Imagine being known to history as the person who shut down the Beatles’ final public performance. I thought about that as I watched the new Beatles documentary produced by Peter Jackson about the band’s 1969 rooftop performance. After receiving some noise complaints, police showed up to stop the production, but not before the band had recorded a few songs for its new album. One officer insisted he wasn’t threatening anyone; he was only explaining that he was going to start arresting people if they didn’t hush up.
As a matter of law, the police probably were in the right. This took place in a professional district where, presumably, other people were trying to work. If you’ve ever tried to sleep while your neighbors threw a wild party, you know how disruptive loud noise can be.
As a matter of common sense, the “noise” was the miraculous sound of perhaps the best rock band of all time. It was during the day for a limited time. The modern-day “flash mobs” you see on Youtube with people performing music and dances in public probably also are of questionable legality, but they’re still awesome.
As you might guess, given that I’m a Colorado policy columnist, I aim to draw some local lessons from this incident with the Beatles. Let’s start with airplanes. While leaving on a jet plane was cause for melancholy reflection for John Denver, to some Coloradans planes are downright irritating.
This summer, Liam Adams wrote an article titled, “Rocky Mountain airport plan scrutiny intensifies: Community group calls for noise and pollution studies before business expansion.” This is standard NIMBY activism of the kind that also took out an Arvada Amazon facility.
Who called police about the Beatles? Only people who wanted to complain. It’s not like people call the police to praise the music their neighbors blare out of their backyard speakers, even if they enjoy it. Tons of people who did not call the police stood along the streets enjoying the opportunity to be among the first people in the world to hear some catchy new Beatles songs. Imagine that! If someone invented a time machine the owner could sell tickets to that concert for millions of dollars. So these sorts of reporting systems are inherently biased strongly in favor of the killjoys.
I think a similar dynamic is at play with the complaints about the airport. It turns out that I can see the airport’s runway from my back window in Westminster, and observing the planes in regular flight around my house is a source of constant delight for me. We see the small trainer planes, the tricked-out biplanes and other craft, large carrier jets, a few helicopters, and even the occasional jumbo prop-plane or military jet. This is amazing! These are my Beatles of the skies, a steady reminder of the awesomeness of human invention.
I am not claiming here that the bands, partiers, and pilots always should win out. Nor am I saying that such decisions properly are a matter of weighing up the enjoyment and irritation that different people experience, something that is impossible anyway. I don’t care how many people enjoy a late-night party; if my neighbor is keeping me up at night (without my prior assent), that has to stop.
Sometimes there are social or technological solutions to such problems. These days, a band could perform live and push the music out over the internet rather than over loudspeakers. Or a band could schedule a concert at (I’m just spitballing here) a concert venue, or get prior city approval for some event. It’s not like the Beatles lacked resources; they performed on the roof mainly because of their lack of planning and self-imposed deadlines. I don’t care if my neighbors have an occasional late-night raucous party as long as they check with their neighbors first.
Otherwise, we have to look at the intricacies of how property rights play out, which isn’t always easy to do. How much noise is too much? If we’re talking about a neighborhood party, how late is too late?
In the case of people building residences around established agricultural lands such as the peach farms of Palisade, the farmers properly have the right of first use. If you move into an area like that, you should just expect to have to put up with things like late-night tractor work.
An airport expansion isn’t so clear-cut. Would an expansion, on top of the existing business, impose on nearby home owners in a way that the existing operation does not? I find that hard to believe. Residences are sufficiently far from the runways that the noise is negligible (and to me a positive benefit). I think this mainly is a matter of busybodies minding other people’s business rather than their own. In terms of technical solutions, if the planes really bother someone, the person could buy better windows to dampen the sound.
People really do have a right to enjoy their property unencumbered by others, subject to reasonable activity by others and to first-use allowance. To make this work we have to allow a certain amount of give and tolerance. As for those more concerned with sticking their noses into the affairs of others than with tending their own knitting, my message is, get back to where you once belonged.
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