San Francisco Response to Noise Problems
Noise Task Force
The Noise Task Force was created by the Board of Supervisors in Section 2918 of the 2008 noise control ordinance. Between 2008 and 2011, the Noise Task Force met quarterly to exchange information regarding noise abatement matters.
Transportation Noise Element
In 1972 the Transportation Noise Element was incorporated into the San Francisco General Plan. The complete transportation noise element can be found in the Environmental Protection Section of the General Plan under Objective 9, 10, and 11.
For most San Franciscans, the levels of sound in their environment are neither high enough nor persistent enough to cause hearing damage. While hearing damage may result from prolonged exposure to very loud sounds, other health effects may be experienced from exposure to other types of sound. Transient sounds may interrupt sleep, and unwanted sound may be so annoying that it causes a physical stress response or difficulty concentrating, leading to adverse effects on physical health and quality of life. Research shows that physiological effects such as increased blood pressure are mediated by the release of the stress hormone cortisol when certain individuals are exposed to certain sounds. The extent of the health problems that result from exposure to sounds depend on many factors besides simply loudness—the source, setting, time, place, frequency and subjective qualities or content of the noise all influence how it is perceived by individuals, and any individual sensitivities or underlying health issues may also impact the subjective and objective response to sound.
Emerging research suggests that regular access to and use of quiet or silent spaces helps to prevent annoyance and improves tolerance to unwanted sound. Our city is fortunate to have libraries, parks and natural spaces that provide opportunity to experience quietness.
Transportation Noise Maps
In 2007 the San Francisco Health Department developed a digital local traffic based model using the FHWA- Traffic Noise Model (TNM) to update the existing 1972 model. The 2007 model estimated noise levels from transportation sources on each street in San Francisco and identified those areas that exceed 60 Ldn. Under the 2012 version of Title 24 of the state building code, new multifamily housing in areas in excess of 60 are meant to be acoustically insulated, and all new residential construction must achieve an interior noise level of 45. The San Francisco Building Department is the enforcement agency for this law and does so under Appendix Chapter 12, Division IIA, San Francisco Building Code. Building inspectors use these maps to decide which new construction applications must be acoustically reviewed and evaluated.
Noise Control Ordinance
In 2008, Article 29 of the Police Code was substantially amended from the prior version of the law, most of which had been enacted in 1972. In the six years between 2008 and 2014 research has emerged that helps public health experts better understand how unwanted sound can affect health, and technologies have evolved to better measure and control sound and to protect people from unwanted sound on an individual and population-wide basis. In January 2014, Supervisor Norman Yee submitted a Letter of Inquiry to the Board of Supervisors directing city agencies to work together to:
- (1) Assess successes and obstacles to interagency implementation issues with noise laws in the city.
- (2) Assess the need for revisions to the existing noise ordinance and, if appropriate, recommend a framework and strategy to develop revisions that includes an opportunity for community and stakeholder input.
- (3) Initiate and draft uniform guidance and agreements on inter-departmental cooperation to guide interpretation and improve consistency in implementation of the existing law.
The workgroup convened a total of seven meetings to systematically address the elements of the inquiry and produced a final report detailing specific next steps that will be pursued by the collaborating agencies, including 311.