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Tampa's efforts to curb noise wait on challenges to state law

TAMPA — A court ruling that overturned Florida's ban on booming car stereos is expected to force Tampa officials to wait before trying to curb their own growing noise problem.

That's because the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which ruled the state law unconstitutional, sent the case to the Florida Supreme Court for further review.

And that means the city, which has been talking about adding a section to its own noise ordinance, needs more clarity before it acts.

"We're going to have to make some decisions," City Attorney Jim Shimberg Jr. said. "But right now we probably would plan just to wait and see how the Supreme Court rules on it."

The state's law banned drivers from blasting stereos so that the sound was "plainly audible" at a distance of 25 feet or more.

Earlier this month, the appeals court threw out a citation against St. Petersburg lawyer Richard Catalano, who got a $73.50 ticket in 2007 for blasting Justin Timberlake from his Infiniti G35.

Judges wrote that the state's law is unconstitutional because it singled out loud car stereos while specifically exempting vehicles with loudspeakers being used for business or political purposes.

For example, Judge Anthony K. Black wrote, someone sitting in a business vehicle could listen to political talk radio "clearly audible from a quarter mile," but someone sitting in his or her own car one space over could get a ticket for playing loud music or religious programming.

Judges also sent the case to the state Supreme Court to determine whether the phrase "plainly audible" is unconstitutionally vague, overbroad or arbitrary.

For now, that doesn't help residents who are swamping City Hall with complaints about noisy vehicles in east Tampa, obnoxious bar patrons in the Channel District and bullhorn-toting religious zealots in Ybor City.

"It's a big issue," said City Council member Frank Reddick, whose east Tampa district includes many of the neighborhoods pleading for help. "I hear about it all the time."

Council member Mike Suarez recently asked the City Attorney's Office whether the city could base noise restrictions of its own on a standard using the state's "plainly audible" language.

"I'm trying to find some common-sense way that we can regulate noise without being unconstitutional," Suarez said.

Tampa officials say the city's existing noise ordinance is good for limiting noise from nonmoving sources such as construction sites. But it's not as effective at addressing noise coming from something on a public street, like a car with booming speakers.

In response, Tampa officials have considered basing a new ordinance on a city of Miami ordinance that limits unreasonably loud noise. Miami's ordinance presumes that someone has violated the local law if their noise is plainly audible at a certain number of feet from the source.

City officials had been watching for a ruling on Catalano's challenge to the state law before proposing anything based on Miami's ordinance.

"We were waiting for this case to be resolved, and now it's still not resolved," Shimberg said.

So for the time being, authorities will have to turn to other methods to get drivers to turn down the volume.

In the most extreme cases, when a car is equipped with after-market amplification gear and big speakers, officers could charge a driver blasting a loud stereo with a breach of the peace or disorderly conduct, Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said. But she added that charge requires the citizen-victim being willing to testify that the noise was beyond unreasonable and interfered with normal activities.

In less egregious cases, officials hope moral suasion will help.

In response to residents' complaints, officials had put up a sign on E Sligh Avenue warning drivers they could get a ticket if their loud music could be heard 25 feet away.

But soon after the court decision, officials changed the sign's message, Davis said.

It now says, "Be kind to your neighbor. Turn your music down."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa's efforts to curb noise wait on challenges to state law 05/13/11 [Last modified: Sunday, May 22, 2011 10:39pm]
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