby, the manufacturer also sells a model that plays royalty-free jazz music.
The law refers to the Mosquito, a specific brand, by name. But it would apply to any similar device intended to disrupt the comfort of people outside commercial buildings.
The proposal was drafted and championed by Burke, who argued that the machines stand in stark contrast to the city’s goal of creating a welcoming downtown. They are not only harmful to homeless people and youth, but to the wide array of people who walk past them, including families with children and even service animals, Burke said.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear worried about the proposed penalties, which could reach 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine, and the lack of outreach to the downtown business community before the proposal came to a vote. She requested the proposal be delayed until February.
Burke responded that she writes “laws that are for the impacted, not the people that are negatively causing the impact.” She argued that the council did not ensure homeless people have a place to sit or lie before passing an ordinance banning both on downtown sidewalks during the daytime.
She found support among numerous members of the public who testified on Monday.
Tony Horton, who lives and works downtown, acknowledged that he is sometimes heckled on his way to work but prefers that to hearing the noise devices.
“I want to exist in this community without being exposed to auditory harm,” Horton said.
Burke’s proposal was met with opposition from business advocates, including the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
Mark Richard, president and CEO of the partnership, told The Spokesman-Review last week that the devices are only used by a handful of businesses downtown, and typically as a “last resort” to address problems ranging from graffiti to harassment.
“When property managers know that they don’t have control of their property and employees don’t feel secure, they turn to these devices to help them out,” Andrew Rolwes, the partnership’s vice president, testified on Monday.
Rolwes alleged that the legislation was a message that businesses have to tolerate “persistent low-grade incivility and insecurity.”
Still, the devices have sparked opposition worldwide. In 2010, the Council of Europe recommended that such devices be banned, and declared them “degrading and discriminatory.”
The first violation of the city’s law would be a civil infraction. If a second violation occurs within a year of the first, it will be cited as a misdemeanor.
In an interview with The Spokesman-Review last week, Mayor David Condon expressed concerns about the ordinance, but did not say whether or not he would attempt to veto it if it passed.
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