A law regulating nighttime noise levels that took effect last July isn’t being enforced because the Department of Health says it has no money to research and set appropriate noise levels or to purchase sound meters.
Many had hoped the noise law would become a tool in addressing complaints in mixed-use neighborhoods like Chinatown, where music that comes from nightclubs can be disturbing to nearby residents.
"The DOH budget has no funds to implement this measure," Director Chiyome Fukino said in a letter to area legislators, saying she does not see implementation of the law "in the near future."
But some residents of Chinatown say the department is making excuses to avoid enforcing the law.
The Downtown Neighborhood Board said regulations are needed because music from neighboring clubs can shake walls and windows, keeping residents awake, said Frank Lavoie, chairman.
Lavoie, who lives in Chinatown Gateway Plaza, said units in his building facing bars on Hotel Street are bombarded by sound waves, some of which fall below what people can hear, and cannot be read by current sound meters.
"It’s not the loud noise; it’s coming from the bass," he said. "This really is a lifestyle and health issue."
According to a letter Fukino sent to two area legislators this month, the department won’t enforce the law because it can’t afford to buy 10 sound level meters for about $1,500 each.
Fukino added that the department must do research on whether inaudible sounds have health effects, but cannot afford to do the research.
Rep. Karl Rhoads, who introduced a similar noise bill, said the law doesn’t ask for or require research.
"There’s overwhelming research that shows noise that keeps you up at night can be bad for you," he said.
Rhoads (D, Palama-Sheridan) said the law asks the department to measure only the dBC scale, which is below human hearing, along with the audible dBA scale for noise complaints.
He also argued cost is not an issue because the department could use cheaper sound meters, such as a meter he bought at an electronics store for $50. To account for inaccuracies, a little leeway can be added to the reading, he said.
Under the law, the Health Department and the county liquor commissions are to enforce the nighttime noise levels, but the Health Department shall adopt the rules.
Rhoads said the Honolulu Liquor Commission is waiting for the Health Department to create those rules before taking action.