Bayou City

Northside Neighbors Claim Houston Isn't Trying Hard Enough to Police WOMH

Theresa Cavin, who lives behind White Oak Music Hall, says her special needs son is often bothered by the noise.
Theresa Cavin, who lives behind White Oak Music Hall, says her special needs son is often bothered by the noise. Meagan Flynn
The Near Northside neighbors living near White Oak Music Hall are doubling down on their demands that the City of Houston step in and hold the concert venue accountable for its blaring rock and roll that vibrates their homes and disturbs their kids.

On Tuesday the group of residents sued the city for failing to adequately enforce the Houston sound ordinance against White Oak, claiming that it has both wrongly interpreted the ordinance and not tried hard enough to punish the venue owners for allegedly violating it repeatedly. The residents had sued White Oak this past December, seeking to put an end to the loud outdoor shows. They secured a temporary restraining order earlier this year, which limits the number of shows White Oak can hold outside and requires the venue to abide by the sound ordinance.

Still, for the plaintiffs, White Oak isn't doing enough to keep the peace. The families' attorney, Cris Feldman, began at a Tuesday morning press conference with this:

"As you can see, it's a family neighborhood. It's a family neighborhood of kids and hardworking families just trying to get by day in and day out, and the City of Houston has made their lives much more difficult by financially supporting White Oak Music Hall [with a tax abatement], by permitting White Oak Music Hall, and by not accurately interpreting its own sound ordinance and enforcing the sound ordinance. And so today, despite the best efforts by HPD — we have the utmost respect for HPD — to enforce the Houston sound ordinance, the City of Houston as an entity has not taken leadership in interpreting and directing accurate enforcement of the Houston sound ordinance, so we have added the City of Houston to the lawsuit against White Oak Music Hall and the public nuisance that they have created, disturbing hardworking families and their children."
Since opening in 2016, White Oak Music Hall has actually received five citations for sound ordinance violations, most recently during the Pixies show in May. It is relatively unclear why the citations aren't evidence enough of the city's enforcement efforts, but neighbors said they were fed up with how the venue's lawyers have managed to outmaneuver the citations with legal strategies in court and have repeatedly delayed court proceedings so White Oak is never actually convicted for the violations, at least not yet. In addition, neighbors reported that police were not measuring the decibels from the correct location, as required by the ordinance, and that when it came down to it, the city simply wasn't trying hard enough to investigate White Oak's sound violations.

Feldman called it a never-ending game of "whack-a-mole" with the City of Houston and the venue.

"Only one sound meter is used for this broad geographic area," he said. "The idea of having only one sergeant get over here to enforce the sound ordinance just doesn't cut it. The city needs to put more resources toward enforcing the sound ordinance."

The lawsuit includes claims that White Oak's violations of the sound ordinance make the venue a public nuisance, which Feldman said is grounds to argue in court to permanently shut down the venue.

Two moms with special needs children said that the noise has disrupted their children's lives and caused them to lose sleep and to panic sometimes when the loud music persists. They said that the lawsuit has been a last resort, but after the City of Houston did not appear willing to help them, suing was all they had left to do. One woman, Linda Vargas, said city officials had once suggested that she consider moving.

"My family has been on that block since 1916," Vargas said. "I shouldn't have to move to have a resolution. I should be heard, and we should have someone to protect us and to protect our family."

White Oak doesn't have a show scheduled for the lawn until July 21, with alt-country zingers Turnpike Troubadours. For the plaintiffs, one more show is one too many before a judge can rule on whether the city is adequately enforcing the sound ordinance.

"Let's not forget that White Oak Music Hall wants to have loud mosh-pit concerts the night before STAAR tests, the night before finals, any day of the week, and subject children to this ridiculous environment that is not suitable for a family neighborhood," Feldman said. "This situation is just silly."

The outdoor stage at White Oak Music Hall - MARCO TORRES
The outdoor stage at White Oak Music Hall
Marco Torres

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn