Malibu residents fed up with road thunder

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A committee is formed to try and put an end to excessively loud motorcycles in the area.

By Troy Dove / Special to The Malibu Times

With its scenic coast and winding canyon roads, Malibu has become a motorcycle enthusiast’s dream. But while this may be a paradise for motorcycle riders, it has proven to be a nightmare for residents.

Many of the motorcyclists driving through the area have taken advantage of the lack of muffler restrictions within the state to modify their bike’s exhaust to “ear-splitting” levels, said Dennis Torres, Malibu resident and senior real estate officer at Pepperdine University.

Last year, Torres wrote a letter to The Malibu Times regarding the environmental noise pollution caused by the hundreds of excessively loud muffler-less motorcycles that frequent Malibu during the warm summer months, especially on weekends.

The letter generated such a response from local residents that Torres began a motorcycle noise committee to combat the problem.

“The first thing we discovered,” Torres said, “is that there’s no practical way to measure noise when it comes to enforcing a law.”

Torres said decibel meters couldn’t be used to enforce noise laws in California because of the way the statutes are written.

“There’s too many restrictions,” Torres said. “The motorcycle has to be at so many rpm’s, so many feet from the center of the road, the instruments have to be calibrated, it’s just not going to happen.”

In California there is no law regarding motorcycle mufflers. Therefore, a motorcycle’s exhaust can be as loud as the rider wishes to make it.

“It’s interesting,” said Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Ken Kearsley, who is also a motorcycle noise committee member, “there’s a law on the books for motorcycle noise off road, but not for motorcycle noise on the road.”

Kearsley said after-market motorcycle part manufacturers lobbied the state to throw out the state law pertaining to muffler restrictions on street motorcycles. However, the state does have a law that covers general noise violations, which local law enforcement officials can use to cite riders of excessively loud bikes.

Officers can currently cite individuals based on section 27150 of the vehicle code, which pertains to general noise violations, said committee member Traffic Sgt. Phil Brooks of the Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff’s Station. But, he said, they only plan to target the “really obnoxiously loud” bikes.

“The problem with the enforcement,” Brooks said, “is that there is a lack of personnel out there. Malibu, being a small city, just can’t afford to properly enforce [the roads].”

Committee members have discussed perhaps hiring additional motorcycle officers to help during the busiest months of the summer and hopes the county might share in the cost of these additional officers.

“We [the city] only go up a mile into the canyons,” Kearsley said. “Then you go into the county, so it has to be a joint effort between the city and county,” to combat the noise problem.

The committee hopes to launch a “Ride Quiet” campaign, Torres said, that will focus on just the noise problem. The ordinance that the committee hopes to pass will specifically target motorcycle noise, so it won’t be as general as the current law. In addition, the ordinance will focus on the behavior that causes the loud noise rather than on the noise itself.

“The ordinance will cite you for gunning the motor,” Torres explained, “not the noise that it produced.”

The proposed Malibu ordinance will be similar to those in Portland, Maine and Daytona Beach, Fla., where both cities passed behavioral ordinances in response to residential complaints of loud noise from motorcycles.

The committee members said they hope that since this targets behavior and not the volume of the noise, the ordinance will be easier to enforce.

The committee stresses that they are not “going after” motorcyclists, just the noise.

“We’re not against motorcycles, nobody’s against the motorcycles,” Kearsley said, “it’s just the peace and quite of a residential neighborhood [that we’re concerned about.]”

Torres said that with the exception of one member of the committee, everyone is a motorcycle rider and enthusiast so they are sensitive to the concerns of other motorcyclists.

“We like you [bikers] here, we’re happy you’re here,” Torres said. “Just please be quiet as you go through our canyons and streets.”

For now, the committee has done all it can with the ordinance, Torres said. It’s up to the citizens of Malibu to express to the City Council that “they want this to be a priority” in order for the process to move ahead, he said.

Opinions or support about the proposed ordinance can be sent to Dennis Torres at Dennis@DennisTorres.com