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Santa Monica’s Noise Ordinance Altered to Accommodate Free Speech Concerns  

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

April 3, 2017 -- Loud protests outside the Shore Hotel can continue starting as early as 7 a.m. without fear of police interference following the Santa Monica City Council’s passage of an amendment to the noise ordinance last Tuesday.

The amendment exempts “non-commercial activity on outdoor public property” from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Noise affecting permanent residents, hospitals and schools is not included in the exemption.

Although the Shore Hotel is not mentioned in the amendment and it was not included in most of the public comment and council discussion on this item, it is common knowledge that protests there triggered the change.

The hotel workers union UNITE Here Local 11 demanded the exemption last year so that it could continue leading protests outside the non-unionized hotel.

And most council members accepted the request despite City’s staff’s recommendation against it (“Free Speech and Noise Regulation Collide in Santa Monica,” April 13, 2016).

But in a scenario that some might find odd, no public speakers who urged the council to approve the amendment at the March 7 meeting (the amendment was introduced that day, with the formal approval coming last Tuesday) mentioned the Shore Hotel.

Comments focused mostly on Donald Trump and perceived injustices from his administration and a need to protest them.

Even the two major speakers against the amendment, representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Monica Neighborhood Restaurant Coalition, did not talk about the Shore Hotel.

“If a local resident, employee or visitor is walking or dining anywhere outdoors, don’t they deserve to be protected from excessive noise? We think so,” said Hunter Hall from the restaurant coalition.

He continued, “Do we want to earn the reputation as a city that cannot control the quality of enjoyment of citizens and tourists? We also don’t think so.”

The only person to mention the conflict between the Shore Hotel and the union was Mike Gruning, who sits on the chamber board and once served as its chair.

He said the council should not pass the amendment because it would legalize noise problems for residences (although the amendment language says that's not the case) and “we are not a city of masochists.”

Gruning told the council, “I encourage you to vote for the benefit of your constituents, ie the residents of Santa Monica and not for transparently self-serving entity, ie the union.”

Councilmember Gleam Davis looked at the amendment differently than the opposition speakers, saying she saw it “more as a clarification over the existing law as opposed to really extending some new rights” and “sort of a recognition that we do need to acknowledge the need for free speech.”

She added, “Sometimes we need to accept that the First Amendment can be messy. It can lead to annoying situations [and] conflict. But unless true public safety is concerned, I think we have to be cognizant of the fact that the First Amendment doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists right outside our door.”

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