|The Noise Project sent a two-page survey regarding noise issues to all three candidates for Providence mayor, as well as all of the ballot-qualified candidates for City Council, including incumbents / those running unopposed. Below are our endorsements in tomorrow’s primary.
After much deliberation, we split our endorsement for mayor between City Council member Nirva LaFortune and former Providence Chief of Staff Brett Smiley. We recognize that they represent distinct perspectives within the Providence, but each seems likely to bring much-needed change after eight years of Jorge Elorza’s failed laissez faire approach to noise.
Although their survey responses indicated both agreement and differences in terms of potential policy approaches to addressing noise, we felt that both candidates understand its importance as a public-health issue and a long-term concern among residents of the Providence.
Moreover, since they appeal to fairly different constituencies within the city, we thought we should provide endorsements to guide the greatest number of residents. For those on the left, LaFortune seems the better choice; for centrists, Smiley appears to represent their views.
The third candidate, former Deputy Chief of Staff Gonzalo Cuervo, did not receive the Noise Project’s endorsement, based on his responses to the survey. In contrast to his opponents, Mr. Cuervo seemed to marginalize noise as merely a ‘quality of life’ issue, echoing the failed approach of the Elorza administration, which has been woefully deficient in acknowledging or acting on noise.
Mayoral candidate policy positions
City Council member LaFortune cited her role in passing the City Council’s 2021 call for a study of noise in the city — which Elorza has pointedly ignored — and her co-sponsorship of an amendment to limit the use of leablowers as example of her noise-related governmental experience. She said ATVs / motorcycles, leablowers, and modified exhausts would be her top targets as mayor.
By contrast, both Cuervo and Smiley denied having played any role in addressing noise while serving in senior positions in previous mayoral administrations (including Elorza’s), though Smiley joined LaFortune in saying his administrations would actively measure noise on an ongoing basis and issue annual reports on it; Cuervo would not affirmatively commit to doing so.
In a positive contrast to the Elorza administration, all three candidates promised significant efforts to advance public understanding of noise issues and their potential policies to address it, but Cuervo again departed from his opponents by rejecting the idea of including the health effects of noise as part of the city’s public-school curriculum as “unrealistic,” given the other challenges the district currently faces. His opponents didn’t agree with that view, and both said they support doing so.
All three candidates support the use of community organizations to help address noise, with LaFortune and Smiley both mentioning potentially expanding the use of city inspectors. The latter went further than either of his opponents in also touting greater use of the Providence Police and technological means such as noise cameras to enforce current sound-level limits.
Smiley and LaFortune also pledged to use the city’s legal resources to address the sale and installation of modified mufflers, which are a frequently cited source of noise by residents, and illegal under both city and RI law. Cuervo again used the word “unrealistic” to reject the idea, but offered no alternative policy responses to the problem.
Overall, Cuervo stood apart from his opponents in conveying an unwillingness to seriously engage on noise issues, and the sense that noise would continue to get little or no attention under his administration. Having experienced the Elorza administration’s hands-off policy on excessive, unhealthy, and largely unnecessary noise for the past eight years, it simply doesn’t make much sense to vote for four more years of it.
|City Council Endorsements
As stated above, the Noise Project sent the survey to all of the ballot-qualified candidates for City Council, including incumbents running unopposed for a second term. Three candidates — Amy Brown (Ward 9) and Santos Javier and Oscar Vargas in Ward 15 — told us that they would complete the survey, but never did. As a result, the Project cannot endorse any of them. Voters in Ward 9 have a better choice (see below); unfortunately, those in Ward 15 do not, other than leaving their vote for City Council blank.
Whereas none of the mayoral candidates supports creating a civilian group akin to parking-enforcement officers to enforce noise limits, three City Council candidates who responded to the survey — David Marshall (Ward 7), Diego Tomas Arene-Morley (Ward 9), and Cedric Russell (Ward 11) — all said they would support such a group, with the latter two supporting technology such as noise cameras.
All three City Council candidates said they notice noise in their respective neighborhoods. Russell cited ATVs, modified vehicle exhausts, and loud stereos as the most prevalent sources, but also noted construction, trash pick-up, and “around the clock” emergency vehicles as contributors. He said noise levels are generally higher in the summer months.
Marshall pointed to stereos in cars and houses, hookah clubs near residential areas, and ATVs, and Arene-Morley cited car exhausts and stereos, motorcycles and ATVs, and residential sound systems as most noticeable, followed by fireworks, car alarms, using car horns while standing, and emergency vehicles. They both said noise has increased across the board, with the latter estimating by about 30%.
Russell and Marshall said their friends and neighbors talk about noise, while Arene-Morley cited a community survey he conducted in May 2022 as indicating that residents are concerned about noise pollution, lifer, and lack of common courtesy, regardless of their age or ethnicity. Russell said he has lived in East Providence, Newport, Westerly, New London (CT), and Myrtle Beach, SC. Arene-Morley said he grew up in Washington, DC. Marshall said he has lived exclusively in Providence for 64 years.
All three support studying noise and developing a plan to reduce it to healthy levels, as the City Council requested in 2021, with Arene-Morely stressing community feedback. They similarly agree on the creatioon of a formal city noise policy. Arene-Morley said the executive branch has “side-stepped” noise issues, and that his neighbors feel the police don’t respond to noise problems, such that “[m]any have stopped calling,” he said. “How many individuals in other neighborhoods have given up calling?” (We hear that a lot from the people who respond to our Community Noise Survey.)
They all said they would call on the new mayor to formally assign at least one member of his / her administration to address noise as part of their official responsibilities, and that they are familiar with the adverse health effects of excessive noise. Russell and Arene-Morley both described noise as a public-health issue that the city should address as such, with Marshall saying that is “possibly” a way to handle it. All three said they would vote to fund ongoing noise measurement in the city, and to require annual reports from the mayor on noise levels and the polices and actions he / she is taking to address them.
Arene-Morley diverged from the other two candidates in terms of voting to fund and require public outreach on noise-related issues, unless the city could create a sustainable revenue stream for it, such as fines for noise violations, stressing that this kind of “centralized” education works better as part of a “robust community-engagement process.” He also departed from his opponents on voting to make noise part of the city school district’s health curriculum, echoing mayoral candidate Cuervo in citing higher priorities in the school system — though he supports it if it can be funded and doesn’t displace other topics.
Russell said he would vote to replace Commissioner of Public Safety Steven Pare, Police Chief Clements, and Board of Licenses Chair Dylan Conley, saying they don’t follow the law and instead “are doing what they want to do.” Marshall would eliminate the commissioner position altogether. Arene-Morley says the City Council should provide opportunities for residents to provide the mayor with feedback and questions regarding appointments subject to City Council confirmation. All three support legal efforts to fully implement city and state laws to reduce the sale and installation of illegal modified mufflers.
On the basis of their survey responses, the Noise Project endorses Diego Tomas Arene-Morley (Ward 9), and Cedric Russell (Ward 11) as thoughful candidates for City Council, along with incumbent Councilmembers John Goncalves (Ward 1) and Helen Anthony (Ward 2) for their past efforts to address noise, and new candidate Sue AnderBois (Ward 3), based on her work as former chair of the Providence Sustainability Commission to address noise and other harmful effects from gas-powered leafblowers.