Quiet skies are a thing of the past for some communities on the Peninsula, including parts of Woodside, where complaints center on commercial aircraft headed into San Francisco International Airport, allegedly flying too low over a navigation beacon located on the crest of the Santa Cruz mountains.
The Woodside Town Council, which acting Mayor Tom Livermore said heard its first public complaint about aircraft noise just two weeks ago, directed staff on May 24 to draft a "strong" resolution in favor of quiet skies. The council wanted the resolution ready before a June 15 meeting of a recently formed committee of elected officials to address aircraft noise in San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties. The meeting's location and time are yet to be determined.
In its most recent response to noise complaints in Woodside, Portola Valley and Ladera, a Federal Aviation Administration report called changes to the way traffic is handled over Woodside "not feasible" for reasons of safety and pilot and/or air traffic controller preference.
Residents of these communities may have lost the battle once again, but the war will go on. If community activism is any gauge, cities and towns in the South Bay and up and down the Peninsula have just begun to fight.
The FAA pays closer attention when a community shows it has done its homework in devising practical solutions to noise issues, Woodside resident and QuietSkiesWoodside.org spokesperson Raymonde Guindon told the council.
"It's a lot of work to come up with a solution and gain the necessary knowledge and so on," Ms. Guindon said. "We do not have any group in the mid-Peninsula that has proposed a concrete enough solution to the FAA, so ... there's a possible weakness there."
Oceanic flights coming into SFO from the west are particularly noisy over Woodside, she said. "They fly very low (and) they are also very loud." she said. A proposal to ameliorate this noise was "not accepted" by the FAA, she said, but it should be put forward again.
Activism is important if for no other reason than to avoid conditions worsening, Ms. Guindon said. Recent changes that have added flights over Woodside include aircraft going to the San Jose airport, leaving San Jose for Asia, and arriving from Asia for Oakland, she said.
Seeking a champion
Resident Marilyn Voelke, a veteran of the regional SFO Airport Community Roundtable forum for noise complaints, gave an account of her 40-year personal quest to avoid living with aircraft noise. She moved from Millbrae to Burlingame and finally to Woodside, at one point becoming tearful, she said, in telling the Woodside council how the noise was ruining her sleep.
She recalled a dramatic increase in flights in 1995 -- "a sea change," she said -- with the FAA claiming that nothing had changed. "I think that the FAA, the airlines and the airport don't give a damn about any of you and never have," she said, looking around the room. "They're shoving traffic over lightly populated areas."
Recounting a recent morning in her house on Patrol Road at 900 feet above sea level, she said she counted 11 flights in 41 minutes. "That's what I can hear inside my house with everything closed up," she said.
"You're not going to get anywhere, in my jaundiced view, without a consultant," she said. "You're going to have to put money into it. ... We don't need a negotiator. We don't need a conciliator. We need a champion, or we just need to quit."
Resident Kathleen Braunstein, who with her husband Terry Braunstein asked the council on May 10 for a resolution on aircraft noise, disagreed on communities doing their homework. Coming up with solutions is the FAA's job, she said. "The town should speak out directly with a resolution, as we have asked," she said.
Councilman Peter Mason suggested looking into engaging a consultant already working with another local community on the noise issue, an idea that his colleagues supported.