Supporters of the San Carlos Airport filled a San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, March 8, but they did not dissuade the supervisors from supporting a study of how to reduce noise problems connected to the airport.
After listening to more than 60 speakers, many of whom urged the airport be left as it is, the supervisors asked the county's Public Works Director James Porter to prepare a work plan for a study on the extent of the noise problems. They also asked for a look at how to reduce the noise, with several supervisors saying they support mandatory measures such as curfews and limits on the number of flights allowed for an individual carrier.
Mr. Porter had said in his report for the meeting that such a study could cost $150,000. He said he hoped to have enough information to bring a recommended action plan to the supervisors in June.
The meeting was a study session, so no vote was taken.
Approximately 175 people attended the meeting, filling the meeting room to capacity. Seats were set up in the lobby outside to handle the overflow, but some people were still left standing as they watched on an overhead screen.
Many wore printed badges professing their love for the San Carlos Airport. Some of those who had signed up to speak left after the testimony dragged on for nearly three hours.
While many speakers urged the supervisors not to put mandatory restrictions on the airport, saying that could harm businesses and programs that operate out of the airport, others who live under Surf Air's flight path talked about how their lives are impacted by flights over their homes every half hour all day long.
Dan Dyer, the owner of the San Carlos Flight Center, who lives in Belmont, said restrictions could put him out of business. "The state of the aviation business is fragile," he said, adding that two flight schools went under last year.
"I understand that this well-financed group of local residents likes to complain, to harass local government," he said. "No one has a right to total silence. I urge you not to waste county money by trying to appease these people," he said.
Lorianna Kastrop of Redwood City said she had lived in the neighborhood of Redwood Village for 30 years. Recently, she said, planes began flying "exactly over our house all day long."
She said she was "fine with the small private planes up until Surf Air and the constant barrage," she said. "I'm suffering health impacts from the constant barrage of noise. I'm been negatively impacted both in my daily activities and also in my home value. I hope you will protect the residents of this county that are along that flight path."
Several customers of Surf Air also spoke. Heather Rafter, an attorney with clients in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Mateo County, and a son attending college in Los Angeles, said she needs Surf Air. "We commute from LA to San Francisco," she said. "Please work out a solution."
The airline offers unlimited flights for a monthly fee. It has been using the San Carlos Airport since June 2013. Those living under its flight path began complaining about the noise from its small turbo-prop planes soon after.
Because it uses planes that carry nine or few passengers, under Federal Aviation Administration regulations the airline is allowed to operate out of San Carlos Airport, which is a general aviation, not a commercial, airport.
Atherton City Council member Mike Lempres said he also lives under the Surf Air flight path. "The noise issue is a real one," he said. "It affects me and my neighbors." A few years ago, he said, when Surf Air began using the airport, "all of a sudden at one point it got dramatically louder."
"There are very real costs that are being imposed on people who happen to live below the flight path," he said.
Several speakers said they believe mandatory restrictions imposed by the county would close the airport.
Evan Brand, a student at Sequoia High School who was missing class to speak at the meeting, said "the only compromise that can be reached is closing the airport." That would mean he and others who want to be pilots wouldn't be able to do so. "The youth pursuing their dream must be considered in this discussion," he said.
Board President Warren Slocum said it's "certainly not our intent ... to shut down the airport or adversely affect the small businesses that operate at the San Carlos Airport.
Other supervisors agreed they have no intention of closing the airport. "I guarantee you that would never happen," said Supervisor Don Horsley. "I think the airport does provide a valuable service."
However, he said, years of working with Surf Air have not produced a solution. "Nothing has worked and we have not seen any improvements," he said.
The county has a responsibility to the health and safety of its residents, he said. "Noise does affect people's health. It is not a few people; it is a lot of people."
Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said she did not intend to close the airport, "but I also think we've got a serious issue that's affected a lot of lives. I think it is incumbent on us to explore in greater depths the impacts at the airport." She promised it will be a deliberate and transparent process.
Board President Slocum said he does want to continue to work with Surf Air. "I think if we can get to a win-win and resolve this sort of peacefully, that's in everybody's best interest," he said. However, he added, "I think it's important to go through with a study."
The county has hired a heavy hitter in the legal field: consultant Peter Kirsch of Denver office of Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell, who has a long resume of working with airports and Federal Aviation Administration.