California first again by a nose

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FIRST it was smog, then dirty water and second-hand smoking. But now California has become the focus of a new battle against a different and highly personal form of pollution: very loud snoring.

A 30-year-old woman is due to appear before a court next week to answer a charge that her snoring is so loud that it violates an anti-noise regulation in her home town of Davis, California.

Making legal (and nasal) history, the police issued the woman with a summons after a neighbour in an adjoining property complained that he found it impossible to sleep because of the racket coming through the walls.

Davis, near Sacramento, has always been a touchy sort of place: it has one of the strictest no smoking ordinances in the state, and is a nuclear-free zone and a declared sanctuary for refugee Sandinistas. Its anti-noise ordinance is also strict, and prohibits residents from making noises which would annoy any 'reasonable' person. 'This is the first case of its kind,' said Lieutenant Nick Concolino, of the Davis police. 'And hopefully the last.'

The woman, 'Susan' (she asked the authorities to withhold her full name), complained: 'You never know when you go to bed if the police are going to knock on your door, or what's going to happen.'

She faces faces a dollars 50 (pounds 35) fine in Yolo County traffic courts, and admits that she is a snorer. When the neighbour first grumbled, she offered an olive branch by placing a mattress against the wall in an effort to muffle the noise.

But her dilemma has become a local cause celebre. City officials want the case resolved without resorting to the law, arguing that snoring has no place in the courtroom. The mayor, Lois Wolk, told the Davis Enterprise newspaper: 'The government does not belong in the bedroom, listening through walls to other people's houses.' And there is another glimmer of hope for her: the law says that people can be summonsed only if they wilfully create a nuisance. Who snores on purpose?