In April 2000, through the efforts of aviation noise activists like the group UPROAR, and representative Anna Eshoo, SFO agreed to raise jet altitude requirements over the Menlo Park-Palo Alto border and the FAA approved the changes.
“After years of complaints from mid-Peninsula residents, San Francisco International Airport officials have agreed to raise jet altitude requirements” SFGate article
But since 2014, that agreement is not being observed. The aviation noise group UPROAR was formed because, as they wrote 18 years ago, “existing procedures for reducing air noise and air traffic are not working. ” In 2018, we still do not have procedures for reducing air noise and traffic.
Palo Alto needs to find an effective way for our community to have a voice in addressing aviation noise abatement. Noise abatement includes, but not exclusively 1) Airplanes flying higher, 2) Fair distribution of flight paths so that Palo Alto is no longer disproportionally impacted by air traffic–the wider the spread of flight paths, the more equitably communities share the burden of noise and pollution, 3) Establishment and enforcement of night time flight curfews.
In March 2014, the FAA released a draft of an EA (Environmental Review) for NextGen Optimization and Procedures in the Northern California Metroplex which includes San Francisco International Airport, Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, the Sacramento International Airport, Oakland International Airport, Hayward Executive Airport, and Palo Alto Airport. (See geographical map here), and as required, initiated a period of public comment.
In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the FAA released and made available for public review a Draft Environmental Assessment (Draft EA) that has been prepared to consider the potential environmental impacts of the implementation of the Northern California Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (NorCal OAPM) Project.
Early notice of the FAA’s intent to prepare an EA for the NorCal OAPM Project was issued on December 4, 2012. The Draft EA was released and made available for public review and comment on March 25, 2014. The public comment period for the Environmental Assessment closed on May 4, 2014.
For multiple explanatory FAA documents related to the NorCal OAPM Environmental Assessment, see this page.
From The Almanac, April 9, 2014.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, extracted an agreement in 2001 with the FAA that requires arriving aircraft to stay at least 8,000 feet above sea level when passing over a navigation beacon in the Woodside hills. Arriving flights continue to violate that minimum altitude despite another letter from Ms. Eshoo in 2005.
Some 23,000 arriving flights crossed over the Woodside beacon in 2012, according to Portola Valley resident Vic Schachter and unincorporated Woodside resident Jim Lyons. Between May 2005 and February 2010, the average altitude of flights dropped to 6,600 feet from 7,500 feet, while the number of flights rose by 70 percent, they said. Between January 2009 and May 2012, more than 88 percent of flights crossed at altitudes below 8,000 feet, with about 28 percent lower than 6,000 feet.
“There is no firm requirement that airplanes fly at 8,000 feet over the Woodside (beacon),” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor has told the Almanac. “Northern California controllers have noise abatement Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and use them when traffic volume permits. Often, however, traffic volume prevents us from using them. … While we keep almost all SFO arrivals at 8,000 feet at night, it is not possible to keep all SFO arrivals at that altitude during the day because that would create conflicts with other aircraft using that busy airspace.”
In late April and early May, 2014, at Anna Eshoo’s request, Palo Alto City Manager James Keene and Mayor Nancy Shepherd submitted letters to the FAA requesting an extension of public comment period. Keene letter, Shepherd letter. (Both letters include the FAA’s response.)
Watch video (time code 4:55:17) of the Palo Alto City Council meeting on April 29th, 2014, at which Council is informed about the FAA’s Environmental Assessment of the NorCal OAPM (Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex). Sky Posse’s Stewart Carl presents data and answers questions at this meeting.
Discussion and Direction to City Manager Regarding City of Palo Alto Response to the FAA Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) Regarding the Northern California Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (NorCal OAPM)
Since this meeting occurred, Sky Posse members have provided council with requested data, met with City Manager, James Keene, and Palo Alto Airport Manager, Andrew Swanson, as well as making public comments at later City Council meetings and submitting letters and comments at Open City Hall.
The FAA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact and Record of Decision (FONSI-ROD) for the Project on August 7, 2014. The FAA received 255 letters that included 428 comments on the Draft EA. These comments and the responses prepared by the FAA are included in Appendix F to the Final EA. The FAA carefully considered all comments received and none warranted substantive revision of the EA. A list of minor changes to the Draft EA is included before Chapter 1 in the Final EA. A letter of concurrence with the FAA’s findings of no adverse effect under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act was received from the State Historic Preservation Officer for the State of California and is included in Appendix A.
The Final EA and FONSI-ROD are available here.
The Ad Hoc Citizens’ Committee for Noise Abatement in the South Bay is appealing the FAA’s Finding of No Significant Impact.
On October 1st, 2014, Palo Alto’s third request to join the San Francisco International Airport/Community Roundtable was rejected, even though SFO’s landing approaches have been largely moved to Palo Alto.
As a result of the SFO Roundtable rejection, on October 6th, 2014, Palo Alto City Council directed this community concern to the Policy & Services Committee for review. It is expected that City staff will present a report on the issues and make a recommendation.
Sky Posse presented to Palo Alto Policy and Services Committee on February 10, 2015. As per the Staff Report recommendation,
RecommendationStaff recommends that the Policy & Services Committee recommend to the City Council to direct the City Manager to continue to work with residents, to utilize the City’s federal legislative consultants, and to work with neighboring cities, counties and other governmental organizations on a regional approach in advocacy to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
More recent updates to come…
We are extremely pleased that Palo Alto’s congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, is a member of the new congressional Quiet Skies Caucus.
PALO ALTO, Calif.—Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18) announced today her membership in the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. As a founding member of the recently created caucus, Eshoo will raise awareness on the issue of aircraft noise and work to find meaningful solutions to the problem. The caucus consists of Members of Congress from across the country whose constituents are adversely affected by incidents of airplane and helicopter noise.
“Airports are epicenters of economic growth, but the noise from aircraft can make them pesky neighbors for many residents who live near them, including many of my constituents,” Eshoo said. “The creation of the Quiet Skies Caucus provides a forum to advance solutions that abate aircraft noise in our communities. I look forward to working with members of the caucus to address the concerns of residents who are impacted by aircraft noise.”
Read the letter to congress from the Quiet Skies Caucus