Ward 13 councillor Arielle Kayabaga. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)
London’s bid to establish itself as a music city isn’t without hurdles, a reality with which politicians grappled Tuesday in light of complaints over a new outdoor music festival that’s broken city hall’s noise rules.
Parkjam Music Festival, a two-weekend event that began last week with a rock concert and will pick up again this Thursday with a hip hop show featuring Ice Cube, spurred a bevy of resident complaints as it kicked off on a “school night” and continued into the weekend.
London’s special events bylaw – which Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga is looking to review for “loopholes” – requires concerts to stay below 90 decibels, the level of noise created by a lawnmower. Parkjam blew past that during its concerts last Thursday and Saturday, meaning organizers forfeit a $500 deposit paid to city hall.
“Maybe people fear that we’re trying to change the policy to restrict festivals in the city. That’s not the case. Our job is to review policies, make sure they’re up to date,” Kayabaga said Tuesday.
There wasn’t enough support from the committee to support her review, though Coun. Maureen Cassidy backed the pitch, saying there’s a lack of consequences – such as fines – for events that refuse to keep it down.
“There is absolutely no impetus for them to follow the rules,” Cassidy said.
And though Coun. Elizabeth Peloza expressed concern about the volume of Parkjam – saying her family could “sing along” indoors, with the windows closed, while in the shower – she didn’t support a review of the special events policy.
City staff described the noise issues as a “big challenge” and said it’s tough to balance support for great musical events with respect for Londoners who are impacted by the festivities.
“We have decided to be a music city, a serious contender and a big city,” Ward 3’s Mo Salih said.
“I think the bylaw, as it is, is sufficient.”
Kayabaga called that a “missed opportunity.” She’s advocating for a second look at the rules for violating noise limits, and the timing of events, especially in September when school resumes.
Mike Manuel, owner of London Music Hall and the organizer behind Parkjam, said his team wants to work with politicians, bureaucrats and – most importantly, he said – neighbours to make the festival as positive an experience as possible.
“Everybody wants us to go on, but how can we make it better?” he said, acknowledging concerns from residential areas near Harris Park, where all seven days of the festival are held.
“We’ll keep working and trying to manage it. It’s a musical festival. What can I say? We’re going to try to our best to stay within the control and the bylaw. We’ve got an incredible production team that works with us . . . but the musicians are a whole different animal.”
City bylaw officers measure volume at the sound board, which is 24 metres from the stage, and anything above 90 dB limit is considered a violation. Manuel said that can be a challenge, especially because the performers on stage control their own amplifiers.
City hall may need to consider boosting that 90 dB upper limit if it wants to maintain all of London’s “beautiful festivals,” Manuel suggested.
“If I do a loud clap right now in my car, it will exceed that.”