Oakland threatens to fine a church for loud music
Updated 6:13 pm, Thursday, October 15, 2015
Pastor Thomas A. Harris III of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church said he was surprised to receive a letter from the city’s nuisance abatement division on Aug. 31, saying the “excessive noise” of organ, drums and amplified vocals during the church’s weekly choir rehearsals is a nuisance to neighbors — and violates city law.
According to the letter, the church could be hit with a $3,529 initial fine, and penalties of $500 a day, until it abates the noise.
“This is strange,” Harris said, adding that it’s “quite unheard of for a church to be fined because of joyful noise.”
“If you come around a nursery, you’re going to hear babies crying,” he continued. “If you come around a church, you’re going to hear noise.”
The problem, according to a copy of the complaint to the city, is that the loud music goes on sometimes until 2 a.m. The copy of the complaint was sent to the local NAACP head, George Holland, but excluded the name of the person who complained, self-described as an 11-year resident of West Oakland who had never had problems with the church noise until 2014.
Harris said the choir practice ends at 9 p.m. He also said he didn’t know which of his neighbors complained but assumed the person must be a newcomer to the area.
“The area we’re in now has changed drastically,” he said, noting that newcomers may not understand the culture of a 65-year-old black church. He said that the choir rehearses from 7 to 9 on Wednesday nights and that the church has no intention of changing.
“We’ll try to work with the community,” he said. “We don’t want to disrespect them, but we don’t want to be disrespected.”
During one particularly joyful week in August, the peal of gospel music resounded “around the radius of the church” and could be heard from half a block away on all sides, according to a diagram the neighbor sent to city officials.
The complaint says all Oakland residents “should be able to sleep in peace and maintain good health.”
Holland, the NAACP Oakland chapter head, was deeply troubled by the noise complaint, calling it a sign of cultural divisions in Oakland.
City spokeswoman Karen Boyd said the city’s letter to Pleasant Grove was a courtesy notice informing the church of the city’s noise ordinance, which mandates quiet hours between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. She said the city hadn’t received any more complaints and didn’t intend to fine the church.
In the past two years, the city has sent eight such courtesy notices to churches in Oakland for complaints about noise, litter and other annoyances. Only one church was cited, Boyd said, because people were skateboarding in the parking lot.
Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @rachelswan