TAMPA — With frustrated homeowners begging for relief, the City Council voted Thursday to force drivers to turn down the volume on thundering car stereos or pay a fine.
"It is out of control just like a crack cocaine epidemic," said retired postal worker Clay Daniels, 62, one of a half-dozen east Tampa residents to ask for a ban on loud car stereos.
Three years ago, Daniels said, he walked out of the house in his pajamas to ask a young man to turn down his music at 2 a.m. In response, the man told Daniels he had spent $6,000 on his stereo and pulled a gun.
"This is wrong," Daniels said. "We've been very patient. The Police Department has been patient. The senior citizens have been patient. The churches have been patient. The City Council has been patient. It's time for us to act now."
The council's vote, which was its second and final one, was 6-0. Council member Mary Mulhern was absent.
The city's new ordinance targets drivers whose stereos are plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet. Fines are $150 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense and $450 for a third offense.
As with most other city ordinances, police can arrest or issue a notice to appear in court to violators. In those cases, the maximum penalty is up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, though more typically, offenders are ordered to pay court costs.
Police, who say they get more than 6,000 noise complaints a year citywide, say their goal isn't to use the new ordinance to put people in jail.
"Our position is to improve the quality of life for our citizens," police Maj. Diane Hobley-Burney told the council.
East Tampa residents have pleaded with the City Council for years to do something about the pounding music that robs them of sleep, startles them at stoplights and disturbs their Sunday church services.
"So many residents are complaining about the noise they have to endure," said Pastor Essie Sims Jr., chairman of the East Tampa Partnership, which represents 17 neighborhood associations. During Sunday worship this week, he said, the "windows in church were rattling because of this noise."
But a few critics said the ban is excessive and discriminatory.
Life Malcolm, 38, suggested that complaints to police came from "quite possibly a few dozen people making a few hundred phone calls, which in turn makes them more of a nuisance than the thing that we're discussing."
While virtually all of the people complaining about noise were black, Malcolm said it's "preposterous" to pretend the issue is "not about race, as if we don't know who is most commonly riding around in cars with loud music."
"But that's all we have left to enjoy," Malcolm said. "We can't walk down the street without being harassed. … The last so-called luxury we have is to ride down the street in the sanctity of our vehicles and enjoy our loud music, and because it's part of our culture you want to put the police on us."
"Really?" council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said a few minutes later in response to Malcolm's suggestion that it's mostly black drivers blasting their car stereos. "That's the most bigoted, racist remark I've heard today."
Over the past two years, Tampa officials have been sympathetic to residents' complaints, but said they couldn't move to strengthen the city's noise ordinance until a controversial car stereo case out of St. Petersburg was decided by the Florida Supreme Court.
In December, justices ruled the state's ban on loud stereos to be unconstitutional because it prohibited loud music yet allowed amplified political and commercial speech. This spring, the Legislature considered a bill to make the state's law comply with the court's decision, but it didn't pass.
"The Florida Legislature failed in their duties to get this done," said council member Frank Reddick, who says he can't go to the dry cleaners or grocery store without constituents complaining to him about the problem. "I think it's the responsibility of this council to get this done and get this done today."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, Danielson@tampabay.com or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.