Two prominent music advocacy groups, Austin Music People (AMP) and the Music Venue Alliance Austin (MVAA), have released strong statements asking City Council to postpone a vote on a draft proposal for a new sound ordinance that grew out of a push for new policies for music venue sound permits and an agent of change principle designed to address sound issues with new residential developments near venues. The ordinance is currently on the proposed agenda for the June 15 City Council meeting.
In letters to the Austin Music Commission, read by commission chair Gavin Garcia at the citizen group’s monthly meeting Monday, representatives for the groups said the proposed legislation released Friday overreaches the stated objectives of city staffers working on the issues.
“The proposed ordinance is not only about these two issues, but a complete repeal and rewrite of the Sound Ordinance in (city code) Chapter 9-2,” Bobby Garza, executive board chair for AMP wrote.
Garza referred to the city’s sound policy as “the ordinance that underpins the absolute health of the entire music ecosystem.” He said a repeal and replace ordinance “without the proper vetting is dangerous and has the potential for vast unintended consequences.”
In her letter, Rebecca Reynolds, an attorney who specializes in music-related issues and director of the Music Venue Alliance Austin, said the final draft proposal released last Thursday afternoon is far removed from the “four page bullet point” city staff has been presenting for the last several months.
“It’s not just an edit of certain lines of city code, it’s an overhaul of large sections, which is why it’s 21 pages long,” Reynolds said Monday evening. “That in and of itself means that there’s no way we could effectively get through it, review it, get consensus on it in time for us to get on the same page on whether or not we wanted to endorse it or not.”
Reynolds is asking to delay the vote until August. She plans to establish an informal working group with neighborhood councils and venue owners to discuss the issue over the summer.
But at the meeting, Alex Lopez, deputy director of the city’s Economic Development Department, said rewriting the city’s sound code was always part of the plan for the new policies. “We’ve tried to be very clear from the beginning that this was our intent,” she said, noting that the city has hosted over 15 stakeholder meetings on the subject.
The policies have been winding their way through city bureaucracy for the past two years, after the 2015 Austin Music Census identified pressure on music venues as a critical issue threatening the viability of Austin’s live music industry.
Lopez conceded that the policy recommendations her office was advancing might not include everything the music industry hoped for, but she said they “are a good compromised position to move the agenda forward.”
One item music advocates had pushed for, the inclusion of hotels in the policies, has been written into the final draft proposal. But members of the commission expressed concern that the policies, which would call for developers of new buildings located next to entertainment venues to sign an acknowledgement stating they understand the noise level of the environment and will build to suit, lacked any meaningful consequences.
“We’re going to have proof that they knew this,” Lopez said. “All of this is evidence the venues could use in their defense” should a residential or hotel development that built near the venue decide to sue because of the noise, she said.
“It’s progress. It’s not exactly what everybody wanted. It is a good step in the right direction to start creating the protection that some of these venues need,” she said.
The other big concern the music groups identified was the decision to take what they see as flawed policies to City Council while the city’s music office is leaderless, following the departure of department head Don Pitts earlier this year.
“We feel concerned about putting through a massive piece of policy when the music office has no leadership,” Reynolds said. “Whoever is taking that position is going to be responsible and accountable for implementing that policy and we would like to see who that person’s going to be and maybe even get their input.”
On that front, we can expect to see some movement soon. Lopez said the city has closed applications for the position and plans to start interviewing candidates within the next week or two. At the meeting the commission agreed to host a meet and greet with the top candidates at their next scheduled meeting, set for July 10.
While the commission members expressed concern about the letters from the advocacy groups, they stopped short of making a motion to recommend City Council delay the June 15 vote. Instead, they agreed to try to schedule a meeting with representatives from AMP and MVAA to discuss their reservations as soon as possible.