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Portola Valley: Independent analysis of aircraft noise is on

 

Portola Valley has taken another step along a hard road. The Town Council is going ahead with plans to hire a consultant to analyze commercial aircraft noise and develop options to amplify complaints about the altitude and routes of the flights.

Members of the council and a few dedicated residents have been unsuccessful in persuading the Federal Aviation Administration to do something about engine noise coming from flights on their way into San Francisco International Airport.

Community representatives from the Peninsula meet regularly with SFO to talk about noise, but residents of Portola Valley and Ladera may have a special case because they live at higher altitudes. (Parts of Woodside have been affected in the past, but less so as routes have changed, a Woodside official told the Almanac.)

Air-traffic authorities argue that noise is secondary to traffic management in an airspace that is becoming more crowded. Air-traffic controllers need routing flexibility in order to keep aircraft at safe intervals in three-dimensional space as they approach a major metropolitan airport with only two runways.

If Portola Valley's arguments haven't been hitting home with the large and complex FAA, maybe consultants, outsiders who used to be insiders, can help. Town Manager Nick Pegueros, acting on the council's consensus on June 10, has up to $7,500 to engage a consulting firm of former FAA employees who know the ropes.

The objective: an independent analysis, based on data, to find alternatives to the current situation. Has noise increased, and if so, why? What can be done? Maybe planes could fly higher. Maybe air-traffic controllers could diversify the routes.

Key questions will be how much data to analyze and where to put sound monitors, Mr. Pegueros said.

While Portola Valley and Ladera are not alone in their complaints, the study is not expected to include similarly affected communities such as Palo Alto and Atherton.

A thread in a rug

At the heart of the matter is a 2014 environmental report, commissioned by the FAA, that projected airport arrival routes out to 2019 and found no significant noise impacts on the ground.

Disputing these findings are Dr. Tina Nguyen of Portola Valley, Jim Lyons of Woodside and others who track altitudes of local flights. A hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on their September 2014 petition is expected in early 2016, said attorney and Portola Valley resident Vic Schachter.

The FAA has so far refused to meet with a mediator, saying in essence that, "Portola Valley is a thread in a much bigger rug," Mr. Schachter said. While that's true, he said, one question is whether the distribution of incoming flights is fair.

If the parties cannot resolve their differences, the court will set a schedule to file briefs. "They're going to have some good legal arguments," Mr. Schachter said. "We've got an uphill battle."

One hope expressed by town officials is a noise analysis that yields compelling findings that resonate with the Peninsula's congressional representatives.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, has a history on the issue. In 2001, she arranged an agreement with the FAA to have aircraft stay at least 8,000 feet above sea level when passing over these communities.

An experienced commercial pilot told the Almanac that such noise-abatement policies are a low priority for pilots and air-traffic controllers. An analysis of 2009-12 data by Dr. Nguyen, Mr. Schachter and Mr. Lyons showed 88 percent of flights crossing at altitudes below 8,000 feet, and about 28 percent below 6,000 feet.

No silver bullets

As concerns about noise proliferate in the region, the communities may have an advantage if the FAA wants to be seen as effectively managing complaints, said Councilwoman Ann Wengert. But the town should not expect miracles, she said.

"I don't have the expectation that (the consultant) is going to have a bullet, a silver bullet that we're going to be able to fire right at the FAA and they'll say, 'Whoa, boy, that's something we may have to consider,'" Ms. Wengert said.

If a proposal is well-defined and specific, said Councilman Craig Hughes, the FAA may be more likely to get involved and refine it to something workable.

Definitive proposals will be important in getting congressional assistance, Councilwoman Maryann Derwin said. "If we want their help, they are actually going to want to see A, B and C solutions," she said.

Comments

9 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 25, 2015 at 12:40 pm

I'm so glad that some action is being taken. I definitely do think that noise and frequency of flights have increased. For a while, I wondered if we were also being affected by flights from the new commuter flight service in San Carlo. I'm tired of windows rattling, and I'm tired, literally, of being awakened by the noise. The noise has become so bad that I would install double-paned windows but for the high cost.


6 people like this
Posted by Bob Pierce
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jun 25, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Does Eshoo know the FAA has broken/ignored her deal with them? She is part of the group that controls their purse-strings, so that should get their attention. Does she have contacts on the House Ways and Means committee?


7 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 25, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Yes, Anna Eshoo is very aware of the situation. Thus far, she hasn't done a whole lot.

When I contacted her office recently about this issue, (in the last few weeks) I received a copy of a letter she wrote---a very nice, very diplomatic letter---to the FAA. The letter was written in April. When I responded to the email, asking if she'd heard back (it had been over 8 weeks), I received no response from her office.

Anna has contacts with everyone. She simply needs to be motivated.

It would also be very nice if Ann Wengert stopped posting negative comments, and started really supporting the people she is supposed to be representing. Last year I overheard a friend of hers state that "the issue doesn't really resonate with her." Other Town Council members have been extremely supportive, but against Ann and a few others, it's been an uphill battle.


8 people like this
Posted by Pane Pain
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 25, 2015 at 1:16 pm

"I would install double-paned windows"

You're the one who remains with single pane? Wow, didn't think we'd ever find any of those energy hogs left...

Seriously, will measurements from other locations be included as relative comparisons?

I have friends who laugh at me when I tell them how bad it is and say I should spend a night in Foster City, Menlo, San Bruno, Millbrae, Palo Alto, San Mateo, etc..


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is what happens when you actually measure airplane noise

From Atherton Town Manager's Report

"Beginning at 2 pm on May 13 through 11 am on May 14, Coffman Associates (Airport Consultants) conducted noise monitoring at 37 Holbrook Lane. Attached is a summary of the findings. Staff will place this Report n the Town's Aircraft Noise webpage.
In summary, Coffman Associates recorded single event noise and then used the Federal Aviation Administration's approved method of calculating the Community Noise Equivalent Level (CNEL), which is an average decibel level of all aircraft overflights. CNEL is the standard that is mandated by both the Federal and State governments for calculating aircraft noise. As it relates to aircraft noise, Federal and State guidelines state that a CNEL of 65 decibels or lower is compatible for residential use. The noise monitoring study conducted by Coffman Associates determined the following:
• 48.71 CNEL: Average of all noise events recorded by monitor
• 47.78 CNEL: Average of all aircraft overflights (including SFO overflights)
• 43.13 CNEL: Average of all propeller-powered aircraft (including 16 Surf Air overflights)
The "single event" noise for the Surf Air flights ranged from 60.3 db to 71.5 db. The weighted
average over a 24-hour period is 43.13 db, which is how the FAA measures aircraft noise."
*********************************
So be careful what you wish for when you demand a professional noise study.


8 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 25, 2015 at 1:51 pm

Pane Paine--Why the need for snide comments? Rudeness has no place on this site. Further, your comment was off topic, but I guess it gave you a chance build yourself up by denigrating others. Lucky you to live in the recently constructed (comparatively speaking) costly Portola Valley Ranch.

For your information, Ladera was never intended to be a rich man's enclave and so some of us old timers, now retired, don't have an extra *$30K to instal new double paned windows in our homes. I certainly don't have that kind of money--oh my, how dare I live in affluent Portola Valley. The horror, the horror! As for being an energy hog--I'll bet my energy bills are far less than yours. Some of us are more than capable of putting on a warm sweater and turning down the thermostat--are you?
Unfortunately, warm sweaters do not block out airplane noise.
* Yes, I did get several estimates.


3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 25, 2015 at 3:50 pm

I wonder if the noise study will shut up the whiners complaining about Surfair flights, since based on the above, they have nothing to actually complain about.


13 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2015 at 4:54 pm

The numbers cited by Peter Carpenter (which were taken in Atherton) are actually quite high.

It is very disingenuous for the FAA to use dB as the unit of measure for CNEL, because CNEL is an average over a 24 hour period. Db/24hr would be a better unit for CNEL, but still not correct since CNEL is actually a weighted average.

The only measurement taken for which it is appropriate to use dB for the unit of measure is SEL (Single Event Level), and the SEL measurements are actually quite high (61.3-71.5dB).

60-65dB is generally considered to be the sound level of a "normal" conversation, so another noise source of 60dB or greater will certainly disrupt a conversation, listening to music, the radio, TV, or even sleep...

If someone walked into your bedroom and had a 30-60 second conversation in your bedroom, would that wake you up?


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 4:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Laws always have to have a specific standard.

The police use Blood Alcohol Level to determine if you are over the legal limit - it does not measure the peak level but the biologically smoothed level at some point after you drank alcohol.

The City of Palo Alto measures noise over a six minute period:
"(d) "Local ambient" means the lowest sound level repeating itself during a six-minute period as measured with a precision sound level meter, using slow response and "A" weighting. The minimum sound level shall be determined with the noise source at issue silent, and in the same location as the measurement of the noise level of the source or sources at issue. However, for purposes of this chapter, in no case shall the local ambient be considered or determined to be less than: (1) Thirty dBA for interior noise in Section 9.10.030(b); (2) Forty dBA in all other sections. If a significant portion of the local ambient is produced by one or more individual identifiable sources which would otherwise be operating continuously during the six-minute measurement period and contributing significantly to the ambient sound level, determination of the local ambient shall be accomplished with these separate identifiable noise sources silent."

So if you want to change the FAA and State Of California standards then try to change the laws that set those standards.


Like this comment
Posted by PVNoiseAbatement
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jun 25, 2015 at 10:47 pm

If you would like to learn more about the FAA's procedure changes (e.g. routing more SFO arrival flights down the mid-Peninsula rather than over the Bay) and our efforts towards noise abatement, email us at pvfairskies@gmail.com. Additionally, we are partnering with concerned citizens in surrounding cities including Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and Menlo Park. The Palo Alto group has a very informative website: Web Link . Thank you!


6 people like this
Posted by Pane Pain
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 26, 2015 at 10:01 am

@marie

-costly Portola Valley Ranch.
-Ladera was never intended to be a rich man's enclave
-I live in affluent Portola Valley
-I'll bet my energy bills are far less than yours
-your comment was off topic

All because it was pointed out that you are in the minority with inefficient, old, existing single pane windows? A little sensitive. Quite class conscious. For that I'm sorry.

You also completely ignore where I directly addressed the topic:

-I have friends who laugh at me when I tell them how bad it is and say I should spend a night in Foster City, Menlo, San Bruno, Millbrae, Palo Alto, San Mateo, etc..

In fact, I do spend occasional nights down there, and PV is so much quieter - that's why you spent the money to buy here. From Belmont for example, at night, you can hear the roar as they amp up for takeoff. Amazing how far that roar travels.

But please, keep whining. And when the measurements come in, fight them with all your heart. I suggest you start with Samuel Clemens, per traditional chatroom memes.


2 people like this
Posted by Pane Pain
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 26, 2015 at 10:03 am

-our efforts towards noise abatement

What are those efforts, other than shifting flights over someone else's homes?


8 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2015 at 11:29 am

Pane Pain,

There are solutions to the aircraft noise problem, that do not involve shifting flights over someone else's home:

1. The planes can fly higher. An increase in altitude from 4,000' to 5,000' would cut the noise in half. The aircraft used to fly much higher over populated areas. Only in the last few years has the FAA started to allowed commercial aircraft to fly so low over populated areas.

2. The planes could return to a plan that spreads the flights out, so the noise is shared, instead of concentrated over the same homes, over and over, as it is under the FAA's new 'nextgen" plan which the FAA only started implementing in the Bay Area in January of 2013.

3. The planes could observe a curfew between midnight and 6:00am. There are only a handful of aircraft flying into SFO between midnight and 6:00am. This handful of planes effect the sleep, health, and productivity of tens of thousands of adults and children. Late at night there is very little air traffic, so there is no need for these aircraft to be approaching SFO over populated areas.

4. All SFO bound aircraft could be routed to follow an approach from the south which starts at high altitude over the southern tip of the Bay, and descends over the Bay, instead of flying low and loud over populated areas.

Aircraft noise is not just a problem for Portola Valley. It is happening all over the country. A few months ago CBS This Morning did a four minute piece on how the FAA's new 'nextgen' flight paths are effecting the residents of Phoenix. You can watch the video here: Web Link

These changes effect the health, productivity, and quality of life of millions of people. Please contact Portola Valley Fair Skies at pvfairskies@gmail.com, and support the good work they are doing to improve all of our lives.


6 people like this
Posted by Pane Pain
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 26, 2015 at 11:37 am

-that do not involve shifting flights over someone else's home

and then you say

-could return to a plan that spreads the flights out, so the noise is shared, instead of concentrated over the same homes

Help me out with this apparent conflict, please


Like this comment
Posted by Pane Pain
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 26, 2015 at 11:40 am

I don't doubt there are others in a nation of 300+ million that complain about noise; there's a name. Starts with an "n", a five letter acronym, what's that called again?


6 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Pane Pain,

The FAA is in the process of shifting flights onto someone else's home with the roll-out of "nextgen" routes. A cessation of this shifting, and return to the previous spread-out routes would stop the FAA's shifting of air-routes onto someone else's home. The video linked below might help you understand how the FAA is shifting traffic and noise.

"FAA's new flight paths spark noise complaints"
CBS This Morning ~ January 30, 2015 Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Pane Pain
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 26, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Okay, thanks.

But to be clear, you shouldn't lead with

-that do not involve shifting flights over someone else's home

Everyone wants lots of choices for flights to various destinations. Everyone wants the FAA to lead with Safety First.

Then comes everyone's NIMBY fairy on their shoulder, opposite their better Angel.


Like this comment
Posted by Pain in the neck
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Jun 27, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Jetman, thank you for your well reasoned comments.
***

The more we accept increasing noise, the worse the noise will get. There are indeed people with worse noise levels than we have, but how does that justify allowing more and more noise pollution elsewhere? Let's work to reduce as much flight noise as possible everywhere.

That the average noise is within an FAA approved level does not make it acceptable to be rattled by flights at 71.5 db, especially during normal sleep hours.


6 people like this
Posted by Tomas
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 27, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Crazy talk. Nimbys who want it in someone else's back yard. I can't sign off on that.


Like this comment
Posted by Informed resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 27, 2015 at 3:41 pm

I noticed a major increase in airplane noise over the 10 years. When I wrote to SFO Noise Abatement Office, they acknowledged that the shift in air traffic has been over to Portola Valley and surrounding communities. So now that "somebody's backyard" is ours, and somehow we should just blindly accept it and not be able to sit on our deck without hearing a parade of loud planes go by? Not to mention having to inhale the jet exhaust. That doesn't sound fair either.


Like this comment
Posted by Tomas
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 27, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Did you ask why the shift?

Who answered the letter?


Like this comment
Posted by pikay
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2015 at 3:40 am

Pain Pane, do you understand that there is a difference between a NIMBY and a NOIMBY (Not ONLY In My Back Yard)? The whole problem with the new NextGen routes is that they take traffic that used to be dispersed across a wide array of flight paths, so that the noise and pollution "pain" was EQUITABLY spread out over a wide area, and no single community or neighborhood was being inequitably impacted, and concentrated all of that traffic into single narrow bands that hit the same communities/neighborhoods over and over and over, with flights going overhead as frequently as every minute or two. (In some cities, the overflights are as frequent as every 30 seconds.) Keep in mind that a passing plane creates noise for between 2 and 4 minutes, so in a busy hour, this means literally no cessation in overhead engine noise since no plane exits the noise zone before a new one has entered it.

Does this really seem "fair" to you? If YOU bought a home an hour away from an airport, specifically BECAUSE it was in a quiet rural neighborhood, and you woke up one day to find the government had built three aviation superhighways over your head and concentrated ALL previously existing directional flight routes into them, do you think you might feel at least a tiny bit inclined to protest?

That's what's happened to me. Where I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, an hour away from SFO, the home we bought 15 years ago precisely because it was in a quiet and peaceful rural area is now smack in between the new south-originating arrival path to SFO, the new south-bound departure path from SFO and OAK, and the Hawaii-originating arrival path to SJC. Between these three new routes, and the rapidly increasing influx of small-plane traffic (mostly from Palo Alto and San Carlos airports, whose hobby pilots seem to be being crowded out of their local skies by the commercial traffic, and are coming here), we have, since at least March, been bombarded by noise, emissions, and ugly contrails from 280 and 300 overflights a day. This number is not an exaggeration or an estimate -- I've spent hours logging the flights from the airports' flight trackers.

Nor are these flights floating high above at the easy-to-ignore 30,000-foot elevations common to the "traditional" flight routes with which so many people are familiar. Thanks to the new "continuous descent" methodologies also being implemented, the incoming flights to SFO are now routinely between 6,000 and 8,000 feet above our home (again, an HOUR AWAY FROM SFO), so the vibrations and grinding, ugly droning noise are intrusive, constant, and relentless. Outgoing flights are higher (typically between 18,000 and 22,000 feet), but noisier, because their engines are on full thrust.

So please, don't just slap a "NIMBY" label on people in my position, and don't put words in my mouth. I've never said and don't think there shouldn't be any planes over my house. That wouldn't be fair. But neither is it fair for ALL of the planes to be over my house. Why is it wrong for people like me, who DELIBERATELY did not buy homes anywhere near an airport and DID NOT BUY HOMES IN A FLIGHT ROUTE, to want the FAA to go back to at least spreading the planes out so that the impact of the new routes isn't so horrifically inequitable? Why is it fair for a small fraction of the public to be randomly (1) woken up at all hours by noisy overflights, (2) have the use and enjoyment of their yards, gardens, and decks completely destroyed because of sudden constant and relentless plane noise, (3) have the ability to have windows open taken from them, and (4) have the value of their homes decimated to the tune of 30 or 40%?

If you believe this is all in the public interest, shouldn't the public bear the burden equally? And to the extent that it CAN'T bear the burden equally, shouldn't be people who are being badly hurt by the new super-concentrated aviation "super highways" be compensated for what has been taken from them by the corporations that are profiting?

And incidentally, why is it somehow wrong for someone like ME to say, Hey, wait a minute, don't put ALL of this noise in my backyard!, but it WASN'T wrong for the government and the for-profit airlines) to move all of that noise INTO my backyard in the first place, with no warning or studies or hearing, and no compensation for the drastic degradation to my quality of life and property value?

This whole thing is so maddening. People who aren't impacted have no idea how bad it is.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 4, 2015 at 7:17 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" at least spreading the planes out so that the impact of the new routes isn't so horrifically inequitable?"

I propose that all of the concerned citizens and local officials formally request that the FAA establishes as the default SFO NextGen arrival procedure a herringbone design:

1 - that is on the 284 deg radial from SFO
2 - that has at least ten Curved Continuous Descent Approaches (Advanced CDA) that link to
that 284 deg radial with five on the Northeastern side of the radial and five on the
Southwestern side of the radial
3 - that the closest of these ACDA's connect to the 284 deg radial no closer than the DUMBA
intersection
4 - that the connection point for each of these ACDA's be at least one mile apart on each side
of the radial
5 - that between 6 AM and 10 PM each incoming aircraft be randomly assigned to one of the
ten individual ACDAs
6 - that between 10 PM and 6 AM incoming aircraft be assigned only to the two farthest out ACDAs


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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