Despite the fact that neighbors and local elected officials have been working for a year with representatives of the commuter airline Surf Air and the San Carlos airport on ways to reduce the noise impact on local residents, the turnout of more than 150 people at a public meeting in Atherton on Sept. 30 showed that many still perceive a problem.
The meeting was also attended by every member of the Atherton City Council and its city manager as well as all the candidates running for Atherton council seats in November. San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum also attended and promised to immediately get more involved.
The meeting's organizers urged even regional involvement, however, and in fact residents from numerous cities, including Palo Alto, attended.
"This isn't an Atherton problem," said Atherton resident David Fleck, who has been active in the meetings with Surf Air for the past year. "This is a problem that spans multiple cities," he said, and even multiple counties.
"You should be asking your elected officials where they stand on this situation," he said.
Supervisor Slocum said he had attended a meeting of the working group that has been meeting with airport and airline officials earlier in the day. "I left that meeting ... somewhat encouraged over what has happened in the past," he said.
He promised to call the mayors of Menlo Park and Redwood City and the rest of the Board of Supervisors, "and try to get them involved," as well as to get in touch with management of the San Carlos Airport.
Some of the speakers emphasized the need for regional cooperation to solve the problem. Richard Brand came from Palo Alto to the meeting.
"This is a regional problem and not just a local problem," said Brand, who works from his home. "This turbo prop plane is a very noisy plane."
Brand said other communities have managed to control airplane noise.
"The government will change; we just have to push," he said. "We've got to go and get regional pressure on this."
Fleck noted that of the more than 500 people who had signed an online petition asking Surf Air and the San Carlos Airport to address the noise by Sept. 30 there were 285 from Menlo Park, 112 from Atherton, 57 from Palo Alto and 31 from Redwood City.
The meeting was the second large public gathering held on the issue of Surf Air's effect on local residents. In December, a similar gathering attracted approximately 100 people, many of whom brought up similar issues. Both were sponsored by the town of Atherton.
Surf Air is a start-up airline whose passengers pay one monthly price for unlimited flights on small passenger planes. In early August the airline announced that it has new funding and has ordered 15 more eight-passenger planes to add to the three it has been flying. The airline said it plans to expand its destinations and might order as many as 50 more planes in addition to the 15.
Residents said the airline's noise is not the same as that of other planes flying over their homes.
Britt von Thaden, who lives on Berkeley Avenue in Menlo Park, said he lives under the flight paths of several airlines, but the Surf Air flights have more impact.
"It's the frequency that caught my attention," he said. "There's a lot of traffic anyway."
Sheri Shenk lives on Virginia Lane in Atherton directly under the Surf Air flight path, she said.
"The first time one flew over my house I thought I was being invaded," she said, adding that the flights shake her home. "It's changed our quality of life significantly."
Recently, Shenk said, she and her family were eating dinner outdoors when a Surf Air flight passed over.
"My grandchildren started to run for the house and ended up screaming when it went over the back yard," she said. "I call it the blue-bellied beast. I love start-ups and I love charter flights, but this is really awful."
Many of those who spoke work from their homes. Nick Peters of North Fair Oaks said he runs a recording studio from his home.
"It has damaged my business immensely," he said.
Carolyn Clebsch, who has lived in North Fair Oaks for 15 years, said she also works at home and the noise has also impacted her work.
"My business is teaching meditation and working with people who are dying," she said.
Debjani Sen from San Francisco has another perspective. Her husband works in Santa Barbara, and Surf Air has allowed him to come home every night instead of only on weekends.
"That's made a huge improvement in our lives," she said. "I hope you can work out a solution with Surf Air. Just place yourself in my shoes."
Jeff Potter, a former Frontier Airlines CEO who became Surf Air CEO in late February, said the airline is committed to working collaboratively with the community.
"We have a situation here that's negatively affecting your lives," he acknowledged. He said the airline is going to test using a new propeller that may be quieter. They also are hoping that pressure from local officials might open up Moffett Field to commercial flights such as Surf Air's. "We would love to be there," he said.
"We can effect change," he said.
The group of residents who have been working with Surf Air, who call themselves, CalmTheSkies, will next meet on Oct. 14, at 6 p.m. in Atherton's Council Chambers, 94 Ashfield Road.
"We need not just ideas," Fleck said. "We need people willing to execute those ideas."