An amended city noise ordinance made uncertain progress Tuesday night.
The City Council passed the first reading of the revisions. They were designed to give police clearer guidelines about handling noise disturbances with the understanding that serious work needed to be done before the second and final readings.
An ad hoc committee was created after heated discussion made it clear the ordinance would not pass into law in the current form.
“If we are going to put an ordinance into effect, I want to make sure people who are responsible can abide within the guidelines,” said Council member Chris Jones, Place 4. “Quite frankly, there is so much discretion in (the ordinance) I cannot pull that out of this.”
Jones, along with Kim Porterfield, Place 1, and John Thomaides, Place 6, were charged with reviewing amendments and suggesting changes to make the ordinance more amenable to residents.
Noise ordinance revisions have been a hard sell for the San Marcos Police Department, despite general consensus about the existing laws needing updates.
Amendments have been criticized for language, which is unclear on what constitutes a noise violation. Local realtors are voicing concerns over amendments to the Host Responsibility ordinance establishing new fines for property owners who repeatedly allow parties to get out of hand.
Residents could be cited under new definitions of “excessive noise” for sound that crosses their property line. Officers could use “time of day” and “size of gathering” as parameters to determine violations, but would not be held to specific times or numbers.
“The actual number of people (present) is not a good measure of the amount of noise,” said Howard Williams, San Marcos police chief. “We did discuss the possibility of establishing a decibel level, (but) there are issues of measuring ambient noise.”
Police are requesting the authority to designate a gathering “unruly” and to disperse it.
“We do not have a specifically defined authority to tell people to leave or they are going to be cited,” Williams said. “What happens is we fall back on other violations in the penal code and we start making arrests. This would be a less egregious way of having some enforcement authority short of having to take people to jail if they don’t want to leave.”
The council hit a wall after Jones insisted on including unambiguous guidelines for party hosts to follow.
“I want clear criteria for party hosts outlining things they must do in order to be in line with the law,” Jones said.
Jones said he did not see this in the amendments as they are written.
“An officer may have all of the (rules) in his mind to consider, but if I am hosting the party and I want to be a law abiding citizen, then I may know a little bit of what he is speaking about, but I still do not know what the determination of the officer will be,” Jones said.
City Council passed the first reading and will hold a workshop to clarify revisions. Williams and Lisa Dvorak, assistant police chief, expressed willingness to work with the council.
posed questions to police officials at a forum hosted Monday night. Senators are among those concerned about the level of discretion granted officers under the new ordinance.
Chris Covo, City Council liaison, informed council members Tuesday night ASG would take a position on the ordinance in the coming weeks.