In 2010, Portland adopted a strange noise ordinance. I learned about it one recent Saturday night when a business near me rented its space out for an 18-year-old’s birthday party.

The volume of the music at the party was so high that I felt the beat in my chest. Glass buzzed in the picture frames. When I needed to go to sleep, I called the police and asked them to come measure the decibels, which they did. That’s when I learned of Portland’s odd ordinance.

A quick note about the decibel scale: It is a nonlinear scale, like the Richter scale for earthquakes. It begins at 0, which denotes the lowest threshold of normal hearing (the softest sound you can hear), but because the range of hearing is so large, the scale is based on powers of 10. So 20 decibels does not describe an intensity that is double 10 decibels, but rather a sound that is 10 times more intense.

Here are some relatable sounds that match up with various decibel levels (as measured close to the sound source): Whispering is 30 decibels; refrigerator hum is 40 decibels, and laughter is 60 decibels.

According to the National Institutes of Health, prolonged exposure to sounds above 90 decibels can cause hearing loss. That makes sense when you realize that a garbage disposal is 80 decibels; a diesel truck is 84 decibels; a passing subway is 88 decibels.

So, what is Portland’s new threshold for unacceptable noise? It must exceed 92 decibels, measured outside, 8 feet from the venue’s door. The Saturday night blasting that I was experiencing, I was informed, did not reach that threshold. Of course it didn’t – the sound of a jackhammer barely surpasses 92 decibels!

That decibel limit seemed to be wildly high, so while the music pounded on, I took a look at what other cities are doing – cities that also have vibrant and important entertainment and music venues. These cities often have one limit during the day and a lower limit at night.

Portland, Oregon, is typical. Between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., commercial establishments are allowed up to 60 decibels at the property line, and after 10 p.m., they are allowed up to 55 decibels. These are the same limits our Portland had in place before the ordinance change (except that our nighttime hours began at 9 p.m.).

So why did our city raise the decibel limit so drastically? According to a Sept. 14, 2010, Portland Press Herald article, “The lower limit was seen as unenforceable because even a city bus can produce 55 decibels.” But how often are buses barreling by any one spot in Portland? And aren’t there ways of accounting for the ambient noise of the street?

Let’s look at New York City’s limits and how they measure. They don’t allow sound to exceed 42 decibels, as measured from inside nearby residences. The other threshold is that the sound be “7 decibels over the ambient sound level, as measured on a street or public right-of-way 15 feet or more from the source, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.”

Either of those approaches (measuring inside a residence or indicating a level over and above the ambient sound level) seem to reasonably account for ambient noise, while simply raising the limit to an outlandish 92 decibels can only favor establishments that want to blast away with impunity.

Our City Council also decided to add some cumbersome steps into the noise code that seem designed to help mediate long-term disputes but would also be triggered by a one-event problem like I experienced.

If two or more people complain about noise in a seven-day period, this will allegedly give rise to a meeting of the Sound Oversight Committee, which has no enforcement powers but can report to the City Council.

So a noise issue that could have been dispatched in one visit by a police officer (armed with a reasonable decibel measurement plan in place) is now the beginning of a cumbersome process involving many people.

Let’s put a reasonable limit on noise in Portland that honors our reputable entertainment venues, protects residents and allows for easy enforcement. I call on the City Council to revisit this issue with expediency and fairness in mind.