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The Noise Plague : Urban life is getting LOUDER. The constant aural assault injures our ears--as well as our nerves and neighborly relations.

August 22, 1993|BETTIJANE LEVINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you value your sanity, don't spend time at Deborah Beere's.

That advice comes from Beere herself, a person so undone by noise that she wants to move out of her West L.A. bungalow only three months after she rented it.

Beere keeps windows closed and fans humming at all times, but still gets no relief. The personal trainer says she prays for clients to book 5:30 a.m. appointments so she can leave home "before the big morning noise."

But the big morning noise on her residential street, which drivers use as an alternative to Wilshire Boulevard, blends into equally big afternoon noise, which continues through the night.

"Rush hour is the worst; then high-school kids who rev motors as they shout at one another, which makes drivers behind them honk their horns, which causes all the car alarms in the neighborhood to go off. All night long, people speed to the stop sign and screech to a halt. I awaken, heart pounding, a few times each night. By the time I get up, I'm worn out.

"It is my goal to find a peaceful place," she says.

Lots of luck.

Peaceful spots are increasingly hard to find in Southern California as ear pollution--and the irritability and frustration that go with it--has surged in the past decade. In some parts of Los Angeles, noise-complaint calls to the police have doubled in just the past four years, says Sgt. Ken Hillman, officer in charge of the LAPD Noise Enforcement Team.

Hard figures on the noise increase aren't available, Hillman says, because nobody keeps track of all the complaints that go to different agencies: airplane noise to airports, creature noise to animal regulation, freeway noise to Caltrans, plus thousands of calls from exasperated citizens to their local police and sheriff's stations.

It seems there's no end to the aural insults Angelenos now suffer, experts agree. Once a pastoral place where the nastiest sound was from a surfeit of crickets, Southern California now contends with helicopters, leaf blowers, car alarms, boomboxes, motorcycles, sirens, jets, buses, animals--the constant screech and rumble of machines (and people) too loud and too close for comfort.

Even the privileged, on bucolic plots, are accosted by sounds they never bargained for.

Paul Veneklasen, an acoustics expert in Pacific Palisades, bought a house in 1974 where he could hear birds singing, leaves rustling, waves splashing on sand. Now, he hears jet planes, the din of traffic from Sunset Boulevard three blocks away, and the ugly grind of trucks delivering goods to a recently built mall. Only at 2 a.m. can he still hear the sea kiss the shore.

That's a lot better than what Paul Skermetta hears.

"Gunshots, sirens, screams, horns and medical helicopters all night long," Skermetta gripes. His once-peaceful pad, high on a hill in Silver Lake, is so noisy now that if he leaves windows open he can't hear his own TV. Even with windows closed, it's too noisy for him to sleep.

So he has this bedtime routine: "On with the air conditioner, the oscillating fan, the machine that makes wave sounds and the one that makes white noise--a static drone that muffles almost everything." But even multiple machines don't hide the ruckus caused by "motorcycle nuts" who live nearby and rev their engines for at least five minutes every night at 1 a.m.: "Our whole street gets up, turns on the lights, opens the windows and shouts curses at them."

Even in normally quiet Moorpark, in eastern Ventura County, residents weep in weariness, their sleep shattered nightly by engines of Metrolink trains in the nearby layover yard. "This is completely ruining my life," Daniel Garcia told officials at a city council meeting earlier this month, at which point he dissolved into tears and left the room. He put the house where he's lived for 37 years up for sale. Things are better now, Garcia told The Times last week. Engines fire up at 4:15 a.m., instead of 3 a.m.

A group of Venice residents claims that the buses on the MTA's Line 2, which roar past their homes every few minutes, create so much noise that their houses shake, dishes rattle on shelves, toddlers cannot sleep--and they cannot hear each other speak inside their own homes. They say the noise is not merely an annoyance, but a threat to mental and physical health.

Some officials disagree. "I worked on that complaint," says one former aide to a local politician, who requested anonymity. "These people shouldn't have bought homes on a bus route if they didn't want noise. All big cities have noise; they should visit New York and see what those people endure."

(For his information, Manhattanites' latest tactic against cars with shrieking alarms is to bombard them with eggs dropped from high-rise windows.)

At Caltrans, Bill Minter's phone rings endlessly with complaints from tight-lipped citizens angered by freeway noise that invades their homes. "Just spend one night in my bedroom," they usually say, "and you'll know why we need a sound wall built."

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