Petition circulating for stricter vehicle noise enforcement in Malibu

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Fines currently exist for excessive noise, but a Malibu resident wants strict enforcement to reduce “ear-splitting” noise on PCH. The greatest offenders are motorcycles without mufflers.

Heidi Manteuffel/Special to The Malibu Times

Frustrated and tired of excessive noise on Pacific Coast Highway, a Malibu resident is filing a petition with the city for stricter vehicle noise enforcement in Malibu. If the city is able to convince the local Sheriff’s Station to do so, it could affect many motorcyclists, including rider Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dennis Torres of Pepperdine University’s Real Estate Operations argues that existing $10-$142 fines should be more strictly enforced since “ear-splitting” vehicle noise is found to increases blood pressure, fatigue and stress.

Torres said, in his 16 years as a Malibu resident, the noise issue here has become increasingly worse. “It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even sit outside at Trancas Starbucks and carry on a full conversation without shouting over the packs of motorcyclists as they roar on up the coast,” he said.

Torres is referring to the many motorcycle groups that make their weekend run from Los Angeles to Malibu and Ventura. They often travel in groups of no less than 30 bikes at a time, one including the California governor himself.

Schwarzenegger, who for 20 years, as reported in the Los Angeles Times by Charles LeDuff, has taken Sunday rides from Pacific Palisades into Malibu Canyon, and is guilty of driving one of these “loud bikes,” Torres said.

Torres does not have a problem with the motorcyclists as much as he does with the lack of mufflers on their bikes. Torres said motorcyclists purposefully and illegally take the mufflers off their bikes to get a macho, “ear piercing” sound. The noise may be enjoyable to the rider, he said, but comes at the great price of disturbing residents who live along PCH, as well as businesses and beachgoers.

Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s liaison Lt. Gloria Gressman said the complaints about vehicle noise in the past year in Malibu are increasing. She’s beginning to hear more about motorcycle noise on PCH, especially on the weekends, and expects the summer months to be much worse.

Part of the reason Torres believes that fines have failed to be imposed is that there’s no way to monitor noise levels vehicles emit without some sort of quantitative analysis, meaning the operation of a decibel meter.

“The Sheriff said it is difficult to enforce the noise ordinance because you need a decibel meter,” Torres said. “I say buy one. It will more than pay for itself in citation revenue.”

Gressman said this was an offhand comment given to Torres that has gotten out of hand. What the Sheriff’s Department currently issues is a modified exhaust citation. Deputies can simply tell by both the loud noise and by looking at the bike’s exhaust who the citation offenders are.

According to Vehicle Code 27150, the current fine for a modified exhaust (no muffler) is primarily a $10 dollar “fix-it” ticket. The offender takes their motorcycle or car to the Sheriff’s Station and proves they had the muffler and/or other noise issue fixed. If the offender cannot fix the bike or vehicle, they then would receive a $142 ticket. Excessive noise is fined $115. Gressman said that motorcycles are the greatest offenders of the vehicle code.

Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern said the issue of noise came up only once in his two years on the council. “The subject we debated was trying to gauge what the noise level was,” he said. “In comparison to other issues going on in Malibu, it wasn’t a big deal, and I think we referred it.” The Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff Station also commented that noise issues are not a high priority on its list, and that they heard little to nothing from Malibu residents on the matter.

But Torres’ argument is this: just because we don’t hear about noise problems on an everyday basis doesn’t make it any less of a concern. “It’s similar to a family living near LAX,” Torres said. “They may get accustomed to planes flying over and learn to block out the noise, but that doesn’t stop it from adversely affecting their health.”

Torres cites an article “Honk if You Love Quiet,” which appeared April 22 in the Los Angeles Times. Writer Ralph Vartabedian wrote that, “medical studies show that noise below levels that damage hearing can increase blood pressure, fatigue and stress. Researchers have found that traffic noise near schools (also) interferes with learning.”

Not only this, but Vartabedian wrote that in a 1999 census report, noise was found to be the leading reason people move from their current residence.

Torres suggested that Malibu post a sign at the entrances of the city to warn motorists that Malibu strictly enforces California motor vehicles codes. The hope is that offenders will either adhere to the now enforced laws, be fined, or find an alternative route around Malibu.

Torres is still collecting petitions and has made no decision yet as to when he will bring it to the council.