StudentImpact’s recent petition on Change.org to amend Williamsburg’s noise ordinance is in many ways admirable. It seeks to involve students in city governance, promoting change through the democratic process. Over 1,000 students have signed, with legitimate reasons to do so. The petition, however, is dishonest and could harm its own cause.
Conceptually, we support many of the petition’s requests. The current minimum fine for a first violation of the noise ordinance is $300. That is unaffordable for the average college student; we agree that it should be lower. The noise limits themselves also merit consideration. The law states, “No sound generation shall result in sound having a volume of 75 [decibels] or more, at a distance greater than ten feet from the place at which the sound is being generated.” 75 decibels is no louder than a speaking voice; the petition’s request for an increase in distance or decibels is fair.
These points aside, the petition is misleading in its description of the noise ordinance. It asks that the noise ordinance be reduced from a Class 1 to Class 4 misdemeanor. The noise ordinance is not a Class 1 misdemeanor, but a Class 2 misdemeanor. This category of crime only becomes a Class 1 misdemeanor on the offender’s third violation within a 12-month period. This matters. Any student reading this petition might get the impression that they could go to jail for up to a year and be fined a maximum $2,500 for one noise violation. Granted, a Class 2 misdemeanor carries a maximum six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, but these are tangible differences that those signing the petition need to know.
Furthermore, the petition presents the noise ordinance as disproportionately affecting students. This may be the case, but students are, on the whole, louder than other, older residents. Even if StudentImpact received concessions on every challenged front, students would still constitute most of Williamsburg’s noise ordinance violators. This is a fact that even the strongest opponents of the noise ordinance must acknowledge in order to effectively make their case to non-student residents.
StudentImpact also claims that 25 percent of student noise violators were on the Dean’s List. Even if they are correct, the point the statistic makes is irrelevant; their inclusion reeks of entitlement — that somehow academic success exempts students from following the law.
Perhaps the worst thing about this petition is that it could prove deadly to its own cause. The Williamsburg City Council may reject these proposed amendments precisely because of the petition’s deceit and condescension. That would undermine the efforts of over 1,000 College students who seek to make a positive change in their community.
Even worse, it would erode trust between students and City Council, poisoning future attempts at reform and discouraging student involvement.