If you think you have a problem with the occasional noise of firecrackers or fiestas, pity the poor souls who live next door to one of those cantinas or salones de eventos from which a window-shaking barrage of ear-splitting music blasts away all night long.
After putting up with such situations for years, victims of noise aggression in Guadalajara eventually got together and started an organization called Cruzada contra el Ruido (the Crusade against Noise). With the assistance of lawyer Alberto García Ruvalcaba and congressman Augusto Valencia, changes to Jalisco’s pertinent laws were approved last August. The maximum number of decibels now permitted in a residential area is 55 by day (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and 50 by night. In an industrial area it’s 68 by day and 65 by night. By way of comparison, you could say that 50 decibels represent the sound made by a refrigerator, a water faucet or the noise level of a quiet library.
Because it takes time for laws to go into effect, I called Alberto García Ruvalcaba to get an idea when we might begin to see some good results from the new Ley Antiruido.
“This legislation was approved in August of last year,” García told me, “but it won’t take effect until this coming April. This is because the municipalities are given 180 days to modify their regulations to accommodate the new law. However, I should point out that the simple introduction of these changes has already created an awareness in the business community that noise is a problem, that it is an issue which must be considered. This alone is a win as far as we are concerned. So, we can expect to see doors opening in the future and it should be easier to register complaints and correct abuses.”
I asked García if there is a smartphone app he would recommend for measuring decibels. He told me the most accurate app he knows of is the one developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). “The NIOSH Sound Level Meter (SLM)is very accurate, has no advertisements of any kind and it’s free.”
Unfortunately, at the moment the NIOSH SLM is only available for Apple devices. This is because microphone specifications are the same for all Apple products but vary among Android phones. Owners of Android phones might want to download the Decibel X app, which is also free and said to be “carefully tested and calibrated for most devices.” This one, however, does come with ads. As for where to measure offending noise, García told me, “You can measure it from as close as you can legally get.” So you can’t measure offensive noise from inside your neighbor’s back yard (without his permission) but you can do it from right outside his gate.
By the end of March 2019, all municipalities should have specialized patrols set up to help curb excessive noise, and certain establishments will be obliged by law to install publicly visible decibel meters which their customers can consult to find out whether the establishment is breaking the law. To impress upon noise makers the seriousness of these issues, fines as high as 40,300 pesos can be imposed for each infraction. If the offender doesn’t pay the fine, it will automatically be added to the predial or property tax on the land where the private home or business establishment is located. On top of that, the offender can expect to be thrown in jail for three days.
“In addition to all this,” García went on, “we are creating a platform called SIMON which is a system of legally and correctly calibrated microphones installed on the premises of volunteers living close to noisy establishments. The decibel levels registered by these sound level meters are transmitted twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to the SIMON website (simon.eruido.org). At the moment, we have 13 microphones operating in Guadalajara and everything is recorded for future consultation.”
I opened the SIMON page and found a map of Guadalajara with little circles representing the monitoring stations. I clicked one, located at a church near the corner of Federalismo and San Felipe, and found the average noise level there, at that very moment, was 71 decibels. Clicking on the circle, a real-time graph appeared and, if I wanted, I could move back in time and see a record of the noise level at any time in the past. I scrolled left to the previous night’s readings and saw that between midnight and 5 a.m. the neighborhood was nicely quiet at 50 decibels. If a hotel located across the street had held a wild party last night, it would have shown up like a sore thumb, and I could have shown it to the police to back up my complaint about the noisy fiesta.
“This is what it’s about,” commented Alberto García. “SIMON is meant to be a substitute for noise inspectors. It will be as if the bars or nightclubs have an inspector outside the door 24 hours a day. We want to convince the municipalities that this will be a practical and inexpensive way to assure that the laws are being respected and noise levels are being controlled. We hope the number of microphones will reach 100 or 200 in the future and will serve as a permanent and incorruptible monitoring system, and far more economical than paying the salaries of hundreds of inspectors.”
It appeared to me that Cruzada contra el Ruido is doing an admirable job trying to turn around long-established traditions favoring unlimited noise-making by the mindless few at the expense of everyone else. “What can people do to help this noble cause?” I asked García.
“Start complaining,” he told me, “and keep on complaining. Complain via Twitter, if you know how. Make videos showing the problem and put them on our website. Keep the pressure on the authorities to give priority to the noise problem. Your home is a sacred place and it should be a place of peace.”
If I may add a word of advice, I suggest you take the time and make the effort to go talk to that noise-making neighbor or bar owner, but never in an angry or arrogant way. Point out the harm that is being done not only to you, but to all the other neighbors (and name them all!). Raising awareness is the lever that brings about change for the better.
Put your noise-abuse videos on the Crusade’s web page, cruzadacontraelruido.org, where you will find plenty of information, and don’t forget to take a peek at simon.eruido.org. You can ask questions via their Facebook page “Cruzada contra el ruido.” Get on Twitter, complain and include links such as @CruzadaVsRuido, @policiazapopan and @policiaGDL in your gripe.
Let them know you’re alive!