Tampa prepares car stereo ordinance
TAMPA Window-rattling, mind-frazzling car stereos are a top source of complaints to the Tampa Police Department.
And now that the Florida Legislature has declined again to deal with noisy car stereos statewide, Tampa and some other cities have decided to handle it on their own.
On Thursday, the City Council will get its first look at an ordinance that would outlaw any car-stereo noise that can be heard 50 feet or more from a vehicle. The ordinance will be modeled on a Sarasota law that took effect in April and carries a civil fine of $250 after a first warning. A third stop by police would cost the driver $500.
St. Petersburg is also considering such a law.
The willingness of local governments to take on the problem illustrates the depth of frustration among people beleaguered by the thud, thud, thudding of hyped-up stereos. East Tampa resident Clay Daniels said he has been coming to Tampa council meetings for 13 years trying to get help in quieting the noise.
“This is a 24-hour thing; your ears never get a rest,” Daniels said. “This noise is just destroying our lives.”
During the legislative session that ended May 3, lawmakers attempted to fix a noise statute the state Supreme Court struck down in December. The court said the law was unconstitutional because it prohibited some types of speech – loud cars – while allowing others, such as amplified political speech and sounds from commercial vehicles.
But the new bill, eliminating the exemptions the Supreme Court found objectionable, died in the state Senate by a 19-19 vote.
Among the backers of the legislation was the Florida Police Chiefs Association. Police departments around the state are getting hundreds of calls a year complaining about vehicle sound systems, said Amy Mercer, executive director of the association.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, one of the bill's leading advocates, said she was frustrated it didn't pass but thinks a local ordinance can be effective in curbing the noise.
“We're getting so many complaints from neighborhoods about cars driving through with loud stereos and thumping bass that shake their windows and wakes them out of a sound sleep,” Castor said. “It's really an issue to the people of Tampa.”
Of course, not everyone thinks the loud stereos are a public nuisance. Joe Barravecchio, owner of 813 Customs on North Nebraska Avenue, sees the uproar as a cultural divide: Older people are complaining, younger folks are jamming.
“It's the same thing as when Elvis came out,” Barravecchio said. “People were up in arms. They called it devil music. Why? Because he had some loud guitar riffs.”
Gabe Marrero, who works at the shop with Barravecchio, agreed, comparing it to young people in the 1950s and '60s who liked driving hot rods with open pipes.
“This is our fad: loud music,” Marrero said. “A lot of older people don't understand.”
Both Barravecchio and Marrero said the loud music should be banned in residential areas and restricted to certain hours, such as 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
But the men said they doubt authorities will ever completely turn off out the booming sound systems. Young people's hunger to have the most ear-splitting sound system is too widespread, they said.
“People stereotype them as young punks,” Marrero said. “We do all ages, all races, old and new cars.”
In the back of the shop, the men pointed to a vintage Ford Fairlane that Barravecchio said belongs to Vincent Jackson, wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jackson's classic car was awaiting a sound system with powerful subwoofers that produce the low-pitched bass audio frequencies.
But a popular perception that the booming cars are primarily driven by blacks and Hispanics was one reason the Senate bill regulating vehicle noise failed. Tampa's Arthenia Joyner and other black and Hispanic senators joined with small-government advocates from the Republican party to kill the bill.
Joyner said her fear the bill would lead to racial profiling was one reason she voted no. She said she tried and failed to pass an amendment to the legislation that would have required police to record the race and ethnicity of people ticketed for excessive noise.
“I offered the amendment to determine whether it would be profiling because the perception is that blacks do it,” Joyner said.
Joyner said she also found it unfair and illogical that the noise ordinance was a primary offense, meaning police could use the sound to pull someone over. The new ban on texting while driving, passed during the same legislative session, would only result in a ticket if police pulled the driver over for some other, primary offense.
“You have to endure some inconvenience and annoying, obnoxious music for 10 or 20 seconds and then it's over,” Joyner said. “But you can text and run into somebody and kill them.”
But her vote angered some of Joyner's constituents in East Tampa, where residents are largely African-American. Daniels, the long-time advocate for a Tampa noise ordinance, said Joyner promised him she would vote for the noise bill when it hit the Senate floor.
“She should have answered her constituents' concerns,” Daniels said. “We senior citizens asked her to represent us and our interests and she betrayed the senior citizens.”
Daniels, who is black, rejected Joyner's fears of racial profiling. Like Barravecchio, Daniels said the divide on the boom cars is generational: young people like loud music; older people hate it.
It was Tampa's only black councilman, Frank Reddick, who insisted that assistant city attorney Rebecca Kert bring a draft noise ordinance to this Thursday's council meeting.
Reddick said he cannot go out in public without someone asking him when the city will crack down on the noisy vehicles.
“I don't consider it to be racial profiling; I consider it a safety issue and a public nuisance issue,” Reddick said. “And I don't think we would have as many African-Americans coming before the council requesting the city to put something in place if they considered it racial profiling.”