Is LA’s Anti-Barking Dog Law Fair?
- Phyllis M. Daugherty
ANIMAL WATCH-On September 9, 2016, important changes to Los Angeles Municipal Code Sec. 53.63 -- BARKING DOG NOISE were agendized for consideration by the City Council. But, with only ten council members present, it was rescheduled for September 20.
If there is a dog in your home or in your community, or if you own or operate any business in Los Angeles, this could affect you at any time. We never know when our quality of life, and the welfare of our family, may be impacted by a new dog in our neighborhood that barks incessantly and/or seemingly without reason -- or is barking because of neglect or improper care. We also don't really know how much our own dog barks when no one is home! How do we want the impact measured by the City in the event of a dispute?
There is another aspect of this law that can have a serious impact on business locations. Please review all the proposed changes and the existing clause that should be changed. There is still time to comment.
BACKGROUND--In December 2011, LAMC Section 53.63 was amended by Council, as recommended by LA Animal Services, to define ‘excessive dog noise’ as “barking that is continuously audible for ten minutes or intermittently audible for 30 minutes within a three-hour period.”
However, these parameters did not work well, according to General Manager Brenda Barnette’s letter and report on April 22, 2014. Over the next two years it became apparent that having to record exact minutes of barking over a period of time placed too onerous a burden on victims of barking dogs that unduly disturbed their lives, sleep and quality of life. She also claimed it limited the ability of the Department of Animal Services (DAS) to effectively address concerns and complaints that did not fall into these specific, limited patterns.
Defendant dog owners at Commission appeals contended there was no way to ascertain whether such recordings were the result of intentional provocation from the complainer who may be standing on the other side of a wall with a recorder -- or from outside stimulation, such as a mail carrier making deliveries on the street.
Also, with a timeframe as the sole determiner of violation, there was no way to address the possibility that the barking might have been due to of lack of proper care and attention by a negligent or uneducated owner.
In April 2014, the Animal Services Commission approved the Department’s request for revision of this LAMC section to allow more discretion for hearing officers to consider factors other than strict time standards in recommending options, i.e., training, improved care and conditions, or changed housing options such as requiring that the dog(s) be kept indoors during certain hours. They expressed their belief this would also permit the Commission, upon appeal, to explore additional remedies if the initial recommendations by the General Manager/staff had not resolved the problem(s).
Commission President David Zaft emphasized that dogs are rarely ordered to be removed from a home because of barking, since most owners -- rather than give up their pet -- will comply with conditions and restrictions to protect neighbors from excessive noise. But, occasionally, when there are obvious indicators that the owner is not acting responsibly in other aspects of caring for the animal and does not intend to make needed improvements, removal can allow the dog’s needs to be better served by rehoming it through the shelter or a rescue organization.
The revision was approved by the PAW Committee on June 3 and adopted by Council on September 10, 2014, with the request that the City Attorney prepare the ordinance. It then disappeared for almost two years, until a new report and the ordinance were placed on the PAW agenda for August 26, 2016, (the motion expiration date) and fast-tracked to Council.
HOW THE ORDINANCE WOULD CHANGE--The proposed definition of ‘excessive noise’, in the Ordinance to be considered on September 20, 2016, adds reasonable and pertinent factors that the Department may consider other than strict periods of time of prolonged barking:
For purposes of this section, the term “excessive noise” shall mean noise which is unreasonably annoying, disturbing, offensive, or which unreasonably interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property of one or more persons occupying property in the community or neighborhood, within reasonable proximity to the property where the dog or dogs are kept. Factors that the Department may use to determine whether the barking is excessive may include, but are not limited to, the following:
(i) the nature, frequency and volume of the noise;
(ii) the tone and repetitiveness;
(iii) the time of day or night;
(iv) the distance from the complaining or affected party or parties;
(v) the number of neighbors affected by or complaining about the noise;
(vi) any other relevant evidence demonstrating that the barking is unduly disruptive; and
(vii) whether the dog is being provoked.
Several letters of opposition in CF14-0681, claim this wording is too vague:
“Eliminating a clear definition of excessive noise and replacing it with something entirely subjective and essentially unprovable will only result in more dogs being removed from their homes.”
A letter of support from A. Bold states:
Please approve the proposed changes to LAMC 53.63. I am a victim of nuisance barking and have had a great deal of experience with Animal Services and LAMC 53.63.
When it comes to nuisance barking, only Animal Services can help. Not the police and not community groups. The courts will only help if there is an Animal Services Order. So it all comes down to Animal Services and LAMC 53.63.
LAMC 53.63 currently in place is unjust because it allows only two very specific scenarios to be nuisance barking. This is completely unrealistic when it comes to any noise nuisance.
Current LAMC 53.63 is also very onerous to prove and, I allege, is therefore discriminatory.
THE BUSINESS IMPACT: DID KORETZ OVERLOOK (OR PLAN) THIS?--In 2013, LA’s Chief Zoning Administrator Linn Wyatt issued a Zoning Administrator’s Interpretation (ZAI), exempting “pet shops” from the requirements for dog “kennels,” if they offer four or more adult shelter or rescued dogs for sale.
The Planning Dept. said this was requested by LAAS GM Brenda Barnette to enhance Koretz’ ban on the sale of commercially bred puppies in pet stores.
Historically, pet shops are in commercial (C-2) zones and only offer puppies under four months of age, which exude small amounts of easily disposable waste and do not bark. This ZAI presumed that "adult shelter or rescued dogs" do not bark as offensively as adult dogs in commercial boarding or training facilities -- which can operate only in proper zoning, or under a Conditional Use Permit.
After four months of age, pups are considered adults (dogs). If more than three adult dogs are maintained on any premise in the city of LA, they are automatically regulated as kennels by LAMC Section 12.03 of the Zoning Code and prohibited unless in ‘M' (light manufacturing) zones -- and at least 500 feet from residences.
On May 27, 2015, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell ruled that the, “City of Los Angeles Zoning Administrator’s Interpretation … exceeded the Zoning Administrator’s authority and is thus an abuse of discretion.”
Koretz has subsequently sought to have the Planning Dept. change the kennel code to allow unlimited adult rescued/shelter dogs in ANY C-2 zoned "kennel/pet shop" in any area --including those which adjoin residential communities.
Proposed revised LAMC Sec. 53.63 – BARKING NOISE, retains the following wording:
"The provisions of this section shall NOT apply to any commercial animal establishment permitted by zoning law." (Emphasis added.)
An industry expert opined, “This means that this change in zoning would deregulate an entire aspect of the animal industry in the city, leaving affected business owners, or residents within 500 feet with no recourse for the overreaching negative impact of ‘excessive noise’ from such operations and no way to file complaints, as provided for other city residents or businesses.”
How can the City effectively address the disruptive impact of barking dogs on the surrounding community -- whether measuring only the exact length the noise is made or weighing a multitude of factors -- while exempting every commercial animal operation?
Shouldn’t this be changed/clarified while Sec. 53.63 is being revised? Or, is it part of Koretz’ plan?
WHAT DO YOU THINK?--Chronic or static barking that repeatedly interferes with living and sleep patterns of animals or humans is a serious health and safety threat.
Should the City focus on the exact number of minutes or hours a dog barks as the measure of a nuisance or consider the total disruptive impact on neighbors and other stakeholders in the community?
(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.