Cities join forces to tackle airplane noise

New Santa Clara/Santa Cruz County Community Roundtable aims to give cities louder voices in negotiations with FAA

An effort by cities in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties to form an alliance to address the irksome issue of airplane noise is finally preparing to lift off the ground.

The city of Palo Alto is one of 21 agencies that are considering a resolution to join what is known as the Santa Clara/Santa Cruz Community Roundtable. Modeled after the San Francisco Airport/Community Roundtable, which includes representatives from San Francisco and San Mateo counties, the new group aims to amplify the voices of its member cities and make it easier for them to negotiate with the Federal Aviation Administration on airplane noise.

The resolution notes that the idea of creating of a permanent South Bay association to address airplane noise was recommended by both the congressional delegation and by the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals, a group of elected officials that met between May and November 2016 to consider measures for dealing with the problem.

"Each jurisdiction is just one of over 100 municipalities in the Bay Area. The ability of any single community, whether 30,000 or 60,000, to influence the complex operations of a federal agency serving a region of 8 million people Is limited," the resolution states. "The impacts of airplane noise must be considered amid the competing interests of the flying public, airline industry priorities, airport operational requirements, broader economic and environmental impacts and, above all else, safety.

"The successful navigation of these public interest challenges requires effective collaboration."

By forming the new group, the cities in the two counties are responding to a request from U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo, Jimmy Panetta and Ro Khanna, who last year made their case in a public letter for a "permanent venue to address aircraft noise concerns and we think it is essential that this body include all currently unrepresented cities in our Congressional Districts." The June 2017 letter called the new group "a fundamental prerequisite to ensuring that there is a platform to develop regional consensus upon and thereby ensure any current and future aircraft noise concerns of our mutual constituents can be adequately addressed."

"We understand that the developing solutions to aircraft noise issues is a complicated and sensitive endeavor that requires extensive engagement with constituents living in affected communities facing sometimes disparate but ultimately interrelated issues," the letter from the three Congress members stated. "Because of this, any proposed changes to our complex airspace should not be the burden of one single city and can only be achieved fairly and effectively with a foundation of regional consensus."

In Palo Alto, City Council members have recently experienced first-hand the futility of trying to fly solo in negotiations with the FAA. In March, a delegation of council members flew to Washington, D.C., to discuss the topic of airplane noise with federal officials. According to the participants, the FAA indicated that it has no interest in addressing the city's concern.

In April, the council briefly considered suing the FAA but ultimately opted not to.

Now, Palo Alto and other cities hope their collaboration can achieve what individual appeals could not. For the past year, the Cities Association of Santa Clara County led an ad hoc committee of elected council members to lay the ground rules for the new roundtable. In June, Andi Jordan, executive director of the Cities Association, sent a letter to all the cities formal requests to join the new collaborative. Each was asked to review the memorandum of understanding for the new group and respond by Sept. 28.

The founding member cities of the roundtable are San Jose, Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Capitola, Scotts Valley, as well as the Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties. Each will be asked to contribute financially toward the new association, with each contribution based on population.

Under the fee structure adopted by the ad hoc committee, the contribution from each city will be 50 cents per resident. The only exception is San Jose, which is magnitudes larger than any other city and which will have to contribute 10 cents for each of its roughly 1 million residents. Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties will each be assessed 50 cents per resident for their unincorporated areas.

Councilman Greg Scharff, who as former president of the Cities Association helped jump-start the new Roundtable, said he hopes the group will create a new path forward for cities in negotiating with the FAA, one in which they actually have a good chance of getting something accomplished. Under the present setup, if Palo Alto speaks and Mountain View and Sunnyvale say something different, FAA will use that as a reason not to do anything, Scharff said.

In addition to improving the cities' position, the new group should provide a forum for residents from the two counties to give their concerns. And for participating members, it will be a way to accumulate expertise on a complex topic.

"The hope is that whoever serves will serve for a period of time and will become an expert and understand the issues, which are very technical," Scharff said.

The new roundtable group isn't Palo Alto's only venue for regional collaboration on airplane noise. The city also had a representative on the city of San Jose's Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on South Flow Arrivals, which in May released its final report. Councilwoman Lydia Kou served on that committee, which considered the increasing concentration of flights in the wake of NextGen, an FAA program that switched from a radar- to a GPS-based approach. Because this change created concentrated flight paths (what some have characterized as highways in the sky), it coincided with a dramatic spike in airplane-noise complaints from homes under the new flight paths.

The report from the San Jose group recommends that the FAA consider options that allow for safe landings at Mineta San Jose International Airport while returning to a "more dispersed distribution of aircraft." It specifically asks that the FAA not route airplanes over "narrow rails" and that it revert to "ground noise patterns prior to 2012 in the same geographic proportions as before."

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10 people like this
Posted by MVWoman
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Aug 8, 2018 at 3:01 pm

The jet noise has increased dramatically because of the switch to NexGen, as the article states. The FAA made this switch without any warning, nor did they give residents any chance to comment before this happened. This dramatic change was nation-wide, and they have been successfully sued in the past for this action. However, I am hopeful that this organized and inclusive approach will give some power to those negatively impacted.
Yes - there are those who will bring up how much they love the jets... that Moffat was much worse in the past... that it doesn't bother them - and they are entitled to their opinion. However, those who paid a premium to live under quiet skies, have a right to protest this dramatic switch of circumstance, as well. The plan calls for an even more dramatic increase in the numbers of jets flying over in the near future - so the time to act is NOW.
Hopefully, the FAA will be responsive to louder and stronger voices than that of a single city, and return to a more fair dispersal of this noise and pollution.

5 people like this
Posted by Lynn Wood
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 8, 2018 at 3:08 pm

Here, let me summarize:

[Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah]

In 2012, the FAA implemented a new approach system called NextGen, which resulted in concentrated flight paths vs the more distributed paths in use before NextGen. Folks under the new flight paths now have to deal with a disproportionate amount of noise and want the FAA to go back to spreading the misery. So what we're gonna do is ask local cities to contribute some per-capita cash moneys to fund a committee to whine at the FAA, which by the way doesn't care at all.


7 people like this
Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 8, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Well, at least the FAA rejected Palo Alto's self-serving approach (hiring a so-called impartial expert who created flight paths that took the planes over MV, S'vale, Cupertino, Menlo Park and Redwood City, surgically avoiding the expensive homes over Palo Alto)

14 people like this
Posted by Bill H
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 8, 2018 at 4:15 pm

Bill H is a registered user.

Wealthy cities should not be allowed to push the burden of airplane noise onto disadvantaged communities.

4 people like this
Posted by Alex M
a resident of Willowgate
on Aug 8, 2018 at 5:27 pm

The picture of the small prop-driven private plane implies that this article is about local airports that were here and active long before any community grew around them. Sorry, but the folks who moved into those areas knew exactly what they were getting into and have no cause for complaint.

There's just one mention of NexGen in the article, which would mean the concerns are primarily the jet-airports like San Jose and San Francisco. The FAA doesn't care, and shouldn't. They are primarily concerned with safety, not with the opinions of people who don't like the noise.

Besides, my understanding was that the new flight paths primarily go over the water now, so what's the problem?

4 people like this
Posted by mvresident2003
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 8, 2018 at 9:22 pm

mvresident2003 is a registered user.

The problem, Alex, is these new flight paths are concentrated to a very narrow path so the number of planes in one area are much more frequent and they are also much lower than "pre-NextGen". There are times when I have plane after plane after plane flying directly over my house, so loud that I cannot hear my child speaking to me.

Our Monta Loma neighborhood is one most affected. I walked my neighborhood and passed out flyers with info on how to help get involved to stop this insanity. It was actually really interesting.....just three blocks either direction from my house and those exact same planes were nowhere NEARLY as loud. Even more fascinating was anyone living just three blocks off this path isn't nearly as bothered by the noise. Of course they're not, it's like night and day! Stand my my backyard, look up at the belly of the beast and listen to a plane with its reverse engines screaming over every 40-60's unbearable.

So one could argue that if you're not directly affected why even give two hoots. Or you could be a good neighbor, empathize with those of us who are extremely affected, and help either return the paths to the higher, much less noisy approaches, or at least spread it out so that not just one narrow path of us are now affected.

5 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 9, 2018 at 10:25 am

Has it ever dawned on these Palo Alto elitist that they may cause a disturbance in other communities when they are on their vacation or business trips? I doubt it. Also, how many of these Palo Alto elitist would opt to take alternate transportations for their next trip so as not to disturb other communities. Thats not going to happen either. Caltrain or Greyhound bus are always available and even have a lower carbon footprint. But I highly doubt anyone in Silicon Valley would opt for this. Just a bunch of whining self-righteous wealthy egotist.

7 people like this
Posted by Humble observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 9, 2018 at 11:56 am

MVWoman: "jet noise has increased dramatically because of the switch to NexGen, as the article states." Absolutely.

"The FAA made this switch without any warning, nor did they give residents any chance to comment before this happened." True; but why would you rationally expect any of those things? FAA (not you, not your city gov't) has legal authority over airspace above you. FAA has a history of supporting the US aviation industry -- that's high among its official missions -- and is accused of de-facto control by that industry (a case of "regulatory capture" and among federal bodies, hardly unique to FAA).

"there are those who will bring up. . . that Moffat was much worse in the past. . . they are entitled to their opinion." You miss a central point of those perennial comments: Perspective, not just opinion. Moffett Field was an active military airfield during most of its nearly 90-year existence. That is not opinion. Only residents who arrived during a particular time window (after regular military patrol and test flights, but before NextGen) perceive the pre-NextGen quiet as somehow a norm. Historically it is not. (A town's history doesn't start when you arrive there.)

"those who paid a premium to live under quiet skies, have a right to protest this dramatic switch of circumstance. . ." No, maybe, and no. In MV you actually paid your premium to live near a federal airfield, historically active, with no conceivable guarantee of future inactivity. You may have a right to protest increased aviation noise. But no, it wasn't a "dramatic switch of circumstance," rather it was the ending of temporary, fortuitous quiet interval neither due nor subject to local control.

I'm sympathetic to the complaints about post-NextGen airliner noise, but not to the mischaracterization of a temporary period of relative quiet as if it were the local historical norm.

Like this comment
Posted by More info
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2018 at 4:48 pm

The new group makes a lot of sense. The FAA is very bureaucratic and has made a lot of mistakes in the changes they made for Nextgen. The snarky comments on the article really miss the mark. One fact not considered is that even if Nextgen changes were beneficial for the thousands and thousands of miles flown above 20,000 ft, that means nothing about the various arrival procedures themselves. It's a very small fraction of the miles flown that are audible on the ground.

Just consider one procedure, called SERFR. This replaced a procedure that had been used for decades to get traffic up from the south over the Santa Cruz mountains and through the mid Peninsula heading up to SFO. The increase in noise was MONUMENTAL for the entire path. The procedure it self had big errors that meant that it was illegal to fly the published procedure. It would violate airspace rules. As a result what was flown was an odd hybrid of the intended procedure where at various points the descent would abruptly stop, the plane would level off and stop descending until it got closer to the airport and was then allowed to resume descent. The older procedure had none of that leveling off. The leveling off made noise as did the acceleration when the descent would resume.

Totally an error on the FAA's part. It wasted fuel, and it made terrible noise on the ground. Why?

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