.Store harassed homeless people with loud music, lawsuit claims

A court order put the kibosh on a San Rafael tire store “blaring loud music” from speakers pointed at the adjacent homeless encampment.

“Blaring” and “loud” aptly describe the noise I heard when Arthur Bruce, a homeless advocate, called me from the camp on Sunday, just before 7pm. In fact, I had to turn my phone volume down because the carnival-like music was annoying—not to mention ear-piercing when it hit high notes. This marked the third night that East Bay Tire Company’s loudspeaker played music continuously. The two previous days, it blasted from 6pm to 6am, Bruce said.

During a later video call, Bruce showed me a tower with loudspeakers and flashing blue lights that stood on the tire store’s property, just on the other side of the fence from the encampment. The 22-foot tower and accouterments are components of a mobile security unit leased by East Bay Tire.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

On Monday morning, Bruce Gaylord, a resident of the homeless encampment on Mahon Creek Path in San Rafael, filed a lawsuit against East Bay Tire Company for intentional infliction of emotional distress and creating a public nuisance. The lawsuit states the speakers emitted noise levels ranging from 51 to 118 decibels.

To give that reading some perspective, manufacturers of gas-powered leaf blowers report that their equipment reaches a decibel level of 65–80 from a distance of 50 feet. The World Health Organization recommends less than 40 decibels of nighttime noise outside of bedrooms to prevent adverse health effects.

At a hearing last Tuesday, Marin County Judge Sheila Shah Lichtblau listened to both parties and then issued a temporary injunction preventing the store from playing music when the volume exceeds the limits of San Rafael’s sound ordinance.

In a commercial zone, San Rafael sets the limit for nighttime constant noise at 55 decibels.

The judge’s order seems entirely reasonable, although I wondered if Gaylord could have achieved his goal by contacting the San Rafael Police Department about his noisy neighbor. Police typically respond to complaints of loud parties in the wee hours of the morning. This is a somewhat similar situation, albeit the tire store and encampment aren’t in a residential area.

“I called the police on Friday night—non-emergency number,” Gaylord said. “I asked them, ‘Can you find an ordinance they’ve violated to get this shut down?’ Somebody called back to confirm what I had told them, and I explained again.”

But Gaylord said the police made no effort to abate the noise. The camper thinks three officers walked down the Mahon Creek Path after his call that evening but can’t be sure because his vision is poor and he doesn’t have eyeglasses. However, there’s nothing wrong with his hearing, and he’s certain the music continued for three consecutive nights, leaving him sleep deprived and on edge.

San Rafael Police Lt. Scott Eberle verified that the department received a call on May 17 for advice about a tire shop using cameras and playing loud music at night. Officers responded to the location, according to Eberle.

“We went out there and spoke to the individual who made the call,” Eberle said. “They didn’t want to press charges. It seemed like they just wanted advice on what they can do.”

More than 30 homeless people live in the tent encampment on the Mahon Creek Path, making it likely that officers spoke to yet another person concerned about the noise. Regardless, the music played on that night and the following two nights.

Gaylord’s tent is a few dozen yards from the equipment that blared the music. Confined to a wheelchair and set up on a campsite designed to accommodate his special needs, he couldn’t simply relocate. Besides, he shouldn’t have to. A federal judge’s order protects Gaylord and about 50 other homeless people, allowing them to live at the Mahon Creek Path encampment while a different lawsuit works its way through the court, according to homeless advocate Robbie Powelson.

STOP THE MUSIC East Bay Tire’s mobile security unit, as seen from the homeless encampment. The top of the 22-foot tower houses the loudspeakers and strobing blue lights.

East Bay Tire conducted “psychological warfare” against the campers with its unwanted overnight music, Gaylord contends. The noise exacerbated his mental health conditions, and even with prescription medication that causes drowsiness, he didn’t sleep a wink on the second and third nights that the music blared. Gaylord felt violated.

Indeed, there is a long history of using music to disorient people. The FBI employed the tactic during a 1993 standoff with the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. military subjected prisoners of war in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay to nonstop loud music to break them and obtain information in interrogations.

A 2020 report issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council identified loud music as a method of psychological torture. The ACLU is one of many other organizations that concur.

“It was cruel—extremely cruel for East Bay Tire Company to play that music,” said Jason Sarris, who was homeless for more than a decade and serves on the Marin County Lived Experience Advisory Board. “It was done on a weekend when the business was closed and there was no way to address the noise with their management.”

After court on Tuesday, I went to East Bay Tire to speak with assistant manager Robbie Derho, who represented the company during the hearing. Derho denied that they are targeting homeless people in the encampment, saying the security equipment is used to prevent crime.

“We’re not here trying to torture anyone,” Derho said. “We just want our employees and customers to be safe.”

Derho and two other employees appeared genuinely frustrated. People living in the encampment or visitors throw trash on the store’s property, and there are more serious issues happening outside of their gates, such as prostitution and drug use, one of the staffers said.

At a San Rafael City Council meeting last year, East Bay Tire’s general manager, Jay Ress, pointed to the encampment as the reason for declining business at the location. East Bay Tire bought the store from Brandon Tire two and a half years ago, and the homeless encampment was established about a year later, in March 2023.

It’s unclear when the store brought in the mobile security unit with its 22-foot tower, blue lights and loudspeakers, but Derho claimed that a third-party monitoring service—not East Bay Tire—made the decision to play the music.

LiveView Technologies (LVT), the company supplying the security equipment to East Bay Tire, confirms that it uses a third-party for monitoring. However, that service doesn’t determine how the equipment is used, according to LVT, which has installed thousands of mobile security units at businesses across the country.

“The LVT Unit’s features and capabilities are set up with the customer prior to implementation,” Matt Deighton, communications manager at LVT, wrote in an email. “Changes cannot be made by the monitoring service without customer approval.”

Most LVT customers use the loudspeaker to talk to potential “bad actors” on their property as a deterrent, according to Deighton, who also acknowledges that some do use the audio feature to play continuous music to prevent loitering and “illegal squatting at or near private property.”

For now, East Bay Tire won’t be deploying the loud continuous music feature. The next hearing on the issue is scheduled for June 28.

Nikki Silverstein
Nikki Silverstein is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Pacific Sun since 2005. She escaped Florida after college and now lives in Sausalito with her Chiweenie and an assortment of foster dogs. Send news tips to [email protected].


  1. “More than 30” —- Could have just said “More than 10″… or more realistically “More than 60”

    This is what the city of San Rafael is asking for – businesses to take the issues into their own hands. Although the savage 7ft fence with barb wire they put up around Sprouts does signify their appreciation of the dangers. Probably need a few more of these around other businesses near by. Maybe defend the creek with one as well. And BioMarin while they are at it.

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  2. Playing the jingle from the ‘Cars for Kids’ radio commercial constantly at any level will drive campers away.

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