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Drumbeat of Criticism Hits O.C. School Marching Band : Dispute: Parents of Olympian Janet Evans, El Dorado’s most famous grad, sue to muffle the early morning racket.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the lobby of El Dorado High School hangs a giant color portrait of the school’s most celebrated graduate: Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans.

But after years of basking in the glory of the swimmer’s achievements in worldwide competition, the school finds itself in the awkward position of being sued by her parents.

Over drums.

Paul and Barbara Evans, whose home abuts the school’s football field, contend that the El Dorado marching band’s early morning practices--particularly the drums--make Olympic-size clamor.

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They say that the thumping is not only unbearable, it violates the city’s noise ordinance.

“It never should have gotten this far,” Paul Evans said in a brief interview Tuesday. “The thing that has really aggravated us is the drums.”

Evans, who has lived next to the school since 1971, said he has been unwaveringly supportive of school activities. “I put three kids through that school,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is stop the band from practicing.”

The band has practiced in the mornings for several years but recently began rehearsals at 7 a.m. instead of the usual 8:45. School officials could not be reached to explain the change.

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The couple would like to have the band practice on a field farther from the homes on their street.

The lawsuit states that “incessant nonstop pounding for 30 to 45 minute intervals at a time” 17 yards from the rear of their home has made life impossible and forced them to check into a hotel on occasion.

The couple’s attorney, William B. Hanley, said the family is concerned that the publicity of their battle with the school might be distracting for their daughter, training for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Although Janet Evans no longer lives at her parents’ home, her renown in the community has not faded. In 1993, she was one of the first inductees into the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District Hall of Fame, honored for her Olympic swimming victories in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 and in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992. The 1989 graduate of El Dorado High School has won four gold medals.

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But Hanley said the swimmer’s parents felt they had no choice but to take legal action after several meetings with school officials earlier this fall failed to resolve the problem.

“This is hard for them because the Evanses know many of the people involved very well,” Hanley said. “But they felt they had no other choice.”

Also named in the lawsuit is the band’s director, Richard Watson, who the Evanses accuse of defiantly stationing the band’s drum corps directly behind their house.

They also allege in the suit that Watson has led a campaign among the band’s booster club members to encourage community members to no longer patronize Paul Evans’ Placentia veterinary clinic.

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Watson did not return telephone calls Tuesday.

Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District officials acknowledge that the lawsuit, filed last week in Orange County Superior Court, has placed them in an uncomfortable position.

“Both the school district and the school feel very badly about the whole situation,” said district spokeswoman Karen Bass. “The Evanses have lived behind the high school for many years and the band has practiced in the same place. The kids need to practice somewhere.”

Neighbors also sympathize with the Evanses’ plight but are reluctant to join the fray.

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“It’s pretty loud, but it’s been going on for 25 years,” said next door neighbor Sal Piraino. “It’s a part of living here. But they do seem to be practicing longer these days. You have to close your windows and your screen door.”

Indeed, early morning band practices have been a fact of life for anyone living on Brower Avenue. But the situation was exacerbated last year, Hanley said, when band practices were changed from 8:45 a.m. to 7 a.m. This was made possible by an exemption in the city’s noise ordinance, allowing the band to play that early, Hanley said.

On Monday, the Evanses filed a separate lawsuit against the city, seeking to have the exemption declared invalid and ordering Placentia to enforce its noise ordinance.

The ordinance prohibits noise levels outdoors from exceeding 50 decibels. The lawsuit said that noise from the band’s drum corps was measured at 85 decibels from inside the Evanses’ home.

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Placentia’s city attorney, Carol B. Tanenbaum, said she could not comment specifically on the lawsuit but did say, “This is primarily a dispute between between the Evans family and the school district. I do not believe that the city should be involved in this lawsuit.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Now Hear This

The noise of the El Dorado High School marching band practicing nearby doesn’t make Paul and Barbara Evans’ ears bleed, but it does, they say, violate Placentia’s noise ordinance. Here is how decibel levels from some other noises compare:

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Decibels: Example

140: Pain threshold

120: Amplified rock band

100: Circular saw

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87: MD-80 airliner taking off at John Wayne Airport

85: El Dorado High marching band and drum corps

80: Vacuum cleaner

70: Normal traffic

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60: Noisy office

50: Placentia noise ordinance maximum

40: Light traffic

30: Normal conversation

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20: Quiet conversation

10: Light whisper

0: Threshold of audibility

Sources: World Almanac, World Book Encyclopedia, city of Placentia, John Wayne Airport

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Researched by APRIL JACKSON / Los Angeles Times


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