New city-wide noise ordinance goes into effect

Council meeting disrupted by racist, bigoted calls during public hearing

A new noise ordinance is in effect in the City of Sequim, but its adoption came with some vulgar noise of its own.

City councilors were jolted by three calls with offensive remarks during the ordinance’s public hearing on June 10.

It’s the second occurrence at a council meeting following a November 2023 meeting where callers in the public comment section used hate speech before then-Mayor Tom Ferrell closed the public hearing.

Current Mayor Brandon Janisse, verbally aghast at the comments, closed the public hearing on June 10 after callers who appeared to give false names and addresses said racist and bigoted phrases. Janisse stopped the callers from speaking each time and then recessed the meeting for five minutes.

He returned to share a statement: “we firmly believe in fostering a safe and inclusive environment where hate speech has no place … Our commitment to provide respect and dignity for all remains unwavering and we do condone such behaviors that undermines these values.”

Janisse said he wants staff to look into ways to prevent incidents like this in the future, such as screening calls.

“We are not the only jurisdiction having to endure this,” city attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross said.

She said city staff can reach out to other jurisdictions about how they’re working to deter it.

News outlets statewide have reported on similar occurrences happening at other municipalities’ meetings.

Councilor Vicki Lowe said in an interview it’s a difficult situation because they don’t want to give hate speech a platform, but they also don’t want to deter people from coming to talk to them.

“When people come to our faces, it’s a little harder to act like that,” she said.

She said having the ability to call in is equitable to residents who may not be able to attend in-person, but it’s also being abused. Lowe encouraged residents to email councilors or write letters with questions or concerns if they cannot attend meetings.

Councilor Kathy Downer said at the June 10 meeting “this council is looking forward to reading a Pride Month proclamation (on June 24).”

Noise ordinance

Following the hate speech incidents, councilors approved the updated noise ordinance code (Sequim Municipal Code 8.32) in a 6-0 vote with councilor Harmony Rutter excused.

Nelson-Gross said the code clarifies multiple public concerns from previous meetings, such as that any city resident, including renters, can file a noise complaint.

The city had been operating without a noise ordinance in the Municipal Code for 10-plus years, Police Chief Mike Hill previously said, and officers have been referring to specific court cases and the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington (MRSC) for guidance and recommendations.

Deputy Police Chief John Southard said the new code is more subjective, and they won’t be using a noise meter for enforcement.

“We always seek voluntary compliance,” he said in an interview. “That resolves a majority of all issues.”

If a situation escalates or a person does not continually comply, Southard said officers could issue a civil infraction ($250 per offense), and if it rises further, the situation could be declared a public nuisance.

However, he said during his career in Sequim, he’s never heard of it going that far.

“Most people are reasonable,” he said. “The unreasonable people can be fined.”

According to the new code, if a noise arises to a public nuisance, “the city may rely on a subjective standard based on a rebuttable presumption that certain sounds at certain times of the day constitute a violation impacting the peace, comfort, or repose of the public. The noise must affect the rights of an entire neighborhood or community before enforcement under this subsection may be considered.”

Those rising to a nuisance level hold a right to appeal under the code.

During the public hearing, a few Sequim residents shared concerns for loud dogs, vehicle traffic and music.

One woman said there is sporadic destructive noise in her neighborhood with short loud bursts of music “multiple times throughout the day making it difficult to find relief.”

She played a short clip of loud music that she said was from 100 feet away, and she also expressed concern about the code’s 20-minute threshold for violating the ordinance.

According to the ordinance, “to be considered a violation, the noise must last at least 20 minutes and occur within the same area and adversely affect two or more property owners or residents (but) the noise does not need to be constant to meet this criteria.”

Eric Miller, the woman’s neighbor, said, “The problem is, if you can’t feel it, it ain’t music. That’s my opinion.

“Now, whether it bothered her, all she has to do is call me up.

“She had her sister from Hawaii on her phone call me up. Why doesn’t the neighbor just come over and say turn your s—- down. That’s all that has to happen. Close your windows.

“My garage doors were open. I was having a good time. Is that still legal in America? I hope so.”

Nelson-Gross said that the ordinance does not require two people to call the police for an incident to be investigated as officers will speak with adjacent neighbors too.

Violations, exemptions

Maximum permissible noise levels are described as negatively impacting “Peace, comfort, and repose,” “a subjective standard as viewed through the lens of a reasonable person with reasonable sensibilities,” according to the code.

Some noises that could exceed permissible noise levels, include:

• audio equipment heard from 50 or more feet from its source

• sounds from a building/property that can be heard from 50 or more feet away, such as sounds from musical instruments, audio sound systems, band sessions, or social gatherings

• frequent, repetitive, or continuous noise made by any animal

• a horn or siren attached to a motor vehicle

• motor vehicles that have frequent, repetitive or continuous noise from starting, operating, repairing, rebuilding, or testing

• yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling, or singing in or near public streets between 10 p.m.-7 a.m.

Some of exempt noises from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. include temporary commercial/residential construction; power equipment used for maintenance/repair and utility services; and, bells/chimes not operating for more than five minutes in an hour.

A few exempt noises include first responders’ alarms/sirens and tsunami sirens, highway maintenance equipment and utility maintenance.

Read the ordinance here .