City leaders are allowing students to get vocal about being loud.
The Texas State community will have an opportunity to question city leaders about a controversial noise ordinance March 2 in the Alkek Teaching Theater.
will host members of the City Council and the police department at a special forum. Mayor Susan Narvaiz and Howard Williams, San Marcos Police Chief, will be available to answer questions from the audience.
Critics say revisions to the existing noise ordinance target university students and provide too much discretion to police to cite violators. The City Council postponed discussion on the ordinance Feb. 3 after questions were raised about the clarity of the amendments.
Lisa Dvorak, assistant police chief, will give a presentation of the ordinance. ASG President Brett Baker and Chris Covo, City Council liaison, will moderate the meeting and pose written questions from the public to city officials following Dvorak’s presentation.
Covo said the meeting provides a unique opportunity for university students, faculty and staff to speak on the issue.
“Having a discussion like this will actually give the council more direction than they get at the regular meetings,” said Covo, political science sophomore. “They are concerned with how this will affect students and how the community feels about it and in this setting they will get a lot more information. The council can find out from the students exactly what the problem is and why (the ordinance) seems unfair.”
Narvaiz said she had extended an invitation to City Council members to attend the forum. She agreed the meeting could provide valuable input from the university community.
“The most important thing is to make sure everyone understands what we are trying to accomplish with (the ordinance),” Narvaiz said. “I think there is some confusion in how people are reading this as to what authority or subjectivity is being given to police officers. The dialogue will allow us to hear the questions and answers of the staff that will actually be overseeing the enforcement of this.”
Narvaiz said the council hasa “genuine interest” in knowing if the ordinance could have unintended consequences.
“I would say we are open at this point to tweaking any part of this ordinance,” she said. “We could come away from this with a very different piece of legislation.”
Dvorak spearheaded the two-year effort behind the revisions. Dvorak said she will attempt to explain the language of the ordinance and provide the department’s reasons for requesting the revisions.
“Noise does have an impact on the people that live around you,” she said. “It is important to have a discussion on what we are doing to be able to address noise in neighborhoods.”
Dvorak said an important element of the process is information sharing.
“We are open to input from a different perspective,” she said. “If someone sees something in the ordinance and they think it is too vague or there might be a better definition we certainly will take that input to be able to do some refining of the ordinance.”
Covo encouraged students to attend.
“If Texas State students have the opportunity to voice their opinions on an ordinance and a policy shift that could affect them in such a big way, they need to take that opportunity,” Covo said.
SMPD is largely responsible for constructing the language that goes into the ordinance. Williams has said the revised ordinance would provide officers with clearer guidelines for issuing citations, but new definitions of “excessive noise” and “unruly gathering” have been described as vague.
Excessive noise is defined to include any noise crossing the property line. The new language states an officer determining a violation can take into account the time of day, size of any gathering and the magnitude of the noise, without specifying actual times, numbers or decibel levels.
One amendment is designed to put more pressure on property owners who lease to repeat violators. Property managers allowing residents to maintain an “unruly gathering place” could be subject to fines, under the ordinance.
Councilmember Chris Jones, Place 4, said at the Feb. 3 meeting he was concerned citizens would be unclear on what constituted a violation.
The City Council tabled discussion on the ordinance and did not pass the first reading. SMPD is reviewing the amendments and will return to the City Council for another first reading March 3.
Williams said he welcomed the opportunity to hear different perspectives.
“This gives us the opportunity to address a large number of people and ask, ‘Do you have a better way of doing this?’” Williams said. “Do you think you have a better solution to this problem? If you do, speak up. We want to hear it.”