Tampa votes to ban loud car music
If your car stereo's strong enough to rattle your trunk lid, Tampa City Council is putting you on notice.
Council members gave preliminary approval Thursday to an ordinance that would impose hefty fines and even jail time on drivers who blast their music systems to the annoyance of their neighbors.
The ordinance would apply 24 hours a day and cover vehicles that emit sounds clearly audible from 50 feet away. Tampa police will enforce the ordinance with the help of the city's Code Enforcement staff.
The council took its action after the state Legislature declined to pass its own measure to rein in noise from vehicles. The previous law, which banned loud music but not political or commercial messages, was struck down by a court last year.
A bill that would have eliminated those exceptions died in the state Senate on a 19-19 vote.
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, the Tampa Democrat who represents many of the people asking the council for relief on Thursday, voted against the bill because she felt its focus on loud music amounted to racial profiling of black and Hispanics. She also argued that music booming from passing cars is a momentary inconvenience.
The ordinance has the support of Police Chief Jane Castor. Still, its future remains uncertain.
While a noise ordinance in Sarasota remains on the books, one passed by Lakeland was thrown out by a federal court.
Councilman Frank Reddick, who demanded the noise ordinance two weeks ago, was undeterred.
“Make it strong,” Reddick said. “Let them challenge it.”
Pounding car stereos have become the bane of some Tampa neighborhoods, though people who install the systems say they're just the way young people express themselves today. They compare outrage over loud stereos to previous generations' complaints about Elvis or hot rods.
Those supporters stayed away Thursday.
Instead, council members heard from nearly a dozen residents who pleaded with them to muffle the noisemakers.
“Constantly, day and night, you can hear cars going up and down the street playing the loud music,” said Michael Farmer of East Tampa.
“This noise ordinance needs to pass,” said Seminole Heights resident Susan Long. “We desperately need it.”
Tampa Police Major Diane Hobley-Burney told council members the department got 3,220 noise complaints in the six months between mid-November and this week.
“They're calling my office continually,” said Hobley-Burney, who works in the department's East Tampa division. “It might be music to people inside the cars, but it's noise to them.”
The ordinance, approved by a 6-1 vote Thursday, would make a booming stereo a city code violation. Council members have the chance to change the noise ordinance between now and their second vote June 6.
Under the current draft, first-time violators would get a $250 ticket, $400 for a second offense. The third offense could mean a $500 fine and/or 60 days in jail.
Those punishments proved too much for Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, who voted against the ordinance.
Montelione argued that jail time is too heavy-handed.
“I agree with every other single part of this ordinance,” Montelione said. “I really feel very, very strongly about this ordinance not having jail time.”
Montelione said the city should impound the offending car on the third offense. The city uses that approach to curb prostitution.
For people who have so much of their identity tied up in their vehicle, losing it for a period of time would be a more serious punishment than jail, she said.
“Taking their car way is a very strong statement,” she said.