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Council restricts amplified music in Lytton Plaza

The Palo Alto City Council voted on Monday, Nov. 19, to restrict amplified music at Lytton Plaza, a public gathering space located next to Pizza My Heart on the corner of University Avenue and Emerson Street.

According to a Parks and Recreation Commission report, the plaza became a popular place for music performance and public events after its renovation in 2009. Some groups played loud, amplified music because of the free availability of electrical outlets, according to the report.

Business leaders conveyed their concern that this free electricity was leading people to camp out at the plaza, creating “an unwelcoming environment for other visitors,” the report states.

The plaza’s popularity has led to various complaints, with nearby businesses objecting to the loud music during daylight hours and local residents expressing concern that music is played too late in the night. The 195 police incident reports filed in 2011 prompted the commission to further investigate.

The commission first met with musicians, youth advocates and business leaders, before submitting to the city council a list of recommended measures. After hearing testimony from community members, including representatives of the music scene, business leaders and local residents, the council voted to accept the commission’s recommendations with several changes.

The new regulations restrict the playing of amplified music in Lytton Plaza to a “first-come, first-served basis,” according to the council report, during set weekly hours. Public playing of amplified music will be limited to the hours of 6 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday.

The commission had proposed a 5 p.m. start time for allowing the public to play amplified music during weekdays.

In addition, groups who play music in the plaza will only be able to do so for three hours or less to allow other musicians to play. If groups want to reserve the entire plaza, they can pay for a permit that will cost no more than $200. The commission had recommended that the fee be $90.

Amplified music during nonstandard hours will also be allowed, but a similar permit must be obtained. The council stated that in cases of conflict, city-sponsored events and permitted groups will have priority over other events and non-permitted groups.

Acoustic music will not be affected by the new regulations but will still be subject to the city’s existing sound limit.

To address the problem created by open access to electrical outlets, the city will offer only one outlet for events. This outlet will be remotely and automatically controlled but will not be locked. Total event power consumption will be limited to 20 amps, according to the council report.

Susan Webb, who runs Lytton Plaza’s Friday “jam sessions,” voiced her support for the limits at the Nov. 19 city council meeting.

“In general, I absolutely support the recommendations that the Parks and Recreation Department has come up with for us,” she said. “We have been living under the trial period for many months now, and it’s good.”

The trial period for the new sound regulations started after the proposed regulations were drafted. Now that the council has passed the regulations, the trial period is over.

Josh Afungia, who works at the Pizza My Heart next to the plaza, expressed his appreciation of Lytton’s music scene but agreed with the city’s limits.  He said that though he likes live music, the plaza can get loud.

“Sometimes it gets really rowdy,” he said. He added that the city was right to crack down on the noise in the plaza.

“I understand it,” he said. “There are people that do want to sleep. I agree with cutting the hours down.”

The council’s report cited surveys performed by the Community Services staff in March and April of this year in support of the new regulations. The majority of the 60 people surveyed in person said that they agreed with the limitations on amplified music.