The noise level coming from the church across the street is driving us crazy. Help!
September 3, 2009 7:21 PM   Subscribe

The noise level coming from the church across the street is driving us crazy. Help!

We live right across the street from a very loud church in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. At first we thought it was kind of nice being near a place of worship, but now we're kind of fed up. There are very loud services with singing and all sorts of instruments that are probably amplified, as well as random drumming practices. It goes on for hours (they've been playing for at least 4 hours just today), and it's on weekdays and weekends. The services seem to be kind of irregular; it's not like we know it's going to be bad 6-8pm every Wednesday. I work from home, and it's nice to work in cafes, but I hate the feeling like I can't enjoy my own home. Plus, not being able to relax in our living room on Sunday evenings can be kind of a bummer.

What is the best way to approach this? We called in a noise complaint once - it was 10pm on a Sunday and they had been going at it for 3 hours (plus they had a van idling outside for 40 minutes). But, the cops weren't that helpful - they said they weren't going to disrupt the church service (but that's when it's noisy!) and they were trying to stay on good terms with the churches. It's also a gentrifying neighborhood, which may make things more complicated...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As a regular churchgoer myself, it's interesting to hear the other side. First off, try talking to the church leaders and ask if they can give you a detailed schedule of when loud music will be playing both on Sundays or any other day. If changes are made, let them know you expect to be notified of this immediately. Next, compromise with them and schedule nights when they can practice during weeknights. You probably won't be able to stop them from praising loudly(especially Sunday), but you can at least try controlling when they practice on the weeknights.

Lastly, when does your lease end? You may want to consider moving eventually if you really can't stand the noise.
posted by Wanderer7 at 7:44 PM on September 3, 2009

So, I think you're in a pretty classic (I know this is an emotionally loaded term here, but you used it too so i hope it doesn't feel unnecessarily confrontational) gentrification situation: New person moves to cute/changing/diverse/affordable neighborhood and then realizes that the neighborhood clashes with their lifestyle, and then tries to change the place. This happens when housing gets built too close to airports, when urban people move to "charming" rural areas only to be disturbed by the roosters and tractor sounds, and when middle class people move into formerly poorer neighborhoods or white people move into neighborhoods formerly primarily made up of people from another ethnic group and then find their expectations differ from their neighbors.

There's not a "right" answer here to my thinking - there are only many points of view. My point of view is that its pretty problematic to try to change an existing neighborhood, especially to try to disrupt a church which all things considered is probably a positive force in the community. My suggestion (and this is not sarcastic) is to work on techniques to help yourself feel more open to the environment you're in. Maybe try going to a few of the services to see if you enjoy it and can reframe it mentally. Maybe try meditation to help reduce your reaction to stressful situations. Or ultimately, you may just not be compatible with the neighborhood and you may need to move.

I applaud you for coming at this from a place of respect and openness. I think that's the right attitude and I hope you figure something out.

P.S. You might find this article of interest.
posted by serazin at 7:48 PM on September 3, 2009 [23 favorites]

Try stopping into the church and explaining the situation. Try to arrive at some sort of amicable resolution. Barring that, try the cops again and hope you get different officers. Alternatively, get a letter signed by several residents on the block and approach the church and/or cops with it. You can also try going over while the loud service is going on and politely ask them to turn it down a bit.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:53 PM on September 3, 2009

I agree with serazin. I think you need to either learn to live with it or move.

That's how they worship and I seriously doubt they're gonna stop.

I live in the city because I like sirens and people and music, because it makes me feel like I'm living in a place pulsating with life and culture, but I realize people aren't always that romantic about their living situation.

You may have just learned an (expensive) lesson about yourself.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:08 PM on September 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

I wish I knew what to tell you here. I feel your pain. I would suggest talking to them and seeing what they say. If you can't reach an agreement, then just keep calling the cops. Ask if there is a noise ordinance. I would think there is in SF. Ordinances vary, but usually they restrict noise during certain hours AND/OR for certain lengths of time (meaning you can make noise at 4pm, but NOT for 3 hours straight, for example).

Unfortunately, most people are just disrespectful of others. Light pollution, noise pollution, you name it. I cringe every time my neighbors fire up the gas blowers and lawn mowers because it is such a needless waste of energy and noise pollution that you can hear for several blocks in all directions. Me? I use one of those old school rotary push mowers and I sweep my driveway. Not only is it better for the environment (not to mention a little exercise), but nobody else can hear it while they're trying to enjoy themselves doing something else (watching a movie, laying in a hammock reading a book, whatever). I wish everybody had the same consideration, but many people don't care about anything but themselves.

Good luck.
posted by bengarland at 8:11 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

New person moves to cute/changing/diverse/affordable neighborhood and then realizes that the neighborhood clashes with their lifestyle, and then tries to change the place

Very much agreed. I assume the church was there well before you moved to the area, and it's one of the things you really should have taken into consideration when you moved. I've heard plenty of stories of folks moving in next to bars/factories/football stadia and then weeks later petitioning to have them closed down because of noise, which is pretty poor form.

I feel your pain, because I've had shitty neighbours in my time - throwing apples at my windows, playing football against my front door at 7am - but your only realistic option here, if you can't take the disturbance of something that's been a firm fixture in the area for a long time, and you should have been aware of, is to move somewhere quieter.

I don't agree that calling the cops, as others suggest, is a very productive idea at all.
posted by Beautiful Screaming Lady at 8:45 PM on September 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

I'm a church goer.

Sundays: well duh. :) Especially Sunday Nights, these are usually "youth services" and have a bit of oomph to them. You can't really complain about Sundays.

Now, about the practices: the people involved are most likely young people who probably have no idea that they are annoying the neighbours. They probably have an "open space" kind of arrangement where they can wander in when they are free and do stuff (hence the random drumming) they may even have different people who need to practice- multiple drummers on a roster for instance.

You should head over to the church and ask to speak to someone in charge: perhaps they have someone in charge of music (a "music pastor" maybe) or maybe you need to speak to the Senior Pastor/Minister/whatever-title. They most likely have office hours. You mention you work from home, during the week would be the best time to talk to them about stuff like this, not Sunday.

Ask them: if it is possible to turn down the volume a little, especially at the practices. (This is not unreasonable, imho, we have noise policies at our church.) Ask them if there are sound proof rooms (or maybe they should invest in some) that could be used for practices, especially the drummers.

Ask them for service times and a better schedule- maybe there is stuff that happens on a monthly/fortnightly/semesterly basis (rather than weekly) Ask them how long services go for. Ask them to perhaps turn stuff down a little if the services go over time.

Go and talk to them, I'm sure they will be happy to talk to you about it.
posted by titanium_geek at 8:51 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

nthing talking to the church. I'm on the planning committee for a big youth event coming up at my church, and we've toned down/removed some of the noisier things from previous years because of neighbors. For example, the students love having a car bash, but as popular as it is, our neighbors have said it's just too noisy, so we won't be doing it this year. Even if nothing changes right away, at least they know how you feel. If enough people do the same, it'll begin to register.
posted by niles at 9:09 PM on September 3, 2009

Maybe they have the doors open, because it's been pretty warm in S.F. recently, and that's why noise is carrying so much. If so, maybe you could ask them to close the doors.

I've lived near a couple of churches before, and one of them was full-on electric worship (guitars, organs, miked drums) so I sympathize. But it's definitely worth talking to the congregants -- they may be turning up the volume because the sound is drifting out the doors.
posted by vickyverky at 9:14 PM on September 3, 2009

You called in a noise complaint, on a church, on a Sunday, in the Western Addition? You know, you could've walked in and introduced yourself, instead.

I lived next door to a church in Hayes Valley, 14 years ago (Hayes/Buchanan). Their choir loft essentially shared a wall with our kitchen and bathroom. We heard every note, every hit of the snare drum, especially when hungover.

I suspect that during the fall, they could hear us yelling increasingly creative obscenities at the NFL games on our TV during their Sunday services.

At no point did either side of the wall consider calling the cops, though I'm sure we all would've preferred to have had silence from the room next door.

Please, learn to live with your neighbors, or find other neighbors to live with. That church, fed up with it as you might be, is part of your neighborhood. It is probably a fixture of your neighborhood. Your urban neighborhood, where there are lots of noises, at lots of hours. You are not yet a fixture in your neighborhood. Living in a neighborhood in transition (or one that's moved fully into gentrification) involves learning how to live with this dynamic.

Find out when the church has office hours, and introduce yourself to the pastor. As others have mentioned, see if you can get a schedule of the practices, and politely ask if perhaps they could knock off the amplifiers late at night during the week (there's nothing you can do about Sunday... it's a church). Be friendly and accommodating, and hope that you get the same in return. Threatening to call the cops, in a "gentrifying neighborhood", is a long way from friendly.

If you appear to be one of these: New person moves to cute/changing/diverse/affordable neighborhood and then realizes that the neighborhood clashes with their lifestyle, and then tries to change the place you are going to be ignored, especially in the ever-expanding Hayes Valley.

Remember, they were making noise at that location for a long time before you got there, and they're going to be making noise there long after you're gone.

Well, usually. It just so happens the church we lived next to has been converted to a $1.8M house, that's still across the street from public housing.

One other word of advice: go to a service. I did meet the pastor and several parishioners, but I never did go to a service next door (I'm not a churchgoer, but it was clear I'd be welcome there). I regret not taking them up on the offer.
posted by toxic at 9:33 PM on September 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry, I live behind a church, when they learn to respect the neighborhood, I'll learn to respect their worship. There is no need for them to amplify the school morning announcements OUTSIDE. There is no reason for their basketball coach to exhort the kids to yell LOUDER and blow his whistle relentelessly, they are grade school not NBA. There is no reason for them to rent their utility room to parties every night with no requirement to keep the noise down. There is no reason for parishoners to scream their goodbyes to each other and slam car doors. There is no reason except that they don't care about the neighbors as they are a Catholic Church in a Jewish neighborhood.

So, no, there's no reason for people to kowtow to the Church, they need to be good neighbors just like any other business.

Go over there and talk to them, but they'll make nice nice and then continue to do whatever they wany because they are The Church...continue to call the the city, usually the mayor's office has a complaint resolution dept, sometimes the police department has a neighborhood trouble resolution department.
posted by legotech at 9:54 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I've got to agree that if you're the gentrifyer (not a word) and a member of an urban area, you are responsible for checking out the whole neighborhood before moving. I would agree that you could go to a service/talk to the pastor, as that seems like the neighbory thing to do. As far as getting a letter signed by other neighbors, since you presumably have them, and they presumably have lived there with the church longer than you, I would assume they are either fine with it as it is a part of their neighborhood, or are in the church. This is why it's a gray area; moving to a neighborhood and expecting it to change to you is sort of selfish, and it's not going to be easy to do. Perhaps looking into some soundproofing would be easier.
posted by itsonreserve at 10:52 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I went to church, our worship team decided to record a CD. When the company came in with sound recording equipment, they turned our volume up to 80, at which point everyone said "that's way too quiet." Turns out our regular services were running at 120 decibels. Hearing damage begins at 80. Perhaps you should let them know about this and encourage them to have their sound level checked? After 5 years in that church, although I can't prove that was the sole cause, I need the TV up a bit louder than I used to.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:07 AM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just the other day, on local public access TV, I caught part of a hearing in front of some sort of zoning or permit committee. A guy was answering a lot of questions from the committee members about the church he and his congregation planned to build. For example, he had to make a case that the lighting they were planning to use would not bother nearby residents at night. The implication was that if this church looked like it might piss off the locals, this guy wasn't going to get permission to build it.

Of course, in your case, the church is already built and no one's gonna order it bulldozed. But perhaps the civil arm of your city government still has some sort of regulatory power that would allow them to turn the volume down? I'd start by checking with the city council. Be prepared to get bounced to some zoning commission, then to some other regulatory board and all the way around the merry-go-round before finally getting some definite answers.
posted by Clay201 at 12:09 AM on September 4, 2009

Golly gee blimey, but people are judgmental today. Don't even tell them what you do, just mention 'noise' and say the neighborhood is 'gentrifying,' and all of a sudden they're on about 'you're a gentrifyer' this and 'put up with it or move' that.

Thankfully, The City of San Francisco does not agree with these sentiments. Do you want to know what the City of San Francisco thinks about noise? Then please have reference to San Francisco's noise ordinance, which can be found in Article 29 of the San Francisco Police Code. (Odd how it never occurs to people to actually look up the law.)

In short, reviewing the document, here is my assessment:

(1) It's always best, even if it makes you uncomfortable, to talk to the church directly first. Knock on the door and, as graciously as you can, ask who you should talk to about this; you'd be best to do this during one of the more quiet times when fewer people are around, so you don't interrupt anything. Like I said, be gracious, and form this as a request rather than a demand or legal claim. Don't mention calling the police.

(2) If that doesn't work: they cannot produce more than 45 dB outside or 35 dB inside your house; you should test to make sure that they're really past the limit, and, having spoken to them directly and seen no response, go back to the police. At that point I think you will have actually exhausted a typical officer's notion of neighborliness, and they may be willing to get involved. This is officially a police matter, as they handle noise in San Francisco.

(3) .... however: the police may choose to ignore complaints if they wish, unfortunately; this is called a "variance:"
The Directors of Public Health, Public Works, Building Inspection, or the Entertainment Commission, or the Chief of Police may grant variances to noise regulations, over which they have jurisdiction pursuant to Section 2916. All administrative decisions granting or denying variances are appealable to the San Francisco Board of Appeals.
... you are on your own at the Board of Appeals and beyond; I should hope all this should be enough to resolve the issue. Good luck.
posted by koeselitz at 12:55 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I will just add that many states have passed their own versions of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which (to loosely paraphrase) says that religious institutions have a lot more leeway on issues such as compliance with local noise laws, etc. IIRC, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Federal act cannot limit the effects of state laws, but California may have its own version at the state level.
posted by yclipse at 3:47 AM on September 4, 2009

I wonder how many people are responding beligerently to the OP because the malfeasant is a church?

Noise is noise; it's demoralising, depressing, and in the worst scenarios can lead to mental and emotional issues. It's not something "live with or move out" - life is too short for to allow other people to make your life a misery, church or not, for any reason.

Whether the noise existed before you were there or not is irrelevant; the noise aggravates you and, if it's outside of the bounds of the law, there are things you can do to have it dealt with. koeselitz's advice is good in this respect.

Seriously people, if this were a poor family across the street, you'd be baying for blood. "Right to Worship freely" does not mean "right to invade other people's lives with your noise".
posted by benzo8 at 3:59 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think people are being realistic. The church may violating noise ordinances. Church members may be parking illegally. It's my guess that anonymous could complain again and again to the authorities and nothing will happen. The church was not only there before anonymous. There are many members of the church than there are people in anonymous's household. Those church members have lived in the community for a long time and probably know many more community members than anonymous and they are members of a community organization that meets at least once a week. It straightforward local politics. If I were anonymous I would politely ask the leaders of the church to work with me towards a solution. If that failed I would learn to live with the situation or move. It's possible that anonymous could push the authorities into acting but I can't see that happening without a lot of effort on anonymous's part and possibly some hard feeling from the community.
posted by rdr at 5:03 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wonder how many people are responding beligerently to the OP because the malfeasant is a church?

"Right to Worship freely" does not mean "right to invade other people's lives with your noise".

Nope-- I think there'd be a similar tone if the OP was upset about a decades-old drum circle near their residence as well. Leave out the church issue, (and the implication that CHRISTIANZ THINK THEY CAN RUIN EVERYTHING FOR US NORMALS) and reframe it as, "this established cultural institution integral to the urban-hip, affordable community in which we now reside is louder than we thought it would be."

That being said, yes, talk to the pastor (or a deacon), talk to your councilperson (if they're accessible), then talk to the police. In that order.
posted by availablelight at 6:46 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wonder if the church even has to adhere to the noise ordinance though? Is a noise ordinance considered a land use ordinance? Because churches aren't subject to zoning and other land use laws thanks to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

It sounds like from the Wikipedia article that a noise ordinance would not apply, but still RLUIPA is something to keep in mind when you're dealing with churches.
posted by misskaz at 7:03 AM on September 4, 2009

I wonder how many people are responding beligerently to the OP because the malfeasant is a church?

I'm certainly not. It's not that it's a church as much as it is something that is in the neighborhood that can reasonably be expected to produce noise, cause parking issues, use amplified instruments, and so on. The OP is miffed because the (OK, I'll say it, because in this neighborhood, it's likely true) African-American church that s/he lives across from is behaving like an African-American church.

I'd feel the same way about the O.P.'s post (and give the same advice) if you replaced "church" with "playground" or "union hall" or "concert venue" or "neighborhood pub" or "late night taco cart" or "fire station" or "lighthouse with fog horn" or "airport" or "stadium" or "factory". It was there when you moved there, you probably should've realized that this was going to be at odds with your lifestyle before you moved in, and you should really be thinking "how do I learn to live with this (or even enjoy it)" rather than "how the heck do I get those people to shut up".

It's got nothing to do with the fact that they're Christians.
posted by toxic at 1:34 PM on September 4, 2009

It's not that it's a church as much as it is something that is in the neighborhood that can reasonably be expected to produce noise, cause parking issues, use amplified instruments, and so on.

Yep. Look, my old apartment in NYC faced out onto an elementary school playground, which naturally was filled with hundreds of loud, screaming kids at various points before, during, and after school hours. But that's what I signed up for, and I daresay most people here would have been appalled if I'd called the police on the school.
posted by lalex at 4:39 PM on September 4, 2009

If that church is producing more than 45 decibels, they're breaking the law, and I would think that if they knew that they'd want to stop.
posted by koeselitz at 4:45 PM on September 4, 2009

I wonder how many people are responding beligerently to the OP because the malfeasant is a church?

I'd say none of them. As it happens, I'm a staunch atheist and think organised religion is corrosive and its adherents delusional.

Whether the noise existed before you were there or not is irrelevant;

This kind of arrogant entitlist bullshit is even more corrosive than organised religion. Of course it's relevant. It's like me moving to Nunavut and demanding that the local gonvernment get rid of all this fucking ice because I hate being cold.

Seriously people, if this were a poor family across the street, you'd be baying for blood.

No I wouldn't.
posted by Beautiful Screaming Lady at 5:17 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Beautiful Screaming Lady: This kind of arrogant entitlist bullshit is even more corrosive than organised religion. Of course it's relevant. It's like me moving to Nunavut and demanding that the local gonvernment get rid of all this fucking ice because I hate being cold.

WHOA. Hold the horses and corral the wagons.

You're making this about something that it's not. This isn't about gentrification, it's not about social status, it's not about class or race war, and it's not about entitlement. We don't know any of the details; could be the whole neighborhood feels the same as the poster. Could be it's actually been getting louder and louder for years; could be it's loud enough to actually pose a health risk; we don't know.

The poster should follow the law. If the poster has a claim is to be determined by the law. If the law says stuff it, the poster can stuff it; until then, give people a chance rather than assuming that this is about what you think it's about.
posted by koeselitz at 9:34 PM on September 4, 2009

Beautiful Screaming Lady: "This kind of arrogant entitlist bullshit is even more corrosive than organised religion. Of course it's relevant. It's like me moving to Nunavut and demanding that the local gonvernment get rid of all this fucking ice because I hate being cold."

Woah, that's pretty harsh. I'm pretty sure my comment had more to it than that. Let me see... Oh yes: "the noise aggravates you and, if it's outside of the bounds of the law"... Not even a full stop or anything - it's part of the same goddamn sentence - it might be worth considering as a whole, don't you think? Rather than launching off one one?

Assuming they're breaking the law (and they may not be, as has been explained in a number of posts here already), then it's irrelevant if they were doing so before the OP arrived or not. They're still breaking the law now.

And I can't imagine it's against the law for there to be ice in Nanavut, whereas excessive noise, produced by whomever, is...
posted by benzo8 at 11:06 PM on September 4, 2009

could be the whole neighborhood feels the same as the poster

As of next month, I will have lived in Hayes Valley for 15 years (and wow, has it changed in that time). I believe I'm in a good position to tell you that the whole neighborhood does not feel the same as the poster. It is extremely unlikely that anyone else on the block would call the police because the church was being too loud on a Sunday evening. That's just not how things are done around here.

When it's done by someone who's new to the neighborhood, especially if it's someone who probably wouldn't have considered this neighborhood as a place to live a few years ago, then it does nobody any good to pretend that gentrification has nothing to do with it.

The O.P. moved into a neighborhood that is (in at least this way) culturally different than what s/he was expecting. Initially s/he thought it was nice that there was a church on the block, but was unfamiliar with what this neighborhood's houses of worship tend to sound like (not to mention the parking situation). Over time, s/he realized that actually, no, s/he doesn't like living across from the church... it's making it hard to "enjoy my own home" or "relax in our living room on Sunday". Guess what? That church's impact on your quality of life, is probably already reflected in your rent, which is lower than it would be if your house were in (quiet) Laurel Heights or Los Altos. You might have just discovered something that you didn't realize you were willing to pay a premium for.

Lots of people would be sympathetic, if it ended there. I know that I wouldn't be so aggressively piling on the OP. We'd be talking about sound-proofing strategies, instead of wondering whether this conversation is going to land in the grey.

The sense of entitlement comes here: The OP believes that clearly the church should change its practices to meet the standards/expectations of the OP, and that it's reasonable to demand help from the police to effect this change. The very clear subtext is that if it were a nice, sedate, suburban Lutheran congregation, everything would be fine.

And that's where my vitriol comes from. Because that's not the sort of church you get in the neighborhood we live in... and that's certainly not how you go about making positive, effective changes in this community. A lot of us who choose to live in neighborhoods like this, really do prefer it this way, and resent it when outsiders come in and demand that we should live more like the civilized people who live in the expensive zip codes.

It really sounds like that's what's going on here, and it's a really common story in this part of town.

When I'm visiting people out in the (very child-oriented) suburbs, I sometimes complain about how far I've got to go (by car) to get to a liquor store. But that's appropriate for their neighborhood... I wouldn't dream of standing up at an Atherton city council meeting, demanding changes in the zoning laws to allow for a store on every corner, because a late night beer-run can be very dangerous if you've been drinking and the store is too far away for walking.

Instead, I'd plan ahead and not run out of beer when I'm too intoxicated to drive and get more, get used to the idea of sometimes being beerless, or I would choose to live somewhere that's more in-line with my lifestyle and values.
posted by toxic at 11:47 PM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

toxic: It really sounds like that's what's going on here, and it's a really common story in this part of town.

It might be that the poster's actually from Hayes Valley, and only moved to another part of Hayes Valley. Could be the poster is actually at a lower economic level than the neighborhood. Could be the poster's gay, too. I mean, you guys are in San Francisco, and you know what a common story that is around there.

The goal here isn't to offer groundless stereotypes. It's to offer information. Poster, follow the law: talk to your neighbors, please; check to see if the church is indeed violating the laws about proper decibel level; and if you have no grounds, don't agitate. And for god's sake keep in mind that this appears to be a very sensitive subject, at least for one resident of Hayes Valley.
posted by koeselitz at 3:30 AM on September 5, 2009

Koeselitz... this is a sensitive subject for many residents of Hayes Valley, and many residents (white or black, gay or straight, young or old, rich or poor) in virtually any area of San Francisco that has been traditionally African American. Gentrification/Urban Renewal/Negro Removal is particularly complicated here, and this neighborhood is one where there's already been a huge, obvious, (and almost certainly irreversible) impact. We've talked about this on the blue, and it's been brought up in a number of other places.

Could be the poster's gay, too

Gay is not something you choose to be, and it's not something that your neighbors are likely to care much about (This is San Francisco, after all).

"We called in a noise complaint once". That is something that you choose to do, that is completely out-of-line with the typical/traditional community standards of the community that the OP lives in -- even in its gentrifying state... it's like having a raging keg party on the screen porch of your house in a 90% Mormon neighborhood on Sunday before an NFL game -- even if you're doing it legally, you're doing it in a way that disrespects your neighbors and neighborhood, and you should expect to get the stink eye from them because of it.

Also, this:

(3) .... however: the police may choose to ignore complaints if they wish, unfortunately; this is called a "variance:"

And there's nothing unfortunate about it. SFPD has pretty significant leeway about letting certain things slide -- this reflects the values of San Francisco as a whole. If you're sitting at an empty bus stop rolling a giant joint, the police aren't going to bother you. If you're doing the same thing at 5:00pm at a bus stop full of kids leaving basketball practice, it's an entirely different story (let's say you're not in a school zone, so the drug-free-school crap doesn't apply). It's just as illegal to be twisting one up by yourself, but the police are making a judgment call about how much you're harming the community before they jump to action. In general, most San Franciscans like it this way. In other communities, the spectre of "selective enforcement" or "profiling!" or "this town should be tough on crime" would probably get in the way of this behavior... but around here, we like to talk a lot about "tolerance". It's part of what gives SF its character. (Yes, it creates some problems too, but it seems that most San Franciscans would prefer that to the alternative.)

It's the same thing with the police and the church. The first thing the cops are going to do is hear the noise, and make a judgment call about whether its disturbing the community as a whole. Then they're going to decide whether to take action on your behalf, and what consequences (positive and negative) this is likely to have for everyone involved.

They're not going to look at your sound meter, look up the arbitrary definition of excessive noise, and decide "is this legal?" based on that. In a lot of communities, that's all it takes (and it leads to this and this). Here, it's more nuanced. Right wing radio hosts ridicule San Francisco because of that... but they also don't live here (they probably wouldn't like it much, anyway).

Also in play is the fact that the cops and churches maintain a delicate balance in their relationships, and the mediating effect of a pastor (or a grandmother who's a parishioner) is one that law enforcement sometimes needs (and uses) to maintain the sometimes tenuous peace in the hood. Prison Ministry is important here, and it has effects both inside and outside of jail, and at all points of the "law abiding" spectrum.

In the back of his/her mind, the OP knows this, otherwise they'd have ended the question with a different sentence.

(For the record, I'm white and middle class. When I moved into this neighborhood, I was white and broke).
posted by toxic at 1:04 PM on September 5, 2009

toxic: please understand that I'm speaking from a different perspective. My neighborhood, which I like very much, has certain things wrong with it; one of them is that I'm looked down on for being a 'renter' and for bringing the property values down simply because I don't own my home, and for being a newcomer. That's not cool. I don't like it. As such, I tend to feel as though it's rather nice that the law isn't dictated to people one the basis of how long they've been somewhere or how 'authentic' they are but rather on the basis of a real standard that everybody follows. 'You won't get away with this unless you're one of the real folks' is a shabby way to run a society.
posted by koeselitz at 2:46 AM on September 6, 2009

I'm sorry that your neighbors don't appreciate having their property taxes lowered by your presence.

I tend to feel as though it's rather nice that the law isn't dictated to people one the basis of how long they've been somewhere or how 'authentic' they are but rather on the basis of a real standard that everybody follows.

It's not about _who_ you are. It's about _where_ you are. That's what really dictates the community standards that people are expected to follow.

That's sort of what I was getting at. San Francisco has a long history of selective enforcement of the laws, especially quality of life laws. The "standard" that everyone follows isn't necessarily what's written into the law books, and it varies hugely between one neighborhood and another. What you can get away with (and what you can expect) in the rough and tumble Tenderloin is very different than in the much more sedate Parkside or Marina.

And one of the "standards" in Hayes Valley is that the churches can be loud, especially on Sunday. One of the "standards" in the Mission is that the center/turn lane of a lot of streets becomes a parking lot on Sunday. These "standards" are blatantly in violation of written City law, but the community has deemed them acceptable through years of history, and the police/parking enforcement people honor that.

When you have people who are used to the sedate areas of town (or from out of town) moving into areas that are a little more gritty, it's likely going to lead to some culture clashes. One of the most unfortunate ways that this plays out is: "person moves into new neighborhood, not realizing that the community standards are different than what they're used to/expecting. New person decides that the local community standards are clearly wrong, and raises a stink trying to change them to make their new neighborhood feel more like their old one."

Imagine this question: "I bought a industrio-chic loft condo three doors down from a nightclub, 7 years ago. For a years, I loved it. Now I have an 18 month old who wakes up when hundreds of drunks stream out of the place after last call, every night. How can I get the nightclub to make its patrons respect my baby, and shut up when they leave? Alternatively, who do I talk to in SF Government to get the place shut down, or make it close earlier." (See: DNA Lounge, 1015 Folsom, The Endup. I'm not being hyperbolic here -- this is a very contentious issue)

Mix this in: The new people in transitional neighborhoods tend to be wealthier and more politically connected than the longer-term residents. There is a power imbalance, and it has already destroyed some of the diverse, vibrant culture that this city used to be very proud of. That makes people very protective of their neighborhoods.

My point in saying that I've been here for almost 15 years was absolutely not intended to be "This is my neighborhood more than Anonymous's" (in that case, I'm a relative newcomer... many of the people on my block have been here for generations). My point was "I've been part of this community for long enough to learn some non-obvious things about how it works, and I might know more about what's going on under the surface than someone's who is new to the hood, or one who doesn't live around here at all". I definitely feel that the length of time that I've lived here qualifies me to speak towards "perhaps everyone in the neighborhood agrees with Anonymous" because I know a lot of people in the neighborhood, but the length of time I've been here doesn't make me a more valuable member of this community at all.

I'm not saying that Anonymous doesn't belong here, or that newcomers are unwanted (or that they should be treated differently for being new). I'm not saying that gentrification of Hayes Valley is even a bad thing (I prefer my neighborhood today to the Hayes Valley of even 10 years ago). I'm saying that Anonymous has unintentionally acted in a way that is unwanted by much of the local community, and some of the advice being given is even more at odds with the local community standards of behavior; S/he made a rookie mistake when s/he called the cops about noise coming from a church on a Sunday... and the cops reacted appropriately when they said "we won't be disrupting the church service". They would've reacted the same way if I'd called them, or if someone who's been living here 50 years called them (though, neither of us likely would've picked up the phone).

That's complicated by the fact that there are inherent, but probably misplaced, racial undertones in anonymous's behavior (I'm _not_ saying the OP is actually being racist... I'm saying that a noise complaint against a black church in this neighborhood is going to be seen by some people as having racial aspects... whether that's warranted or not.)

Pointing at what's written in the law books and expecting that to be the standard that everyone, everywhere in town follows to the letter, with no wiggle room, is absurd in this city, and especially in this neighborhood. I recognize that's unusual, but this is an unusual sort of town.
posted by toxic at 4:11 PM on September 6, 2009

I think this discussion has gone from "how do I cope with this?" to "why they shouldn't complain about the church service at all" and missed the subtleties of the original post. Original responses suggesting to go to a service and talk to a pastor/minister, and the very helpful suggestion of asking the church to provide the neighbours with a schedule of rehearsals and performances, will help anonymous to work around the noise, rather than just flat-out complain about it.
posted by chronic sublime at 4:34 AM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

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