City of New Orleans breakdown in enforcing noise laws is an assault on civil society


One of the more important topics I cover here at this site is noise pollution, particularly in my hometown of New Orleans. Over the last few years, I’ve worked together with a website, where you can find a lot of critical information about the harmful health impacts from unregulated noise. That is why communities pass noise and other quality of life ordinances: It is, quite literally, a matter of public safety.

These laws are bolstered by zoning ordinances and measures to control alcohol beverage outlets. But as you can imagine, this system breaks down when the rules are not enforced. When that happens, residents are pitted against business owners in a stressful tug of war that would be completely avoided if the existing laws were fairly and consistently enforced.

The world loves the City of New Orleans because it’s a community that loves a party and a brass band. But one side-effect of our history and our global reputation for fun is sometimes we struggle with noise. Some iconic music venues respect the laws and respect their neighbors. But the advent of amplification, sub woofers, the lack a noise control program and finally the lack of enforcement for permits and zoning laws – has resulted in a plethora of illegal music clubs in the middle of formerly residential neighborhoods that are a nuisance rather than a cultural treasure.

After the chaos of Hurricane Katrina, some might argue the city administration had no choice but to turn a blind eye to scofflaws of zoning and quality of life issues. After all, 80 percent of the city was trying to rebuild and regain its footing from the disastrous levee break after that 2005 storm.

But the city is largely recovered and it’s now time for some normalcy, much to the chagrin of those who seek to make a quick buck at the expense of those who call a certain neighborhood home.

With lack of response at City Hall, the court system in New Orleans is now flooded with citizen lawsuits seeking help. Last spring, a police officer issued a citation against a French Quarter establishment because he couldn’t hear his own police radio due to the bar’s excessive noise.

This spring, a lawsuit came from residents in an area just below the French Quarter, where a bar called Mimi’s in the Marigny has illegally hosted “DJ” parties that go until wee hours of the morning, on weekdays and weekends. Note, the bar is not offering brass bands but basically a disco.

A group letter from area residents stated, “We note that many bars and restaurant/bars are good neighbors. We appreciate and fully support their continued success in our own neighborhood and throughout the city. We see no reason, though, why these establishments must adhere to the city’s laws and ordinances, while others are allowed to skirt the law, operate illegally and bring detriment to the neighborhood.”

Mimi’s in the Marigny doesn’t have a permit to operate as a live music club, and indeed it is located in an area of New Orleans where such clubs are strictly forbidden by zoning laws. That’s because the Marigny is a neighborhood of old homes and families who have lived there for generations. There are in fact, about 40 bars just in the small riverfront neighborhood known as the Marigny, but Mimi’s decided to expand its bar/restaurant purpose into a music venue, and the business has never seriously responded to complaints by neighbors.

“We are not asking that Mimi’s, or other scofflaws, be shut down. We only ask that their activities be limited solely to what their licenses and permits allow and that all necessary steps are taken to eliminate the nuisances emanating from these places,” say the residents.

A simple request, and in this day and age, when any urban area faces so many challenges, not least of which is increasing violence, you wonder how it can be heard above more pressing demands.

But at the core of the relationship between elected officials and citizens, there needs to be trust that the law is justly applied to all. Whenever officials choose not to enforce the law, this relationship is eroded…eroded to the point of letting just about anybody buy their way into these historic neighborhoods in the interest of a full-time party.

Just a month ago, the issue was a riverfront music festival known as BUKU which drove neighbors crazy with its noise. The news media revealed that the event hadn’t been properly permitted, yet it wasn’t shut down by city officials.

From the Marigny to the French Quarter, the details may vary but the big picture is the same – a city government that is not being fully responsive to either its citizens or to the laws that protect them. This is not just an assault upon the ears, but against a civil society. If you care about protecting neighborhoods demand that quality of life laws be enforced by your elected officials.

To keep informed about the battle for balance in New Orleans, visit the “Hear The Music Stop the Noise” website – and sign our petition:

Please visit and “like” our Facebook page:

You can learn more about the noise assault on New Orleans neighborhoods from the BUKU Festival in my March 20, 2013 post:

To read my Aug. 3, 2012, blog post about noise pollution from New Orleans to New York, please check out:

Check out my Feb. 9, 2012 blog post about New Orleans noise pollution at:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved


  • The City Council takes campaign dollars from businesses, contractors, architects, etc. Once they are elected, they no longer represent voters. Noise is not the only thing you can’t get enforced in New Orleans. The city seems to have a policy of non-enforcement on just about everything. They want our property taxes, but we don’t get anything for it. You’d think they would care about property values by enforcing some of the zoning and ordinance issues – it would mean more tax dollars. But they don’t. They only care about who gives them campaign dollars.

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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