South Bay officials create forum to address airplane noise

After more than two years of complaints about airplane noise generated by new flight paths and no end in sight to the problem, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties are working to establish a new forum to address their residents’ concerns.

The South Bay Airport Roundtable will primarily focus on airplane noise from San Francisco International Airport, but also take into account the airports of San Jose and of smaller cities in the area, according to Andi Jordan, executive director of the Cities Association of Santa Clara County, an organization that unites the mayors or their designees of all 15 cities in the county.

While San Francisco and San Mateo Counties established a San Francisco International Airport Community Roundtable more than 30 years ago, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties never had a permanent forum to address their residents’ concerns.

Santa Clara County residents came to speak at a San Francisco International Airport Community Roundtable meeting on Oct. 4.

“We now have residents like me who have lived in the same house for 20 years and we were just fine,” Marie-Jo Fremont, a Palo Alto resident, said at the meeting. “For the last two and a half years … we have suffered with a barrage of flights every day and every night, 24 hours a day.”

Following a letter by Reps. Anna Eshoo (District 18), Jimmy Panetta (District 20) and Ro Khanna (District 17) in late June, the Cities Association of Santa Clara County formed an ad hoc committee aimed at creating the South Bay Airport Roundtable. The committee first met to work on bylaws in late August, Jordan said. At its next meeting it will discuss financing and set a schedule for the roundtable’s creation, which is expected to happen within the next few months.

The roundtable will likely comprise representatives of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties, each city within those, as well as representatives of both major airports, and it will work together with the Federal Aviation Administration, Jordan said.

The creation of the South Bay Airport Roundtable comes at a time when airplane noise has been a growing concern for residents of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties.

Between November 2014 and April 2015, the FAA implemented a new flight system called Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, at San Francisco International Airport. The new flight system is aimed at reducing flight time, fuel consumption and carbon emissions. As a result, planes have arrived and departed on shifted routes and at lower altitudes, with more flights passing over Menlo Park, Palo Alto and other cities in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties, according to Menlo Park City Councilmember Peter Ohtaki.

South Bay residents started to file thousands of noise complaints every day. In July 2014, prior to the implementation of NextGen, San Francisco International Airport received a total of 645 noise complaints, mostly filed by residents of Brisbane and other cities in San Mateo County. Two years later, in July 2016, the airport received 347,000 complaints, coming primarily from Palo Alto and other cities in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties, according to data from the monthly San Francisco International Airport Director’s Reports.

“That’s what was so different this time,” San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, said in a phone interview. “At San Francisco International Airport, there had been noise issues since the day it was opened, but never have people from so far away complained so loudly about airline noise.”

In Spring 2015, Eshoo and Reps. Jackie Speier (District 14) and Sam Farr (District 20) met with the FAA to discuss noise concerns of Bay Area residents for the first time. Following input from the community, the FAA started a three-phase Initiative to Address Noise Concerns in November 2015.

The initiative’s first phase was a feasibility study. Then, in November 2016, the San Francisco International Airport Community Roundtable and a temporary committee for the South Bay sent a list of 104 recommendations to the FAA. Those recommendations included flying airplanes over water and at higher altitudes whenever possible, especially at night, according to Pine.

The FAA is still reviewing the 104 recommendations for their environmental and safety impacts and is collecting feedback from the community, the aviation industry and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

In a partial response in July, the FAA said it is already taking action on some of the recommendations, such as flying arriving airplanes over water as much as possible, keeping arriving and departing airplanes away from noise-sensitive areas at night and letting departing airplanes reach higher altitudes sooner.

Speier told the Peninsula Press in an Oct. 30 interview that she is scheduled to meet with FAA administrator Michael Huerta, to discuss reducing night-time noise further.

“No one should have to be awakened in the middle of the night,” Speier said. “It’s a huge impact on health and wellness.”

The FAA is expected to give its final response to the 104 recommendations by late fall, according to Pine. It might then take years to implement all flight changes, according to the FAA’s partial response from July.

“I’m hopeful that (the FAA) will adopt many of (the recommendations),” Pine said. “Our residents though have been living with this noise for some years now and are rightfully angry with no action being taken.”


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