City Officials Rebuke Out-of-Town Rep Wanting Austin’s Sound Levels Decided at a State Level

Adler says “outside interference” not welcome

Austin Mayor Steve Adler speaking against HB 3813 at a press conference on Monday.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler speaking against HB 3813 at a press conference on Monday. (Screenshot from livestream via Mayor Steve Adler's Facebook page)

City officials, along with representatives from Austin’s music venues, came out in strong opposition this afternoon to HB 3813, a bill that would strip large cities of their power to regulate amplified sound coming from bars.

At an afternoon press conference, held at 3ten ACL Live, Mayor Steve Adler portrayed Austin’s sound policies as the result of extended civic relations.

“This community, consisting of residents, music industry representatives, and clubs, came together and resolved years-long disputes about how everybody can exist in peace and in a way that maximizes quality of life for the entire community,” he said. “That’s what good neighbors do. In this instance, the outside interference from the legislature would be misguided, misdirected, not welcome, and not appropriate.”

The legislation in question, filed by Cody Harris, a Republican lawmaker from Palestine, reads:

“A municipality may not adopt or enforce an ordinance that regulates the production of amplified sound from a bar or live music venue located in a residential area if the sound is produced: 1) from a loudspeaker level that does not exceed 75 decibels; and 2) at any time between the hours of 10am and 2am.”

Adler pointed out that the proposal amended the volume threshold to 85dB instead of 75dB, though the latest text online doesn’t yet reflect that clarification.

Restrictions would apply to “certain municipalities,” specifically those “with a population of 750,000 or more that is primarily located in a county with a population of 1.5 million or less.” A hearing for the bill in the House Committee on Culture, Recreation, and Tourism on March 29 clearly targeted Austin. The bill’s one-size-fits-all rule flies in the face of the state capital’s nuanced approach to sound mitigation, in which entertainment districts and residential areas maintain different decibel and time standards, bars must obtain outdoor sound permits, and most related issues resolve through mediation.

“Going to the legislature to get a lawmaker from halfway across the state to overturn our local rules doesn’t just silence council’s voice. By extension, it also silences the voices of our constituents, the ones we’re supposed to represent.” – Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper Madison

“It’s one of the most idiotic things that’s come across my desk in a long time,” offered Don Pitts, the former Austin Music & Entertainment Division Manager who now consults with cities throughout America as president of Sound Music Cities, before the press conference.

He says Austin boasts one of the most liberal sound policies for a large municipality and notes that, during his tenure with the city, sound complaints reduced 73% through increased communication between the city, the community, and venues.

“There’s just no reason [for this bill],” Pitts continues. “The city’s doing a good job working on these issues as sound management rather than sound enforcement.”

Several parties who caught wind of the effort before it materialized into the legislation, filed by Harris and co-sponsored by fellow Republican Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, say that Austin political consulting firm HillCo Partners lobbied for the bill at the behest of a well-known local bar owner. Nakia Reynoso, musician and founder of advocacy nonprofit Austin Texas Musicians, pointed a finger at the bill’s alleged financier at Monday’s civic livestream.

“The simple fact is this: a representative who represents a city that doesn’t even have 20,000 people has been plucked out of obscurity by Bob Woody and his cronies so they could get what they want and completely screw over all of the work that’s been done by these amazing people downtown for years,” Reynoso said. “It’s taken years to get to this point and it’s completely unfair and unacceptable that someone would come in and try to regulate something that a community has worked so hard to build together.”

Reached after the livestream, Woody, who owns dozens of Austin bars and remains the board chair of the Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance, unequivocally denies being involved in the legislation’s origins.

“I’ve heard of that, but I’ve had nothing to do with it at all. [I] haven’t even been asked to be part of it or anything like that,” he said by phone Monday. “I did see a picture of a bald-headed guy who might [have sponsored the bill]. I think he’s a congressmen from Palestine, but I’ve never met him and never talked to him.”

“The suggestion that the state can come in and say [they] can regulate sound at that level is not right. [Making the decisions of] where that sound is appropriate and when that sound is appropriate is what communities do when they come together.” – Mayor Steve Adler

Woody pointed out that, upon recent calculations, he pays $260,000 to bands annually without ever charging cover, and added that he understands why there exist different rules for different parts of town in regards to amplified sound.

“If you’ve got residences and you’ve got people living in certain places, there might be different rules in those places and that’s certainly acceptable,” he says. “If Bob Woody decided to open a club out in Circle C, I’d have to live with the rules they have there. I have six clubs in West Sixth and I’m doing everything I can to not be loud so I don’t get a ticket. I’d also like to drive 100 miles an hour all the time and I’m not able to that, but I can drive 80 in certain places and 55 in the others.

“I don’t see anything wrong with doing what seems to make sense in an area.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, meanwhile, called the bill, and how it came into existence, “unfair, unjust, and unacceptable.”

“Going to the legislature to get a lawmaker from halfway across the state to overturn our local rules doesn’t just silence council’s voice,” she argued. “By extension, it also silences the voices of our constituents, the ones we’re supposed to represent.”

Throughout the press conference, a series of brief speeches sounded a similar refrain – that the state seeks to interfere with ongoing local work achieved through community dialog – and urged lawmakers to vote the bill down. Composer Graham Reynolds offered a very practical view of community relations in terms of music volume.

“I love loud music,” he affirmed. “I’ve been making loud music my whole life and it’s made me realize, ever since I was 5 years old, that it requires personal, local, conversation, negotiation, and compromise that works for everyone, because I want to make music all the time and everybody else wants to sleep. We’ve had that challenging conversation as a community locally.

“This is a conversation that belongs here and not at the state level.”

To illustrate what 85dB sounds like, the PA system at 3ten ACL Live played AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” Adler then returned to the microphone:

“The suggestion that the state can come in and say [they] can regulate sound at that level is not right. [Making the decisions of] where that sound is appropriate and when that sound is appropriate is what communities do when they come together. That’s what we did in this city and that’s what we’re fighting for.”

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