The City Department Who Wasn’t There
The day of the community meeting, Courshon (one of the residents spearheading the community’s effort to remedy the issues) received a call from Russ Strazzella, Chief Inspector at the Bureau of Contract Administration (a division of the city’s Department of Public Works). Because the construction site is on city streets, the Bureau is supposed to have oversight of this project. However, given the DWP is arguably the most powerful agency or division of the city, could a less powerful department—the Bureau of Contract Administration—provide real oversight?
During the conversation, Strazzella said they were unaware of residents’ issues with the construction, but now that they’re becoming aware, they want to help remedy and provide better oversight. He also explained that since press may be attending the community meeting, he and his people cannot attend, even to sit in the back and listen.
The following week, Strazzella visited the site and met with Courshon and another resident, Nicole Goodson. Strazzella and his lead inspector, Tony Rios, said they were “on it” regarding the problems. As one of the issues was extreme noise, Courshon had a decibel level meter with him to show Strazzella noise level readings. Strazzella said, however, “I cannot look at that.” He couldn’t attend the community meeting the week before and now couldn’t view a meter showing noise levels. What was this, plausible deniability? Or another theme in Chinatown coming to life, one that Jake Gittes references from his time working as an LAPD officer: “Do as little as possible”…?
Ms. Goodson, one of the residents living 11 feet from the construction site, appeals to Strazzella and Rios, expressing her extreme frustration as she works from home and cannot function with noise levels so high. Courshon also discusses the residents’ issues, and Strazzella again says, “We’re on it” and “We’re going to get this taken care of.” He doesn’t understand why Rados hasn’t been doing mitigation, but will check the actual contract and says, “Perhaps mitigation procedures were inadvertently left out.”
What?? I Can’t Hear You
How loud is loud? Some of Rados’ equipment generates decibel levels hitting 95 dB at distances of as little as 35 feet. One forklift loader actually hits 104 dB at 10 feet away. With some residents’ doors & windows 11 feet from this, it’s amazing no one has gone postal yet. Although in late December, one resident did finally move out. Keith Ruggiero, a sound designer for film & television, lived at 2829 Rokeby for six years. He had even built a sound studio off his living room and worked from home. But after three months of ear-shattering noise—which of course interfered with his work—and the accompanying respiratory issues plus migraines, he’d had enough and moved.
So how loud is 104 dB? Hearing damage can occur when decibel levels reach 85 dB and such levels are sustained. Los Angeles even has a series of laws about noise. One such law, LA Municipal Code 112.05, specifically regulates noise from equipment at construction sites, stating that such equipment and machinery is not allowed to exceed 75 dB at a distance of 50 feet.
Certainly the city had a good intention in the past to protect residents from construction noise. But if residents attempt to contact the LAPD nowadays, they will get nowhere. In fact, Courshon tried. When he spoke with Officer Jaime Roussett of LAPD’s Noise Enforcement Team in December, Roussett claimed: 1) There are NO noise level restrictions for construction sites, and 2) There are NO municipal codes covering this. After researching and finding that there were regulations, Courshon phoned Officer Roussett back in January. When Roussett insisted Courshon was wrong, Courshon asked him to locate the codebook. When Roussett did and read the code Courshon referenced, Rousette actually began arguing about the code and its interpretation—despite the clear intent of the language.
Courshon then asked for Rousett’s Supervisor, and was referred to Detective Sandra Betancourt, who initially argued (as did Roussett) that no LA law covered noise levels at construction sites. Eventually she admitted, “We don’t enforce this code.” Why? “Because the City Attorney’s office has told us not to, and they won’t prosecute these violations.” Jake Gittes’ words “Do as little as possible” alive and well here too?
DWP vs. Silver Lake: Round 2
In the weeks after the community’s first meeting, a slight improvement in Air Quality mitigation was effected, but clearly not enough. Daily photos and videos continued to show State violations including dirt hauling trucks, filled to the brim with dirt, leaving or arriving without a covering; massive dirt piles on the street left uncovered, overnight and on the weekends; and dry ground, infrequently watered, resulting in clouds of dust and debris as crew and vehicles worked the site.
On January 31 at a follow-up meeting with the DWP and Rados, residents and business owners again expressed anger at the lack of real improvement.
DWP claimed mitigation procedures were in full effect, but the community knew otherwise. Courshon asked if DWP or Rados could give a ballpark figure, a percentage of how much mitigation they were doing. 50%? 80%? 100%? Derek Rados replied that everything was being done and the site was being kept wet continuously every day. Courshon then produced photographic evidence—from the day before—showing bone-dry areas where the crew was working. One photo also taken the day before, showed a dirt truck leaving the site for the streets of LA, filled to the top with uncovered dirt. Photos from two days before, during the weekend, showed large uncovered dirt piles left to blow in the wind.
Derek Rados then claimed that one dirt pile—which didn’t look big in the 8.5” x 11” photo—was so small it didn’t have to be covered. Courshon and another resident who had seen the actual dirt pile countered that it was really quite large—six feet tall. Size, however, is irrelevant, as State regulations do not have exemptions for “small dirt piles.”
Derek Rados’ audacity to lie to a room of over 50 residents was mind-blowing. Several people, including Silver Lake homeowner Al Moggia, called for independent oversight, someone on location every day, all day, to enforce full mitigation procedures. Leaving this oversight to the DWP or the Department of Public Works had clearly failed.
Residents then revisited the noise issue. The DWP had sent a sound engineer the previous week to do on-site testing to determine how bad the noise levels were. This, of course, should have occurred in September when construction began. At the first meeting, Courshon provided results of his own tests from early January, showing the decibel levels at various distances from various equipment, many which exceeded the law. At this second meeting, Singley said he thought that Courshon’s readings were too high, and therefore DWP had done its own testing.
The day DWP chose to test, January 24, was not a particularly loud day. The tests, in 15 minute increments from morning to early afternoon, included readings throughout the crew’s lunch period—when all equipment was shut off. Also, the Rados crew, aware that DWP was testing, likely tried to generate less noise. Despite many readings still exceeding the legal limit, DWP’s results showed that the average reading—a single number for the entire testing period—was just below 75 dB, the legal threshold. DWP then attempted to claim that the LA Municipal Code (LAMC) noise law allows for an average reading to be utilized to determine violation—but this is not true for LAMC 112.05.
As these results were perceived to be skewed, Courshon suggested Singley and crew come to the site with their sound testing equipment, and Courshon will bring his. Residents were invited as witnesses for this new test, scheduled for two days later.
If a Tree Falls in the Forest and No One Hears It...
On Thursday, February 2, Glenn Singley and a slew of his DWP team arrive on-site, along with their “industrial hygienist” and a decibel level meter. With a number of residents present, Courshon and DWP tested three areas as various equipment operated. All three areas showed readings on both DWP’s meter and Courshon’s meter over the legal threshold. (DWP’s meter and Courshon’s meter were always within 1 dB of each other).
One reading taken when a large excavator simply moves along the street, measured 95 dB on DWP’s meter and 94 dB on Courshon’s at a distance of 35 feet. This large excavator and another Rados has on-site make extremely loud, metal-on-metal screeching noises when traveling, and have since Day 1. In conversations Courshon had with the manufacturer of the Kamatsu excavator as well as an equipment repair facility in Bakersfield, California, both told him when excavators make this kind of noise, their undercarriage needs repair.
Since mid-November when Courshon first broached this issue, Derek Rados said nothing was wrong with their equipment, and at each community meeting since, Rados has insisted the excavators are fine, that the 90+ dB noise levels are normal. Of course, since he himself is apparently never on-site when these excavators are traveling the road, then, per the metaphysical pondering, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it,” the excavators make no sound in his perception.
After this mutual on-site testing, Singley acquiesced that sound is an issue here but doesn’t know what to do to mitigate, as sound barriers will present another set of issues if employed. For one, they cannot block driveways, and secondly, overhead obstructions in some places might prevent barriers from being the proper height. Of course, this begs the question, why didn’t anyone look at this issue prior to construction? Why didn’t anyone visit the site and propose solutions or choose another route for the pipeline? DWP’s 454 page Environmental Impact Report was published back in 2005; DWP had over six years to find a solution. And the million-dollar question: Why didn’t Rados employ any noise mitigation, given their DWP contract is apparently paying them to do so?
The Bureau of Contract Administration (Dept. of Public Works), despite their promise in early January to remedy the situation, have been totally MIA on mitigation issues. They have not provided oversight nor leadership in devising a solution for the past 14 weeks. And despite Strazzella’s promise that he would personally look into whether mitigation procedures were actually written into the contract, he did not.
According to an email from Strazzella to Courshon on February 6, Strazzella didn’t have a copy of the DWP/Rados contract, nor had he seen the mitigation procedures in the Environmental Impact Report. He said, however, “My staff states that the permit construction specifications for mitigation are ‘Standard Greenbook and Brownbook’ which is our jargon for normal dust abatement.” He said nothing about noise abatement and provides no explanation about what “normal dust abatement” means to his department. This is a complete reversal of his stated intent and desire in early January to be of service to the community. As the salt to the community’s wounds, Strazzella has this quote from actor Tony Curtis in the signature of his emails: "Service to others is the rent we pay for our time on this planet." Apparently not for Strazzella.