San Mateo County was looking for feedback from the public about noise issues connected with the county-owned and operated San Carlos Airport when it held the second of two town hall meetings on Sept. 14. Feedback is what they received – some of it angry and confrontational.
A crowd of nearly 150 people filled up a meeting room at the Fair Oaks Community Center in Redwood City, with so many asking to speak that the meeting time had to be extended by a half hour to accommodate them.
Most of the speakers said they were angry at Surf Air, the airline that started using the San Carlos Airport in June 2013. Surf Air said it had been scheduling up to 24 round-trip flights a day to and from San Carlos. Its customers, numbering about 1,000 in the Bay Area, pay a monthly fee for unlimited flights within California and to Las Vegas on PC-12 turbo-prop planes carrying a maximum of nine people.
"Why don't you have a quieter airplane to fly over our homes at 1,000 feet?" an audience member shouted to Surf Air representative Jim Sullivan, the airline's senior vice president of operations. "It's unbearable," the man said. "We're losing sleep."
Another audience member said the "root cause" of the noise problem is the county giving Surf Air a permit to use the airport. "You should probably grow some cajones and pull the permit and see what happens," he demanded.
John Nibbelin, a chief deputy county counsel for San Mateo County, said that the Federal Aviation Administration restricts what the county can do with the airport. "This is an area that's highly regulated by the federal government," he said. "We're doing the very best we can to assure people's rights are protected."
He said the "notion that there's a permit we can pull" is incorrect.
The hearing was one part of a study approved in March by the Board of Supervisors to look at noise issues connected with the San Carlos Airport. Consultants are also looking at regulations at other similar airports, studying the historic flight data at the San Carlos Airport and polling residents who live under the flight path.
A report on the consultants' findings is expected to come back to the supervisors in late October or early November.
Carolyn Clebsch, who lives in North Fair Oaks, said for 10 years she had held meditation retreats in her garden. Now, she said, the noise from Surf Air planes means she can no longer do so. "I feel the county and Surf have taken my property," she said. "I can not use my own garden for my own livelihood."
Jennifer Acheson, an attorney from Atherton who said she was taught to fly by her father, said the noise from the planes wakes her up. "This community was here before the noise came," she said. Since the county has argued that it cannot do anything that would discriminate against one airport user, "shutting down the airport would be non-discriminatory," she said. She also mentioned a possible class-action nuisance lawsuit.
In an effort to remove some of its planes from the flight path that takes them over the Midpeninsula, Surf Air in July began flying a new route that takes it over the Bay. Many of the Sunnyvale residents at the meeting said they believe the new route is now over their homes.
Surf Air said it is now using the new route a little more than 50 percent of the time.
Sunnyvale resident Kerri Webb said Sunnyvale is "the dumping ground" for the Surf Air noise. "We hate Surf Air, too," she said. "They sound like go-carts in the sky."
Another Sunnyvale resident, Rachel She, had a similar complaint. "You're basically just taking the waste from one back yard and dumping it in another," she said.
After the meeting, however, airport manager Gretchen Kelly said that while the San Carlos Airport has received 333 noise complaints from 61 households in Sunnyvale since Surf Air began flying the new approach, only two of the households making complaints are actually under the new flight path. "The other 59 homes were already impacted by Surf Air flights prior to the implementation" of the new approach, she said.
While flights headed to the San Carlos Airport have received most of the attention in the past, several speakers at the meeting also complained about the airline's departing flights.
"We do have problems with the take-offs," said Barbara Huoschinsky of Redwood Shores.
Lorianna Kastrop of Redwood Village said the Surf Air noise "is like a freeway has been moved over our heads." She said she especially objects to the fact that a service "for wealthy commuters" is making a profit by victimizing residents.
Surf Air did give the audience some good news: On Monday, Sept. 19, the airline was scheduled to reduce flights from a maximum of 24-round trips a day to a maximum of 18 round trips a day.
Mr. Sullivan said the schedule adjustment was made for business reasons.