Five months after an East Palo Alto plane crash raised concerns about the Palo Alto Airport, the aviation group responsible for community outreach is seeking another member.
The Joint Community Relations Committee, founded by the Palo Alto City Council in 1987, meets monthly to discuss noise, airport safety, Canada geese and more.
According to former chair Peter Carpenter, the committee was a pioneering airport-community collaboration and later the subject of a short video by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association that encouraged other airports to create similar organizations.
Carpenter has stepped down from the committee, prompting the group to search for one Palo Alto resident to serve for a two-year term.
"It's helpful if (applicants) understand aviation -- not necessarily that they're pilots, but if they have some interest in aviation," committee member and Palo Alto Airport Association President Ralph Britton said. "It's crucial that they're in touch with community concerns, which is a general requirement."
Since the airport is controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration, the 12-member group lacks enforcement power. The committee's main job is to address noise complaints by speaking with community members and pilots. Members have gone to nearby homes with decibel sensors to determine whether the noise is at an acceptable level and analyzed noise maps to recommend optimum flight paths that would not disturb neighbors.
"Pilots and community members are generally very receptive to our suggestions; you just have to talk to them," Chair David Creemer said.
The committee has been focusing on outreach following the Feb. 17 crash into an East Palo Alto neighborhood, which killed three people on board, committee member and Palo Alto Airport Association Vice President Bob Lenox said. It invited community members to meetings, and Creemer spoke at nearby East Palo Alto Charter School and East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy to publicize the group and answer questions.
However, the crash does not fall under the committee's charge and will not affect its long-term operations, group members said.
"The crash is something the public is well aware of, but it didn't change the function or purpose of the committee in any way," Britton said.
At the group's meeting at the Palo Alto Airport this past Tuesday, six members gathered to discuss business.
Creemer announced that the Palo Alto Fire Department has given a boat to the Menlo Park Fire District for assistance in the event of an airplane crash.
"If you're going to wreck, wreck as close to shore as possible, and as close to Menlo," Director of County Airports Carl Honaker said, joking. He also mentioned that Canada geese on the runway were increasingly becoming a problem for pilots.
But he said no noise complaints regarding planes had been made in the past month. He cautioned, however, that it could be that the residents who typically complained had decided to stop.
As the committee searches for a new member, it is also rewriting membership requirements in its bylaws, which have not been edited from the original 1987 version and include clauses that are no longer applicable, group members said.
For example, although the bylaws state that one member must be an air-traffic controller, the committee lacks the legal authority to require a federal traffic controller to serve on a city organization. Similarly, another requirement states that a member must be chosen by the Santa Clara County Aviation Commission, but the commission lacks such authority and can only recommend appointments to the City Council.
"The bylaws need to be tweaked to work," Creemer said. "We've already started discussing this, though we don't know when we'll be done. We can't create our own bylaws, only make recommendations to council as to how the bylaws can be more workable."
The committee is also discussing recommendations as to how the council can effectively run airport operations. Although the airport is owned by Palo Alto, it is leased to Santa Clara County, and, according to Creemer, the county has said that it will not renew the lease once it expires in 2017. Since oversight will revert to Palo Alto, the council has commissioned an airport business plan study, which will be presented in September.
Creemer said that, regardless of other changes to the operations of Palo Alto Airport, he would like to preserve the informal aspect of the committee.
"What's worked with JCRC is the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. There's no impediment or intimidation to people coming to our meetings," Creemer said. "People don't feel like they have to come up and stand before a council or an official board, and it's really made it work."
Britton agreed that the relaxed atmosphere is a strength.
"Our original responsibility is just talking to people, and we've done a good job with that," Britton said. "I hate to lose the informal nature of what we do. It opens up who can come here."
Interested members must submit applications to Palo Alto City Clerk Donna Grider by 5 p.m. on Friday (July 16). Applications are available at the City of Palo Alto website.