Responding to an upswell of concern from local residents about increasing airplane noise, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo on Nov. 6 unveiled a pair of bills that she said she hopes will restore some peace to local skies.
Both of Rep. Eshoo's bills propose reforms to the federal agencies charged with monitoring and mitigating airplane noise. One, known as the Quiet Community Act, would re-establish the Office of Noise Abatement and Control, which was created by Congress in 1972, and remained in effect before getting defunded in 1982 during the Reagan administration.
At that time, the White House argued that noise issues were best handled at the state or local government level, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Funding for the EPA office was phased out in 1992.
Rep. Eshoo's second proposed bill, known as the FAA Community Accountability Act, would require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to work with local communities to limit noise impacts any time new flights are being planned or implemented.
Atherton City Council member Mike Lempres, who is one of the town's representatives on the San Francisco Airport/Community Roundtable, which focuses on airport noise, said, "Rep. Eshoo has done a great job of bringing attention to the problem of noise near airports and flight paths. Anything that brings attention to the problem helps," he said.
Mr. Lempres also serves on a working group focused on noise problems from the San Carlos Airport, the facility used by Surf Air planes; Surf Air has been the target of many Peninsula residents, including Atherton and Fair Oaks, complaining of a dramatic increase in noise during the last few years.
"Rep. Eshoo is absolutely right about the need to bring transparency to the FAA's noise measurement and abatement processes. The current FAA process does not work for residents," Mr. Lempres said.
Both proposed acts were prompted by the soaring number of complaints from local communities about the new flight plans recently implemented by the FAA as part of its transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System, known as NextGen.
The effort, which aims to standardize arrival and departure routes through the use of GPS-based technologies, has created what residents say amounts to highway lanes over Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Woodside and other local communities, with flights now flying in greater numbers and at lower altitudes.
In August, the Palo Alto council passed a resolution requesting that the FAA mitigate the noise impacts of aircrafts caused by the project and that it immediately raise the altitude of all flight paths over the city and redesign flight paths so that "noise burden is borne equitably by all communities that benefit from air travel."
The resolution pointed to the steeply rising number of complaints submitted from Palo Alto residents to the San Francisco Airport Noise Abatement Office over the past year. The number went from 60 in June 2014 to 2,733 in June 2015. Other communities that are now seeing more airplane noise because of the redesigned path are Los Gatos and the Summit/Skyline area, according to the city's resolution.
Rep. Eshoo's proposed bills don't spell out a remedy for the airplane noise; instead, they propose new rules that would require both the FAA and the EPA to study the topic and consider mitigations.
According to Ms. Eshoo's announcement, the Quiet Community Act would restore the Office of Noise Abatement and Control and require the Administrator of the EPA to evaluate the effectiveness of FAA's noise-measurement methods, health impact thresholds and abatement programs.
The FAA Community Accountability Act would go a step further and require the FAA to "reconsider existing routes that are exposing residents to unacceptably high levels of aviation noise." This bill would also create a new community ombudsman in each FAA region to monitor the impact of NextGen implementation and make policy recommendations to the FAA and Congress.
In a statement, Rep. Eshoo said that because of NextGen, "constituents throughout my congressional district and our region are being subjected to increased jet engine noise."
"The bills I've introduced require the FAA to plan with communities when implementing NextGen, and restore the EPA's Office of Noise Abatement and Control which was defunded more than three years ago," said Rep. Eshoo, who is a founding member of the Quiet Skies Caucus. "With this legislation we can mitigate unacceptably high levels of aircraft noise, while continually modernizing our aviation system."
While Ms. Eshoo is pursuing the federal legislation, Palo Alto officials are moving ahead with their own efforts to gather information about the issue of airplane noise.
In late August, the City Council directed staff to issue a request for proposals for a technical study for analyzing aircraft noise over Palo Alto. The study will also include recommendations for reducing the noise.
Staff was directed to return to the council with results of the request for proposals by no later than the end of 2015.
Barbara Wood contributed to this report.