DEL MAR — Responding to complaints that included a petition signed by 70 residents, the city looked into ways to possibly reduce motorcycle noise, especially along north-and-south running streets in the northern beach area.
Based on findings presented at the May 2 meeting, council members concluded there is little they can do.
“Our options are extremely limited,” said Councilman Don Mosier, whose main mode of transportation is a motorcycle.
“I think it’s a valuable exercise when there’s an issue that’s frustrating to members of the community to do what we’ve done, which is research it,” Councilman Dwight Worden said.
“But it’s also important to recognize we can’t solve every problem and … let the community know we did take a really hard look at it but there’s nothing effective that’s practical that we can do about it.”
Two Del Mar residents and one from Solana Beach asked council at the April 18 meeting to consider adding signage or addressing the issue through the city’s noise ordinance.
Richard Levak said the excessive noise is at times unbearable, “especially when a gang of motor bikes comes through.”
“The whole house shakes,” he said. “Car alarms go off. … There is no reason for it.”
“It’s an unbelievably penetrating sound,” added Lew Dominy, who suggested posting whimsical signs such as “This is where our families sleep … Too much noise, can’t count sheep” or “As you drive down our street, your courtesy can’t be beat.”
Because they spoke during the public comment period at last month’s meeting, council members couldn’t discuss the problem but directed staff to research potential solutions and report back.
What they found — and the city attorney confirmed — is that motorcycle noise is regulated by the California Vehicle Code and local authorities can’t enforce additional noise limitations.
If they did, any citations issued under such ordinances would be invalid, Mosier said.
Assistant City Manager Mark Delin said the state code establishes specific noise limits based on the year the motorcycle was made.
The acceptable level for bikes built before 1970 is 92 decibels, the same standard for a train crossing. For 1986 and newer models it is 80 decibels.
But Delin said law enforcement doesn’t use sound level meters to enforce motorcycle noises because decibel meters require calibration, extensive training to use and certification of the traffic officers.
He also said readings taken on a moving vehicle are typically not sufficient grounds to issue a citation.
“You have to prove that the exact sound came from that bike and not any other contaminating sources,” he said. “So enforcement is limited to observation of illegal modification of the exhaust system.”
Motorcycles are equipped with mufflers to reduce sound and catalytic converters to reduce pollution. Additionally, every exhaust system must have an Environmental Protection Agency label.
However, owners often modify their motorcycles, replacing mufflers with straight pipes to increase sound and “presumably more performance, but I don’t know how well correlated that is,” Delin said.
Such a violation is considered mechanical and the corrective action is a fix-it ticket.
“It’s a persistent widespread problem,” Delin said. “Communities all over the place are troubled by this. … But there are things we can do, which is the good news.”
Options include adding signage or increasing the enforcement of mechanical violations by asking the Sheriff’s Department to be more aggressive or hiring an additional motorcycle officer for $60 to $70 an hour.
However, officers can only cite mechanical violations as a secondary infraction and bike owners can easily replace mufflers after the ticket is signed off on, Delin said.
The city could also consider alternative traffic controls.
“There are a lot of stop signs in the beach area,” Delin said, adding that they create a lot of stopping and acceleration noise for every vehicle.
Replacing stop signs with roundabouts at some intersections might help reduce the noise because traffic circles tend to maintain a slow and even vehicle speed. Traffic lights allow more vehicles to pass without stopping.
Another option would be to work with the League of Cities to pursue legislation at the state level for a motorcycle inspection program to ensure exhaust systems comply with sound and smog requirements.
“What we’re facing is a behavioral problem,” Mosier said. “And we don’t have any legal tools to solve it. I think the only course is to support legislation saying that things have to be checked occasionally.
“I think spending extra for sheriff patrols is not going to help,” he added. “Putting up signs is just an invitation to rev your engine. … The only proposed solution that I like is putting more roundabouts down the beach stretch.”
“I don’t think (additional enforcement) will help and it’s certainly not worth the money,” Worden said. “I’m not in favor of more sign pollution. They’re unattractive.”
He said he doubted traffic controls would work but telling the city’s lobbyists to sponsor or promote inspections “would be easy and cheap.”
He said the only other viable alternative is what he calls “the shaming options,” which shouldn’t involve city officials.
But residents could post pictures on social media of motorcyclists who are causing excessive noise, he said.
“Bottom line — I don’t really think there’s anything that’s very effective,” Worden added. “This is one of those things we just can’t get our hands around effectively.”