The windows of a house on Jeffrey Drive are boarded up with mattress pads. The interior feels like a sauna, and the air is filled with moisture — and driving power chords.
Since San Luis Obispo’s 2010 noise ordinance was enacted, life for some students has drastically changed to avoid complaint tickets costing up to $1,000. Though some might see this as a discouragement from having parties and a hindrance to the local music scene, others see this as an opportunity to get creative.
In 2010, the San Luis Obispo noise ordinance was bolstered to crack down on the local party scene. San Luis Obispo’s Neighborhood Outreach Manager Christine Wallace said the noise policies are essential for keeping the streets serene.
“If you want to party and rage, that’s great,” Wallace said. “You probably should find a different place to do it or go camping or do something else. Find somewhere else to go, because these are the confines we’ve set up for the community we have.”
During the day and into the evening, noise must be audible 50 feet from the property line before a complaint can be filed. However, after 10 p.m., if any noise can be heard over the property line, tenants are eligible for a $350 ticket on the first offense, $700 on the second offense and $1,000 on subsequent violations.
However, noise is not the only target of these laws. The Unruly Gathering Ordinance has a similar effect on the San Luis Obispo community. An “unruly gathering” is constituted by a congregation of 20 or more people who cause a “substantial disturbance of the quiet enjoyment of public or private property in a significant segment of a neighborhood,” according to Chapter 9.13 of the San Luis Obispo Municipal Code. This can include a range of disturbances, from public drunkenness or littering on nearby properties to vandalism.
This law makes it difficult to pull off any musical performance at houses, or even at official venues in town. Despite the strict guidelines, San Luis Obispo musicians often go to great lengths to express themselves.
The Jeffrey House has caught the attention of students and neighbors alike as a cornerstone of the “DIY” or “do-it-yourself” music scene in San Luis Obispo. Frequent in-house concerts would make a house an easy target for complaints, but their creative preventative measures have kept them off the police radar. One tenant of the house, environmental management and protection junior Noah Boland, described exactly what goes into making their house shows possible.
“We have the system down solid now, but there’s not too much intelligence behind it,” Boland said. “We put the music in the middle of the house, and then we use all of our mattresses and block up the windows. We went to Poly Canyon Village and went through the dumpster to collect all the foam pads. We shove those in the windows — those are good.”
The foam pads are dense, so they serve as dampeners for noise. This keeps the band’s noise in the house and prevents any need for noise complaints. However, the pads also keep moisture in and turn the house into a muggy room, sacrificing ventilation and comfort in exchange for soundproof windows.
Boland and two of his roommates are members of the band Dudeo Perez, and together they have played many shows in the San Luis Obispo area. By now they have an understanding of the complexities of the noise laws — almost by process of elimination. After seeing what works and what does not, they now have a concise plan for hosting their own shows.
Near the end of April, Dudeo Perez performed at a show on Cuesta Ridge called “Extravaganza.” Just out of earshot from town, Cuesta Ridge has been a popular venue for San Luis Obispo’s music scene, even serving as the location for the original Shabang music festival.
Art and design sophomore Kelli Johnson, who was in charge of planning and throwing Extravaganza, described the logistics of organizing a concert in San Luis Obispo.
“The planning took a lot more than I anticipated, because I’d never put on a show before,” Johnson said. “We had to rent out a U-Haul truck and a trailer attachment and built everything on-site. We’d been planning this for like three months.”
Despite the logistical challenges of organizing an outdoor concert on a ridge with little cell service and no electricity, Johnson said she found an overwhelming amount of volunteer support from the community.
“That’s what I love about [San Luis Obispo] so much,” Johnson said. “Even though it is small, everyone really comes together.”
Although it may require some ingenuity to successfully pull off a concert and walk away without a dent in your wallet and a soiled record, Wallace said residents can avoid heartache by planning ahead.
“What party registration is helping people do is helping hosts figure out how to have a more controlled, well-planned event,” Wallace said. “They’re not having to call themselves and ask for help to get a horde of people out of their home.”
Tested in 2017 and eventually approved in mid-2018, San Luis Obispo launched a system that allowed residents to register parties in advance. Registration is completely voluntary and must be submitted a week in advance. Registration allows the San Luis Obispo Police Department to issue a 20-minute grace period after a noise complaint before any tickets are issued, which has saved residents $30,450 from potential tickets, according to Wallace. Since the implementation of this policy, noise complaints in San Luis Obispo have hit their lowest in more than two decades. Wallace said that with cooperation these policies have been substantial in easing noise problems in the neighborhoods.
“People are not pissed off,” Wallace said. “If they’re not pissed off, they’re not telling me about it. That means my neighborhoods are getting [a]long better. They may not be having barbecues and block parties, but they’re definitely figuring out a way to exist in a more manageable way.”
It has taken lots of lugging of music gear and mattress pads, but ultimately, San Luis Obispo residents are finding ways to enjoy their local concerts without bothering their neighbors.
“People in this community would do anything to be able to have events like this because it means so much to everyone,” Johnson said.