News

County wins appeal of airplane noise nuisance ruling

 

San Mateo County doesn't have to pay a $1,000 small-claims judgment related to noisy planes using the county's San Carlos Airport, a judge ruled on Aug. 26. He said, however, that the matter should be heard in a court where a judge has the authority to issue an injunction to stop the noise.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John L. Grandsaert said that the issue of noise from Surf Air planes "strikes me as something larger than a small-claims case." The judge said the case presented by North Fair Oaks resident Adam Ullman was "one of the best small-claims presentations I've ever experienced."

However, he said, "it strikes me that what you're seeking" is "an end to this noise."

"You want that stopped. That's what's called injunctive relief," Judge Grandsaert said. "I'm with you in terms of your concerns and your presentation. I'm really not with you so far as why this case should be in small claims court."

After spending Friday morning listening to Mr. Ullman's presentation in the Redwood City county courthouse, Judge Grandsaert ruled that Mr. Ullman hadn't proved specific damages to himself from the Surf Air planes that follow a flight path directly over his home on their way to the county-owned and operated San Carlos Airport, and therefore didn't have grounds to claim damages.

"I want to make it very clear. ... this decision does not have any effect in terms of establishing a precedent of whether an action for injunctive relief is brought in the proper court," he said. "I can't grant injunctive relief."

An injunction is a court order that a defendant stop doing something.

The judge also said that while in most cases the losing party must pay the winning party's court costs, in this case, "each party is directed to pay their own costs."

Deputy County Counsel Brian Wong had argued, using a 1907 case cited as a precedent in a 1991 case, that Mr. Ullman needed to prove that he had suffered damage "different in kind and not merely in degree from that suffered by the general public."

The state law governing nuisances (California Civil Code Section 3493) says that a "private person may maintain an action for a public nuisance, if it is specially injurious to himself."

Because the case was a small claims court appeal, it was heard by a Superior Court judge, but the parties did not have access to the other sides' arguments or evidence in advance, as they would in a non-small claims court case. Mr. Wong provided his brief to the Almanac after the case was decided.

The case started in April when Mr. Ullman, a non-practicing attorney and a member of the county's Airport Noise Working Group, filed a small claims court lawsuit claiming the county owed him $5,000 because it had failed "to mitigate the continuous public nuisance of very loud aircraft flying over my home."

In June, Judge Pro Tem Dale Major awarded Mr. Ullman $1,000 plus his $65 court filing fee.

On June 29, the county appealed the judgment.

In the county's trial brief, Mr. Wong said "the county would not ordinarily appeal such a small judgment. However, plaintiff has been publicizing his award and encouraging others to file similar claims against the County, raising the possibility of substantial additional liability."

The county also argued in its brief that Mr. Ullman had failed to prove he had suffered damages he could be compensated for in a nuisance case.

At the hearing, Mr. Ullman said he has "lost the quiet enjoyment of my home" because of the airplane overflights, and that the noise means he can no longer work from home.

The county also argued in its brief that Mr. Ullman had failed to "prove the connection between his damages and the Airport's operations."

Mr. Ullman presented evidence that the turboprop Pilatus PC-12s used by Surf Air are louder than many jets. He said the airport's data shows that more than 4,900 noise complaints have been filed with the San Carlos Airport so far in 2016. The airport's data shows that in comparison, in the first six months of 2013, just before Surf Air started using the airport, only 51 noise complaints were filed.

The county is currently working on a San Carlos Airport Aircraft Disturbance Study with the help of an aviation consultant, an aviation noise consultant and a polling firm. The consultants are looking at the practices of other similarly sized general aviation airports and holding public meetings to hear what residents have to say about the noise problems.

In addition, on Aug. 18, the county received a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to pay 90 percent of the cost of a $481,459 study that will look at the existing airport noise conditions and create a plan to "address noise-related impacts in the vicinity of the airport," San Carlos Airport manager Gretchen Kelly said.

She said that the airport doesn't meet the noise threshold usually required for such a grant, but that the FAA agreed to fund it because of the level of community opposition.

The study should take about a year and a half to complete, Ms. Kelly said.

Mr. Ullman said he is not sure what he will do next. "This issue needs to be addressed," he said.

"If the county will not look at the regulations from the perspective of what it can do, rather than what it cannot do, then the community will need to decide how much we want to fight the county to address this."

Comments

8 people like this
Posted by Ya Gotta Be Kidding
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 29, 2016 at 12:42 pm

The county just took another $500K in federal grant money which obligates them to another 20 years of being handcuffed to whatever the FAA wants. Taking federal money has to stop. It's the first step in solving this issue and taking back control of the airport.


Like this comment
Posted by Jenny
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 29, 2016 at 4:22 pm

Why wouldn't he sue SurfAir instead of the county? SurfAir are the ones causing the noise, not the county.


7 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 29, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Jenny:

Surfair isn't breaking any laws.


2 people like this
Posted by Shocking!
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2016 at 4:48 pm

So a San Mateo county judge dismissed a lawsuit against San Mateo county?

I'm shocked!

Ullman should have brought this to a different venue for obvious reasons.


12 people like this
Posted by Working Stiff
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2016 at 5:27 pm

The key is this: “The state law governing nuisances (California Civil Code Section 3493) says that a "private person may maintain an action for a public nuisance, if it is specially injurious to himself."” Just because you have a bug up your posterior about trains, train whistles, traffic, leaf blowers, loud motorcycles, barking dogs, sirens or airplane noise doesn’t make them “specially injurious” to you to the point where you can sue the County for damages for allowing these things to happen on public roads, rails or airspace. You have to prove that you suffered harm that was different from the type of harm suffered by the general public, not representative of it.

Otherwise, one hypersensitive citizen could block infrastructure that’s needed by others, simply because they are hypersensitive. Say I’m particularly allergic to particulates from diesel engines. Can I sue the County to make SamTrans change its bus route off of my street? Of course not.

It’s both odd and telling that many of the complainers are relatively recent arrivals to the Peninsula. I was born and raised here. The Peninsula is nothing like it was in the ‘60s. Do I wish it was like that again? Do I wish that the 90+% of you who moved here since I was born hadn’t so that I could still enjoy the country roads and orchards of my youth? Of course I do. That’s why I’m going to leave California when I retire. But I’m not so arrogant that I spend my time trying to make it more difficult for others to travel and work around here so that I can try to recreate my own bucolic paradise in the middle of Silicon Valley. I choose to live here, and I deal with it. Surf Air isn't just a First World problem, it's a .1% First World "problem."

The last 20 years, I’ve lived in San Carlos, where jets fly over my house day and night. Do you know what I do when a jumbo jet flies over my house in the middle of the night? I roll over and go back to sleep. I’m still here because of the prosperity of this area and the opportunities it offers for me and my family. There are downsides to progress. Be grateful that Surf Air has redirected two thirds of its traffic over the Bay. They didn't have to.


5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 29, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"The county just took another $500K in federal grant money which obligates them to another 20 years of being handcuffed to whatever the FAA wants. Taking federal money has to stop. It's the first step in solving this issue and taking back control of the airport."

yep. So you all have to wait another twenty years.


5 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 29, 2016 at 5:44 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

or move!!


11 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 29, 2016 at 9:23 pm

For anyone questioning the level of noise from this, here is a recording from this morning taken in my kitchen at the table where I eat breakfast and watch the news. Sounds levels reached 66.8dB. This is comparable to a leaf blower 50ft away, a sound level which most communities impose restrictions on. And again, this is the sound level inside at my kitchen table, not outside.

It's an issue.

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by You need to hear this
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 29, 2016 at 9:48 pm


WOW!!!

That's unbelievable,


3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 30, 2016 at 7:24 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

From here: Web Link

Passenger car at 65 mph at 25 ft (77 dB); freeway at 50 ft from pavement edge 10 a.m. (76 dB). Living room music (76 dB); radio or TV-audio, vacuum cleaner (70 dB).

70

Arbitrary base of comparison. Upper 70s are annoyingly loud to some people.

Conversation in restaurant, office, background music, Air conditioning unit at 100 feet.

60

Half as loud as 70 dB. Fairly quiet.

Not a "problem."


4 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 30, 2016 at 10:57 am

So all of this over noise that is less than that if a vacuum. WOW. I am subject to noises louder than this all day long downtown. Leaf blower, construction, trains, garbage trucks, airplanes. Do I complain, no. Why? I live in dense urban area and have benefited from the propensity of our region.

Your houses have appreciated greatly because of this regions prosperity. There is no free ride folks!

and I'll bet @Local's windows were open. :)


2 people like this
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:03 pm

County taking more federal/public money which binds the airport to FAA control further than its already bound, and this money funneled to aviation consultants for studies. This industry's top paid employees and investors but be having a hearty laugh. This is another pattern. No significant impact is claimed for the airspace redesign bringing all these low altitude flight paths, when, no surprise, there is citizen outcry then chuck more money into aviation's hands for "studies." In the meantime, these "procedures" continue the suffering with no end in sight and if you complain, We need time to complete these studies. Does anybody really think and industry that would do this to citizens across our control, across the globe, has any intention of stopping? Study or no study? We don't need more studies. They know exactly what they're doing to people and they don't care.

1. File one daily complaint (# of households matter more than number of complaints)
2. Send a monthly letter to your elected officials at every level of government
3. Boycott flying if you can, and second best, fly and ship by air the least possible
4. For those who are able, consider lawsuits against those causing and profiting from the noise nuisance--the air service providers and the airport owners

If everyone affected by these low altitude flight paths did this, it would be a tsunami. Congress and its battering ram the FAA are going to let this industry do as much as people are willing to take. Insane; public money in the billions is being used to do this to us...

This article about Michael Rodenbaugh of Rodenbaugh Law in San Francisco may help those considering lawsuits:
"Neighbors Sue Over Noisy New Air Traffic Route" by Jon Chown (Courthouse News Service, March 18, 2016)
Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Meant to write: "Does anybody really think an industry that would do this to citizens across our country, across the globe, has any intention of stopping?" (Sorry folks, aircraft low and steady over the roof until after 1am and kicking up again just after 4am... Day after day...Thanks Congress!)


2 people like this
Posted by you need to hear this
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:32 pm


Not sure I spend much time 25' away from a car going 65 mph.

Suggest you try it and get back to us.


2 people like this
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:52 pm

NextGenNoise.org website--one of countless popping up since aviation interests redesigned the airspace globally bringing aircraft low in order to build up capacity for greater and greater profits:

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Jenny:

Thank you for that recording. That's the lovely soundtrack of aviation hijacking our skies for profit whatever the cost to people on the ground. Disgusting! And I used to like planes. Now that they are being used across our country to destroy sleep, enjoyment of one's home, the outdoors...they've become nothing but an object of torture. Can't stand the sight of them anymore.

And we're in a time when every company bangs on about its environmental awareness and "green" policies and our politicians never stop talking about climate change. What a joke!

So sorry you're going through that. It's no solace whatsoever but you are not alone.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 30, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

tired:

you still haven't answered my questions. Are you just going to keep railing against "cronyism" or engage in an actual conversation? It's ok if you do, but I'll just ignore any further posts if you don't wish to have a conversation.


2 people like this
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Aug 31, 2016 at 2:22 pm

FAA threatens legal action against Santa Monica over airport
August 31, 2016 (SF Chronicle)

Web Link


Praise for City of Santa Monica officials putting human health and the environment above aviation interests. The FAA fights closure by binding airports for x number of years based on the date a grant was given and so it's trying to use a grant date that serves to thwart the closure date the city is aiming for.


As I've said, there are some elected officials out there who are actually living up to what public office should mean, of by and for the people NOT of by and for private profit. The FAA has no shame, nor the private interests it works to protect against the people. And San Mateo County officials should be ashamed of using its legal might to trample human health and the environment and protect private profit; as the Mayor of Santa Monica and his city council are demonstrating, you have fallen horribly short of your duty to protect the public from this air, noise, and visual pollution.

Here's an excellent quote from the article:

Vazquez said city officials were not surprised by the FAA's letter.

The agency "has consistently maintained their support for aviation interests despite their mandate to also protect public health and safety," the mayor said in a statement obtained by the Times. "We will respond respectfully but vigorously to defend our rights to local control of land owned by the citizens of Santa Monica since 1926."

Supporters of closing the airport say they are concerned about noise, air pollution and the risk of a plane crashing into nearby neighborhoods.


Like this comment
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Aug 31, 2016 at 2:38 pm

FAA threatens to take legal action against Santa Monica for its effort to shut down the city airport in 2018
Dan Weikel
August 30, 2016, 4:20 PM (LA Times) - This is the original story and has more info

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Aug 31, 2016 at 3:50 pm

City of Santa Monica NEWS
Posted on 8/24/2016
Santa Monica City Council Votes to Close Airport

Web Link

Wow, what would our world be like if we had more elected officials and citizens like this... A city's people and representatives united and determined to fight for human and environmental rights...

Quote from City of Santa Monica news release:


In its Resolution, the Council declared the Airport produces a wide range of adverse impacts, including noise and air pollution, as well as safety issues. The Council’s Resolution notes the positive consequences of transitioning the land from aviation to open space, parks, recreation, educational, and cultural uses as required by Measure LC, the ballot measure that Santa Monica voters approved in 2014.

“Through our unanimous vote tonight, the Council demonstrated our commitment to stop the harmful impacts the Airport has on our community. Transitioning our land into a ‘great-park’ is the single most transformative action this Council can take,” said Mayor Tony Vazquez. “The land needs to be transformed from a source of pollution and potential danger, into a community asset.”

The Council also directed the City Manager to implement a series of measures intended to reduce the adverse impacts of the Airport until operations cease permanently.

“Our Council and community in solidarity, want to close the airport that predominantly caters to the 1% that can afford to travel by private jet. We have directed the City Manager to take every step possible to expedite the transformation of our land from Airport to park,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ted Winterer. “There are real legal obstacles and while we need to be conscientious as we navigate the court system, our resolve to close the Airport is firm.”


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 31, 2016 at 4:04 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The County of San Mateo could do the same thing and it would then be faced with exactly the same obstacles:
"There are real legal obstacles and while we need to be conscientious as we navigate the court system,"

The Santa Monica airport will, in spite of this resolution, remain open for many years.


2 people like this
Posted by Surf Air
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 31, 2016 at 10:04 pm


While you can't close the airport, The county and airport management control policy and fees for ground operations, everything from, permits for businesses that operate there to fuel enviromental and hazard concerns, to taxes, to hanger and tie down fees, to costs for general maintenance, amount of traffic, to size of aircraft, to infrastructure improvement costs, landing fees for charter and for profit airlines such as surf air, and no costs to private aircraft owners,
Some issues would require twisting the counties arm, some would be easily controlled by airport management,

Liken it to taxi cabs paying fees as opposed to private vehicle owners.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2016 at 9:57 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The law is clear - The County can impose a whole range of fees etc BUT it cannot do so in a manner which discriminates against any specific user.


2 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Seems to me Mr. Ullman is brilliant. Good job!

He initially won a case against the county that was creating airplane noise over his home. Although he has had a setback, I hope he is ultimately successful in his legal attempts.

What is occurring with NextGen is ridiculous. Nextgen has creating "Air super highways" over the S.F. Bay Area & other Metroplex areas around the nation. These narrow bands of air traffic are being placed directly over homes where there was no prior air traffic; and the planes are lower and louder.

For those of you mentioning that people knew when they purchased their homes- Well that is generally just false. This is not like moving into a home next to a busy street - In that case, you knew the street/train/etc. was there, and you knew what to expect. FAA is placing super highways over homes that NEVER had air traffic previously overhead. These might be homes where 10 or 20 years ago there were maybe 2 planes per day going overhead; Now there are hundreds or thousands of planes daily, because the flight path has been altered & narrowed.

Even if you move, next year the FAA could move a flight path directly over you again... It is a no win situation for the folks who happen to be under the newly formed very narrow flight paths. It is clearly unfair to these folks.

People all over the nation are in an uproar over the air traffic noise generated by the new Nextgen routes. It is pretty clear that the FAA and the SurfAir managers do not care about the noise issues or folks under their flight paths, since the plane noise is not over their personal homes. For folks not under a direct flight path - Lucky you! But for folks under newly formed flight paths, it can be torture. Once very quiet neighborhoods are rocked with constant airplane noise.

I'm not from the peninsula. But my community is also being heavily impacted by the new airplane noise. We are just less vocal & less organized than the Peninsula groups.

And by the way, moving does not appear to be an option either-
Let me give you an example: 30 years ago I moved due to a flight path that was moved over my home (where there was NOT a flight path previously & where I was far from an airport). Arriving planes were coming overhead at low elevations every minute of so. I moved, and now it has happened again at my new residence 25 miles away from my original residence. Apparently, the randomness of this process means that you may move, and then experience the same phenomenon yet again - courtesy of the FAA.

YOU GO Mr. Ullman! Teach us how to do this!!!
Love it!!! I really hope you are successful in ultimately winning your legal case.


Like this comment
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2016 at 12:52 pm

"Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience.Noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere."

Former U.S. Surgeon General
William H. Stewart, 1978


Like this comment
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Residents dealing with East Hampton Airport incessant low altitude air traffic...

Quiet Skies Coalition, Ltd., Wainscott, NY Facebook page:
Web Link#

And website:
Web Link


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Truckee cafe to expand to Menlo Park
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 2,695 views

One more year
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 810 views

Attraction to a Person Outside Your Relationship
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 810 views