Efforts to restrain a group of noisy preachers along the H Street Northeast corridor suffered a major setback last week as the D.C. City Council voted by a narrow margin to table a noise-control bill that had passed out of committee.
The 7-5 vote came after the the D.C. chapter of the AFL-CIO mounted a massive lobbying effort against the bill. The measure, introduced by Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells (D), would have placed limits on noncommercial amplified noise that currently is unregulated from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Unions had been concerned that the measure would impede their ability to organize protests, but one — the Service Employees International Union — had supported the compromise version of the bill that passed out of the council’s Public Services and Consumer Affairs Committee late last month.
“I’m disappointed,” Wells said in a statement. “It’s tough to stand up against special interests. We worked hard with residents and labor leaders open to a solution to find a fix that is fair and provides some neighborhood protections.”
Wells said he’ll work to change his colleagues’ minds.
The councilmember’s chief of staff, Charles Allen, blamed the AFL-CIO for torpedoing the bill.
“[Councilmember] Yvette Alexander was talking before the vote, saying she’d been getting calls from [D.C. AFL-CIO President] Joslyn Williams all weekend,” Allen said.
Ironically, in the runup to the vote, the preachers stopped going to their usual Saturday afternoon location of Eighth and H streets Northeast.
General Yahanna, a leader of the group known as the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, said the preachers now will be at Gallery Place, at Seventh and H streets Northwest, on Friday afternoons.
“I haven’t seen them this year,” said Dave Klavitter, an Eighth Street Northeast resident who worked with Wells on the legislation. “I don’t miss them.”
Klavitter previously held “amplified free speech days” in Adams Morgan and Georgetown, during which residents made their case for the bill by using amplifiers to disrupt the scenes at sidewalk cafes — a practice that was legal and remains legal with the stalling of the noise bill.
Even though the preaching is no longer his problem, Klavitter said residents still are upset by the bill’s failure and will continue to push for it. Some have suggested they barrage councilmembers’ homes with amplified noise.
“That’s the nuclear option, I guess,” Klavitter said. “It’s rude … and it’s not fun for anybody, but I’ve got people e-mailing me saying, ‘Let’s do it! Let’s do it!’ People are pissed at the council for dissing residents.”
The bill’s supporters have their work cut out for them. Even one of the measure’s co- sponsors, At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown (D), voted to table it.
Brown said he was sympathetic to the AFL-CIO’s view that it had not been given proper notice of the Jan. 29 markup of the bill. Brown voted present at that markup, but the bill moved to the full council by a 2-1 vote.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans (D), who made the motion to table the bill, did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite the compromise language worked out between Wells and chapters of the local SEIU, the AFL-CIO has refused to support any version of a noise-control bill.
Allen said Wells has not received any suggestions from other councilmembers about changes they would like to see to the bill.
“It’s not technically dead,” Allen said, “but it’s certainly disappointing the way the vote went down.”