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Saratoga: Committee Flies Into Action in Effort to Deal With Airplane Noise

May 12–After more than a year of noise bombardment from increased airplanes in the skies above the South Bay and Peninsula, it looks like some relief may be on the way following the formation of a committee that will work with the public and the FAA over the next few months to find solutions to the problem.

The group, called the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals, has been tasked with working with local stakeholders to mitigate the issue of increased airplane noise over affected communities in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. The committee members will solicit citizens’ input, review FAA proposals and make recommendations on arrival issues that primarily impact residents in the South Bay.

“The best outcome is to mitigate the noise from planes flying over the three county areas,” said Saratoga City Councilwoman Mary-Lynne Bernald, one of 12 local elected officials appointed to the committee. “This can be done by implementing procedural modifications such as speed and altitude adjustments, airspace changes and possibly moving existing waypoints, while providing safe arrivals and departures and more efficient flight patterns.”

Bernald was appointed to the committee by the Santa Clara County Cities Association. Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents Saratoga, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Lexington Hills, and Congress members Sam Farr and Jackie Speier were also involved in the formation of the committee. Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian was named chair of the committee.

“This is a real opportunity to make some progress,” Simitian said in a statement released on May 9. “The FAA has acknowledged the problem is real; the question now is, what do we do to fix it?”

The complaints started after the FAA launched a nationwide plan in March 2015 to change flight routes, including at San Francisco International Airport. Dubbed NextGen–short for Next Generation Air Transportation System–the plan was aimed at reducing air traffic congestion by directing flights to approach airports along a fixed, narrow “superhighway” that leads them above many mid-Peninsula and South Bay cities at altitudes below 5,000 feet. But because the corridors are close to, or directly over, cities such as Santa Cruz and Saratoga, they are responsible for a significant increase in noise, resulting in thousands of unhappy residents.

Many of these residents voiced their concerns to their representatives or the FAA directly and demanded that the NextGen program be put on hold.

According to Bernald, the SFO noise abatement office reported that it received 15,000 complaints about airplane noise in 2014. In 2015, that jumped up to 895,000 complaints. During January of this year, there were 250,000 complaints.

In Saratoga, the complaints are coming from residents in the Summit, Mt. Eden, Peach Hill, Garrod and Bohlman roads and Mountain Winery region.

“That’s where the flights are descending, and when they’re on descent mode they’re not on idle,” said Bernald. “That’s when they do something called stair-stepping, and when they do that there has to be some thrust that creates noise. When flights begin to stack up, they circle over Peach Hill Road for San Jose.”

Continued Bernald, “Part of what we’re looking at is seeing if they can’t circle over the Monterey area … or if they can incorporate a time-based flight.”

The formation of the committee was announced in April and thus far the committee has met once at SFO, according to Bernald. At that meeting, they elected Simitian as chair and Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold and San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine as vice chairs. The group is expected to wrap up in July, after which it will report its findings to Eshoo, Farr and Speier.

A series of community meetings have been planned over the next few months to give residents an opportunity to hear the proposals being made and contribute their input to the process.

On May 14, Quiet Skies NorCal, a regional organization seeking to reduce the impact of aircraft noise on residents’ lives, is holding a summit from 12:30 to 2:45 p.m. at the Hillview Community Center and Park, 97 Hillview Ave., Los Altos. The event will offer residents and advocates an opportunity to discuss issues caused by the transition to the NextGen program.

There are also meetings planned in Santa Cruz on May 25, San Mateo on June 15 and Santa Clara on June 29. The meetings are scheduled to take place from 6 to 8 p.m., but exact locations haven’t yet been announced.

The FAA’s updated initiative to address noise concerns can be accessed at bit.ly/FAANorCalNoiseInitiative.

Copyright 2016 – Saratoga News, Calif.

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