TAMPA — Blast your car stereo in the city of Tampa and you could soon be fined $250 or more.
The City Council on Thursday approved a new, tougher noise ordinance giving police the authority to cite drivers whose stereos are plainly audible 50 feet away.
If it wins final approval June 6, the ordinance would make a first offense a $250 civil infraction and a second offense a $450 infraction. Three or more violations could bring up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The vote came after two years of complaints from East Tampa homeowners who say thundering car stereos rattle their windows, ruin their sleep and disrupt their Sunday worship.
"The music is unbearable," said Essie Sims Jr., chairman of the East Tampa Partnership, an association of more than a dozen neighborhood groups.
Brenda Mobley said her church is next to a four-way stop, and "during the church service, you hear this nasty language that comes from these cars."
"They're not respectful even of a church, and I'm asking that you do something," said Mobley, the secretary of the Eastern Heights Neighborhood Association and Crime Watch.
Police and council members have been sympathetic, but initiatives to tighten Tampa's noise ordinance were stymied while a controversial car stereo case worked its way to the Florida Supreme Court. In December, justices declared the state's ban on loud stereos unconstitutional because it prohibited loud music while allowing drivers to broadcast amplified political and commercial speech. This spring, the Legislature considered a bill to address the flaw in the state law, but the measure didn't pass.
Meanwhile, the problem continued. Citywide, police received 3,220 noise complaints during the six months from Nov. 15 through Wednesday.
"They're calling my office continuously regarding the noise," police Maj. Diane Hobley-Burney told the council.
City attorneys had recommended making the new ordinance's restrictions enforceable from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. during the work week and from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. on weekends, but council members, after hearing from residents and police, decided to give officers the authority to write tickets around the clock.
"It has been really 24-7," said Betty Bell, 72, who lives in the Highland Pines neighborhood. "I have spoken to several seniors who could not be here today but who asked me, 'Please say something, because at night when I'm trying to sleep my head is bouncing off the pillow.' "
Council member Lisa Montelione cast the only vote against the ordinance. She said she supported it, but objected to incarcerating repeat offenders.
"Jail time is going to put a lot of young people behind bars who are going to get records and who are not going to be able to get jobs," she said.
Better, Montelione said, would be to impound the cars of the offenders.
But she was alone on that.
"The only way this ordinance is going to work is if the penalties attached to it are steep enough to keep people from repeatedly violating it," council member Harry Cohen said. "There is absolutely no excuse for repeatedly blaring your car stereo so loud that people cannot sleep. It's not something that you should have one, two, three, four warnings before we do anything with any teeth in it."
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.