The Potential Clash of Two New Laws
By Brooke Gassel
For the Bloomberg administration, quality of life issues
have become hot topics of late. With Operation Silent Night's
attempts to keep New Yorker's quiet, and the proposal to enact
a citywide ban on public smoking, the mayor's attempts to
tidy up the town by introducing a host of new restrictions
has met mixed reviews. Could the mayor possibly want to attack
smoking and battle noise, two of New York's much loved
vices?! Many New Yorkers feared that this may be the start
of a major experiment to civilize a city cherished for its
mix of debauchery and refinement. In a recent commercial,
the mayor's statement, "It's our city, let's make a clean
sweep of it together," undoubtedly caused a collective shudder
in many a New Yorker.
Some New Yorkers have already concluded that a band on public
smoking will cause more clamor, litter and second-hand smoke
on the streets. A smoking ban was passed in 1998 in California,
but comparing Los Angeles and New York is like comparing tofu
and hot dogs. As summed up by Joe Dargan, a bartender at the
Red Lion on Bleecker Street: "They're totally different out
there. They're either health freaks or drug addicts. You can
quote me on that."
Nonetheless, at the chance of suffering
from throngs of angry New Yorkers, Mayor Bloomberg promoted
the quality of life hotline on his commercial, urging residents
to report noise, and disorderly conduct. Many residents said
they were relieved by the mayor's active stance on noise,
while others were skeptical about whether the actions to keep
the streets quiet and the air clear could work in tandem.
People's reactions range from a bartender's shrug to the outright
rage of bar- -break- goers. Scott Birdseye, 22, who puffs
his cigarette as he stands outside the packed Red Firehouse
club on West 24th street, is just one of many who feels strongly
about the issues. With the combination of Silent Night and
the smoking ban, "Mayor Bloomberg is trying to turn this city
into Disneyworld," he cried. "Car honking, sure, but as far
as ambient noise what the hell! There's 12 million people
in this city, people generate noise," Birdseye said.
to the office of the mayor, disorderly groups and individuals
are sources of complaints and targets to be quelled for the
benefit of the city. But with people being forced to leave
bars to light up, the proposed smoking ban may not only be
unpopular, but may also prove to be discordant with the existing
Silent Night operation.
Beginning on Oct. 4, 2002, the New
York City Police Department was vested with the responsibility
of quieting down 24 problem areas in Manhattan and the Boroughs.
The regions were chosen by the volume of noise complaints
received by the NYPD's "Quality of Life Hotline". According
to the Office of the Mayor, noise complaints accounted for
83 percent of all complaints received last year, amounting
to about 97,000 such calls. Operation Silent Night is direct
in describing its targets: "In areas where restaurants or
bars generate disruptive noise, the city will employ sounds
meters to measure the level of noise, and issue appropriate
summonses for alcohol and noise violations."
The typical stroll down a New York City street often includes
a backdrop of wall-leaning, cigarette-smoking waitresses,
bartenders, office workers, store-owners, and anyone else
-break- getting their fix outside of their non-smoking environs.
The Bloomberg administration may be making a plea against
the occupational hazards of secondhand smoke in bars, clubs,
and restaurants but the proposed smoking ban calls for the
elimination of smoking in all indoor public places.
One simply needs to look at how smokers accommodate for their
non-smoking offices to see how the noise levels outside of
buildings would increase should all indoor smoking be banned
Weekend nights, and cocktails, tend to bring
out the smokers even more, with evidence found in the overflowing
ashtrays of the city's high-trafficked bars. Packs of people
with their packs of cigarettes might be forced to line the
streets and sidewalks should the smoking ban be passed, and
it's likely that these newly formed fraternities of smokers
will be anything but silent.
On a recent Friday evening 31-year-old
waiter Peter Wolansa, stands cigarette in hand, leaning casually
against the door of his restaurant on Second Avenue. The idea
that the proposed smoking' ban will send people to the streets
seems inevitable to him. He says that even in the coldest
moments of winter, "everyone is just gonna have a drink and
go outside to smoke."
Officer Tunnard, a policeman who patrols Greenwich Village
agrees. Accustomed to the booming noise of the summer months,
Tunnard does not foresee outdoor smoking as a seasonal specific
event. He also says that neither Operation Silent night, nor
the smoking ban will make his job any harder, as only
an assigned force will target the smoking violations. Tunnard
is convinced that his responsibilities will remain essentially
the same as always. "We're not going -break- to be the smoking
police," he says. So much for making, "a clean sweep of it
Contrary to the public's ideas, quality
of life crimes are not a new concept in New York City. It
was rather the Giuliani administration that started the "Quality
of Life Initiative" (888-677-LIFE) to address crimes that
took the metaphorical luster off New York City's streets and
supposedly lead to more serious crimes being committed.
Patrick, 30, a bouncer at lively village bar Down the Hatch,
has noticed first hand that the Bloomberg administration is
hitting the streets in a decidedly different way than the
mayor's predecessor. "Giuliani went after drug dealers, porn
palaces, and hookers on the street. Bloomberg is going after
law-abiding citizens. It's just ridiculous!" he said.
admits that in light of Operation Silent Night he has been
forced to keep a closer eye on people outside, a frustrating
task for an employee who is not licensed to keep order on
the streets. Patrick contemplated the difficulty of controlling
the noise levels when people will have to linger outside the
bar for a quick smoke in the event of a ban. "It's going to
be next to impossible to do. We have no legal authority to
make anybody do anything, that's just bottom line," he said.
Despite Patrick's call for a stronger police presence, Officer
Tunnard did not identify a more active police stance since
Silent Night was enacted. But many bar owners on Bleecker
Street in Greenwich Village were reminded of the police presence
after a raid on Nov. 1 which left patrons at bars such as
Red Lion and Peculiar Pub with summonses, and tickets.
Greenwich Village has always incited routine noise complaints,
but as one of the few areas subject to the initial crackdown,
bar managers in this neighborhood are that they will have
to be acutely aware of rising decibel levels to prevent arrested
patrons, summonses or fines.
Exacerbating the issue of smokers and noise in Greenwich
Village is the neighborhood demographic. It's a "completely
old folk area where the young are really young and the old
are really old," explained Devin Villardi, 24, a bartender
at Down the Hatch. As he puffed a cigarette, Villardi said
that the combination of complaints from long-time residents
with a more traditional lifestyle coupled with a smoking ban
will result in the constant reprimand of Greenwich Village
bars as well as decreased business.
Brian Patrick said he
is concerned about the bar's ability to control the noise
levels of smokers outside. Likewise, Villardi is troubled
by the inevitable downturn of business that the proposed smoking
ban will set off. But both agree that the dual legislations
will infringe on those who come to the Village simply looking
for a fun night.
"A two pronged attack against noise on the
streets and smoking inside? It is a catch-22 for everybody
who likes to have a good time," said Villardi of the two initiatives.
While no one knows for sure how the public's behavior will
change in the instance of a smoking ban coupled with noise
controls, there is one issue on which a bartender, a bouncer
and a policeman agreed: private establishments should make
private decisions about smoking.
People outside smoking will
have very little to do with higher levels of noise complaints,
according to Det. Mike Singer, who handles community affairs
in the district encompassing Greenwich Village. When the quality
of life hotline was started in October, police precincts received
weekly reports of where noise complaints emanated from. Complaints
coming from Bleecker and Macdougal Streets had always been
a problem for Greenwich Village. As a result, with only a
weekly report of the location of noise complaints Singer -break-
anticipated that he will be hard pressed to discern any increase
in noise as a factor of a smoking ban, because the same two
areas will always be red flags. Singer insisted that people
who smoke outside will only be a magnet for quality of life
violations if they are playing loud music, or consuming alcoholic
Tommy Chou, manager of the Peculiar Pub on Bleecker
Street offered a different opinion than other business owners
in the area. Chou is attached to the description of his bar
as a peaceful place to have a drink, and finds himself agitated
by the prospect of a smoking ban creating a more boisterous
atmosphere outside his bar. Despite the fact that his bar
was one of several subject to the November 1st police raid,
Chou insists that noise has never been the Peculiar Pub's
downfall. Just as Chou is intent on portraying the importance
of peace and quiet inside his casual bar, he is also an advocate
of silence on the streets. This bar manager is in happy agreement
with Bloomberg's quieter vision of New York City.
keep a quiet life. People hanging out on the street is not
right," says Chou, who shares the mayor's concern that people
will venture outside to smoke, disturbing the neighbor.
Dargan, bartender of The Red Lion on Bleecker Street said
that the bar had not made any alterations since operation
Silent Night was enacted, except to update the preinstalled
soundproof windows. His chief concern was that the bar will
lose its "European flavor" if tourists realize they cannot
smoke and cease to show up. He predicted that if the two laws
were forced to coexist, what would result would not only be
apathy towards the city's bar and club culture, but lost revenue
for one of the city's most vibrant and crucial industries.
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