Residents rally against noisy air traffic

Citizens consider walkout, lawsuit

By Sara Hayden

Coastsiders and other Bay Area residents are banding together to combat air traffic noise wrought by the Next Generation Air Transportation System. The latest action follows in the footsteps of other communities across the United States that have found their voices are stronger together. They are getting a response from the Federal Aviation Administration.

FAA began to implement NextGen technologies and procedures in 2007 to modernize air transportation and increase safety, efficiency and predictability. In recent years, that’s come at the cost of residents who now live under rerouted flight paths. Some people argue that it’s actually decreasing safety by exposing them to airport noise and jet fuel particulate that has negative health impacts.

“Everyone all over the country is waking up to the same nightmare,” said Tony Verreos, of Brisbane. “It takes some time for people to get frustrated to a point where they do something about it.”

Now some are.

“I’m going to focus on suing the FAA because nothing else has worked,” said Verreos, who started a Facebook group called “STOP Jet Noise NOW! SFOAK North S.F. Bay Area.”

He’s working with other citizens to convince Bay Area cities such as his own, Pacifica, Daly City and Half Moon Bay to take the charge.

If a local lawsuit occurred, it would be one of more than 10 others across the nation regarding NextGen. The city of Phoenix won its case last August, which led to an agreement to redesign flight paths. The FAA also agreed to tweak flight paths around John Wayne Airport in Southern California, following individual lawsuits from Culver City, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach that were then consolidated as one case a year ago.

As cities consider action, residents of the unincorporated Midcoast don’t want to be ignored.

Erin Caslavka, of Montara, wanted to get involved when she realized there was little Midcoast representation at the SFO Airport/Community Roundtable, a committee to address noise impacts from San Francisco International Airport flights.

“I feel like we’re the redheaded stepchild. (Just because there’s no representative) doesn’t mean it’s not intrusive into our life as well,” Caslavka said

She started attending roundtable meetings and recording local flight traffic data from home. Over a two-week period in the fall, she counted 2,480 flights that passed over Montara from various airports in the area. Many exceeded the established noise threshold, and the bulk of them were from SFO.

At a Midcoast Community Council meeting, she encouraged people to direct their air traffic noise complaints to San Francisco International Airport at (650) 821-4736 or sfo.noise.

She agreed a lawsuit is worth a shot. “With a lot of lawsuits, you end up settling with the other party. Maybe that means you end up getting some of the demands we’re making to be implemented.”

Stanley Peng, of El Granada, said his goal was to raise awareness. He started a petition about a year ago that has since collected the signatures of more than 500 people calling for a ban from flying low over the Coastside. Peng works as a delivery driver for the Review.

Peng forwarded the petition to U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, the FAA, local airports and others he wants to take notice.

“I even sent it to Donald Trump, the president of the United States. I don’t know if it (will get there),” Peng said. But he wants to try. “Hopefully I can make as much of a contribution all the way from Pacifica to Half Moon Bay … We just want to try our best to see if FAA would make any substantial change.”

Congressional representatives, including Speier, are working to ensure that the FAA adheres to implementing noise mitigation recommendations that came out of a report released in November. But relief can’t come soon enough for some.

Laslo Vespremi, of El Granada, is organizing a representative walkout at a roundtable meeting to send a message to the FAA.

“If the representatives of these 2 million people (from more than 20 communities) say enough is enough, notice will be taken,” he said.

Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor and SFO roundtable representative Harvey Rarback said he wouldn’t participate in a walkout without learning more first.

“There’s a lot of concerned people on the roundtable, but the structure is such that it doesn’t have the teeth to do much. I certainly want to find out more about this,” Rarback said.

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