Pat Howard tolerates the noise from the daily races at Los Alamitos Race Course because he has to. He knew when he bought his home more than 20 years ago that the horses and jockeys would be his neighbors.
But when singer Juice Newton and her entourage pulled into town for a gig at the race track last month, the noise was more than he could take.
"I could understand every word Juice said when she talked to the crowd," said Howard, a 23-year resident of Laurel Avenue, a housing tract across the street from the track.
So Howard and some of his neighbors went to City Hall for help. Speaking at a recent council meeting, residents of Laurel Avenue and surrounding streets recounted how they couldn't hold a conversation in their homes during Newton's concert and a previous one.
"We wanted no more concerts to be held," said Jim Young, who represents the neighborhood group. But because of a loophole in a city ordinance, Young may have no choice.
Ironically, the ordinance was intended to prohibit concerts at the race track. It was passed more than nine years ago after then state Sen. Paul Carpenter held a fund-raiser at the track that included a country-style barbecue and band, and the neighbors complained about the noise. The City Council decided that all future events not related to the track would require a conditional use permit.
But Juice Newton and the previous concerts were part of a promotional package for the racing, City Manager Darrell Essex told the current City Council. Her show was included in the regular price for admission to the park. Because, it was a "race-related" event, there was little the council could do, Essex explained.
"We sent a letter suggesting that they would have to decrease (noise) or apply for a conditional use permit," Essex said. But enforcing that request might be tough, officials admitted.
The neighborhood group is confident that this ordinance is all they needed to fight the concerts.
"Our understanding going back to 1980 is that there are to be no more concerts," Howard said. "It was a violation of an agreement."
The residents and race track officials are trying to reach some accord. During a recent meeting, race track officials agreed to adjust the volume during the next concert, on June 23. They will also try to reduce the echo effect produced in the stands by turning the speakers in a different direction. In return, the residents agreed not to try to prevent the next concert.
But residents insist that even the measures to tone down the noise will not be good enough. "I just don't think it (lowering the noise to an acceptable level) can be done," Howard said.
During their meetings, it was also tentatively agreed that if the neighbors "can hear the music, there will be no more concerts," Young said.
But track general manager Don Galloway said that with attendance figures skyrocketing by up to 3,000 people on the nights of the promotions, "I would like to see if we couldn't continue with it. It is very popular."
If the music is still too loud for the residents, he said, "we will address that when we come to it. We don't know what the city might want us to do."