The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved revisions to the county’s Noise Ordinance which are intended to help clarify regulations, improve comprehension, and upgrade enforcement components.
The supervisors’ 4-0 vote November 19, with Ron Roberts absent, updates the ordinance to clarify noise level limits in specific plan areas, clarify construction noise limits, add a new methodology for short-term noises exceeding ordinance limits, and introduce standards for impulsive noise and off-road vehicles.
“We’re putting in place a better way to enforce what we’ve had on the books,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what we have now and time will tell if we need to make some additional changes.”
The revisions to the Noise Ordinance also reflect the 2003 adoption of the Fallbrook Revitalization Plan which includes zoning specific to the Fallbrook Village area.
One-hour average sound level limits have been added for the new V1, V2, V3, V4, and V5 zoning classifications.
The new restrictions on off-road vehicles stemmed from complaints about off-road vehicle noise.
While the singling out of off-road vehicles drew objections, the 82 decibel daytime limit allows an off-road motorcycle or all-terrain vehicle meeting recent manufacturing standards and not modified to be in compliance if it is at least 50 feet away from a property line.
The ordinance limits the maximum noise for off-road vehicles to 82 decibels between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The Code of Federal Regulations requires that any off-road motorcycle manufactured after January 1, 1986, shall not exceed 82 decibels when measured by the Federal “pass-by” test for motorcycles.
The California Vehicle Code also limits any off-highway vehicle manufactured after January 1, 1986, to 82 decibels.
County Department of Planning and Land Use planning manager Joe Farace noted that the standards allow for responsible off-road vehicle use on private property.
“It still provides an additional enforcement tool and added protection to county residents,” he said.
The noise limit is at the property line. “It’s a de facto setback,” Farace said.
The noise limit for off-road vehicles was set at 77 decibels between 7 and 10 p.m. and 55 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Farace noted that the lower noise levels would allow for evening and early morning riding with an increased setback.
“In the middle of the night there would be a more restrictive requirement,” he said.
“There should not be a problem with the off-road vehicles,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “Only if people modify them and make them noisier would they not be allowed.”
The ordinance also adds new language which defines an off-road recreational vehicle as a motor vehicle being operated other than on a public or private roadway regardless of whether the vehicle was designed or intended for off-road use.
Such vehicles include but are not limited to motorcycles, go-carts, campers, dune buggies, all-terrain vehicles, racecars, automobiles, sport utility vehicles, pick-up trucks, or other trucks.
Agricultural vehicles are not considered to be off-road vehicles.
While Meg Grossglass of the Off-Road Business Association was supportive of the 82 decibel limit, she expressed concerns about the singling out of off-road users and the broad definition of a potentially offending vehicle.
Farace and Department of Planning and Land Use noise enforcement officer John Bennett noted that while off-road vehicle complaints accounted for less than ten percent of all noise complaints, they still ranked among the most frequent causes.
An overwhelming majority of noise complaints involve barking dogs. Machine noise, off-road vehicles, and rooster crowing occupy the next three positions, although their order varies between reporting periods.
A minor amendment to the ordinance regarding animal noise changes the requirement for prima facie evidence of the violation.
While a written affirmation from two people in separate residences is still required, the previous ordinance stipulated a statement that an animal disturbs the peace and quiet of those neighbors while the new language requires that the animal has caused frequent or long continued noise which has caused the neighbors annoyance or discomfort.
An exemption is provided for animal hospitals, humane societies, pounds, and farms or other agricultural facilities.
The leading causes of complaints surprised Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. “I would say car alarms would be No. 1,” she said.
Although the wording of the section on burglar alarms, which covers both building alarms and motor vehicle alarms, was simplified, the ordinance changes did not alter the provisions of an automatic cutoff within 15 minutes after activation or the ability of law enforcement to deactivate an alarm prior to that 15-minute limit.
In addition to the off-road vehicle noise restrictions, the addition of an instantaneous measurement methodology into the ordinance allows the county to capture short-duration events or episodes of high intensity which cannot be adequately sampled by a one-hour average.
The new sound levels for impulsive noise are 82 decibels where properties are zoned for residential, village zoning, or civic use and 85 decibels in agricultural, commercial, or industrial areas.
Because public road projects benefit an entire community and often move in a linear fashion while private construction projects usually impact a single site for a longer period of time, higher limits of 85 decibels in residential, village, or civic zones and 90 decibels in agricultural, commercial, or industrial zones are allowed for public road projects.
The section includes an exemption for emergency work. An average limit of 75 decibels for an eight-hour period also applies.
Other than emergency work, construction equipment operations are limited to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and are prohibited on Sundays or specified holidays, although a person performing non-commercial construction on his own residence can operate such equipment between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays and holidays.
Because the prohibition against nighttime construction work is a county ordinance, it applies only to property under County of San Diego jurisdiction and not to California Department of Transportation right-of-way.
A variance for non-emergency roadwork at night by the county can be obtained with findings that the activity cannot be feasibly performed during daytime hours.
County permits providing a variance can also be issued for sporting, entertainment, or public events.
Exemptions also include noise reasonably related to authorized school band, athletic, and entertainment activities.
The reasonable testing of an emergency generator between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. is also exempt.
“In an emergency situation they’re needed, and I really appreciate that exemption,” Jacob said.
The general one-hour average sound limits between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. are 50 decibels for properties with RS, RD, RR, and RMH residential zoning, A70 and A72 agricultural zoning, S80 open space zoning, S87 limited control zoning, S90 holding area zoning, and S92 general rural zoning.
Properties with RV and RU residential zoning have a limit of 50 decibels during those hours if the density is less than 11 dwelling units per acre and a limit of 55 decibels if the density meets or exceeds 11 dwelling units per acre.
Property with RRO, RC or RM residential zoning, S86 parking zoning, and V5 zoning in the Fallbrook Village area is subject to a one-hour average maximum of 55 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
All commercial zones, S94 transportation and utility corridor zones, and Fallbrook V4 zones have a one-hour average limit of 60 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Fallbrook’s V3 zone has a one-hour average maximum of 70 decibels during those hours.
Between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. the one-hour average maximum is 45 decibels in RS, RD, RR, RMH, A70, A72, S80, S87, and S92 zones and for RV and RU properties with a density of less than 11 dwelling units per acre, 50 decibels in RRO, RC, RM, S86, and V5 zones and in RV and RU zones with a density of at least 11 dwelling units per acre, 55 decibels in commercial, S94, and V4 zones, and 65 decibels in the V3 zone.
Fallbrook’s V1 and V2 zones have a one-hour average maximum of 60 decibels between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and 55 decibels between 7 and 10 p.m.
The limit from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. is 55 decibels in V1 areas and 50 decibels in V2 areas.
Industrial M50, M52, and M54 areas have a 70 decibel average limit for all hours.
Areas with M56 mixed industrial, M58 high-impact industrial, and S82 extractive use zoning have an average limit of 75 decibels for all hours.
Specific plan areas with S88 zoning allow for various uses within that specific plan, and the type of use determines the one-hour average limit.
The revisions do not change the limits within the interior of a multiple-family dwelling unit which can be heard within another dwelling unit.
At no time can the noise heard within another dwelling unit exceed 45 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. or 55 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and for a one-hour period the noise cannot exceed 40 decibels for one minute during the night hours or 50 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The allowable noise for a five-minute period during one hour is limited to 35 decibels for all hours.
The county’s Noise Ordinance was initially adopted in 1967, and the previous major revision was approved by the Board of Supervisors in early 1982.
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