Under the amendment, Seattle police could issue an infraction to the driver of a vehicle they can hear from 75 feet away.
Crowds soaking in the sun, kids playing in the sand and the roaring sound of engines. It’s a common scene along Alki Beach on a sultry summer evening, but not everyone is happy about the noise.
“It’s difficult for us. We used to be a garage, so if someone passes by with a loud car or motorcycle, it interrupts our service with the guest,” said Billy Lake, general manager of Blue Moon Burgers, one of the many businesses lining Alki Avenue Southwest with outdoor seating.
Lake isn’t alone. Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who represents the area, conducted a public safety and health survey a year ago and found the biggest concern among respondents was the excessive noise coming from cars with modified mufflers.
The loud noise hasn’t been an issue for Spud Fish & Chips, according to manager Shannon Hastings.
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“If it does affect us, it’s in a positive way — the more cars there is the better,” she said Friday.
But Hastings doesn’t just work on Alki, she lives there. As a resident, her views on noise are different.
“I kind of do mind the noise,” she said. “I understand it being a valid concern.”
Noise from cars within Seattle city limits can’t exceed 95 decibels, according to the existing Municipal Code. That’s roughly the sound of a lawn mower.
In order to measure the sound from car exhausts, police would have to use noise meters to enforce the noise limit. Assistant Police Chief Steve Wilske told a Seattle City Council committee meeting on June 13 that isn’t practical and officers don’t carry noise meters anyway.
As a result, Herbold sponsored an amendment to the noise ordinance that would make it easier for police officers to cite people with excessively loud exhausts on cars and motorcycles. Under the amendment, officers would only have to hear the car from 75 feet away to issue an infraction. The 75-foot rule is already used to cite noise from sound systems.
The measure passed 8-1. Mayor Jenny Durkan still has to sign the amendment into law.
A citation would cost a violator $136. Police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said the department doesn’t plan on issuing citations until midsummer, after they’ve undergone a period of public education.
Some car enthusiasts aren’t so sure the amendment makes much sense.
“I don’t know what vehicle you wouldn’t be able to hear at that distance,” said Christopher Goodwin who runs Christopher Goodwin Motorsport, an auto shop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
He’s been working on cars for the past 35 years and also drives motorcycles.
“In order for a law to be just, it needs to be enforced uniformly,” he said. “If they were to enforce this uniformly, they would have to cite every garbage truck, Metro bus, street sweeper, or motorcycle.”
Chris DeLong, who owns Fine Tuning in Seattle, does exhaust modifications on cars that increases the decibel level. He has been involved in numerous discussions about the new ordinance.
“Obviously people cruise there, that’s what people do,” DeLong said of Alki Beach.
Goodwin and DeLong both said they worried the amendment could be used by police to potentially target certain crowds.
“There’s no legal definition of someone with normal hearing,” said DeLong. “Who’s the police officer walking around with a 75-foot tape measure?”
Members of the Facebook group Seattle Cars & Coffee, which has more than 7,000 members, wrote on their forum that the amendment was unfairly targeting people with modified cars.
Chris Perrott drives a Nissan GTR and a Subaru STI. He said that the exhaust on the GTR has been modified and is louder than a stock vehicle.
“So, if my car looks loud I can get a subjective ticket,” he wrote on Facebook.
At a council committee briefing on June 18, Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Theresa Mosqueda also brought up concerns about who the enforcement could target.
“Councilmember Gonzalez and I both noted concerns around the impact for the desire to see race and ethnicity data on who is unintentionally affected by this issue,” Mosqueda said.
She added that in her experience as a Chicana there are cultural activities surrounding low riders and car events and she wouldn’t want this law to be disproportionately implemented.
Wilske, during the earlier council committee meeting, acknowledged the amendment could effect younger demographics, but the goal isn’t to issue as many citations as possible.
“With any new law, this is going to effect a lot of our younger folks,” he said, adding, “we’d want to do some very intense education … to get people to get their vehicles in compliance and understand the impact they’re having on their neighborhood when they’re down hanging out at Alki.”