Anxious about plane noise, Palo Alto eyes seat on new FAA committee | News | Palo Alto Online |


Anxious about plane noise, Palo Alto eyes seat on new FAA committee

Group aims to give local officials a forum to review proposed flight paths

Spurred by outrage over airplane noise from residents of Palo Alto and surrounding communities, the Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to the formation of a new committee aimed at giving critics a louder voice in future negotiations over plane routes and flight altitudes.

The FAA discussed the new committee at a Monday meeting in Los Altos, which featured elected leaders from Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties and members of the grassroots group Sky Posse, which has been leading the local effort to abate airplane noise.

The issue became urgent in the past year, as the FAA has implemented its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) program in March 2015. The program concentrated flights along particular corridors, creating what some residents have described as "super highways" over their heads.

The creation of the new group, known as the FAA Select Committee, is the first substantive action that the FAA has agreed to undertake since November, when it agreed to take a fresh look at flight speeds, altitudes and waypoint locations as part of a new "three-phased initiative."

While it remains to be seen whether the group will wield any actual influence over the federal agency, its creation will at the very least give Palo Alto something the city has been coveting for well over a year: a seat at a regional table.

The city had attempted in 2014 to join the SFO Community Roundtable, a coalition of stakeholders from San Francisco and San Mateo County cities that work on issues involving San Francisco Airport, but its request for membership was denied by the group.

Khashayar Alaee, senior management analyst in the city manager's office, discussed the latest updates from the FAA at a Tuesday community meeting, which brought about 50 people to Palo Alto City Hall. The new committee, Alaee said, will have 12 members, four from each of the three congressional districts in the area (the districts currently represented by Anna Eshoo, Sam Farr and Jackie Speier). Members will be picked by each Congressional office.

Alaee said the idea for the group came from Eshoo, who wanted to give the Peninsula a new forum for discussing airport concerns. He called the formation of the group "a big win."

"As of now, really the only group that has influence into the airport and the FAA is the SFO Community Roundtable and none of the cities in the Santa Clara County and Santa Cruz County have representations on that," Alaee said. "For the FAA to recognize this committee and the three congressional offices to agree to it is a great achievement."

Ian Gregor, the FAA's public affairs manager for the Pacific Division, said the new committee will focus mainly on issues beyond the scope of the SFO Roundtable, which will review and comment on areas at and near the airport.

Gregor said the SFO Roundtable will provide administrative support for the new group.

Alaee also said that FAA officials indicated Monday that the agency's feasibility study for potential changes to NextGen routes will be out in six weeks.

"Once it's out, the community will be able to provide feedback on it through the FAA Select Committee," Alaee said. "That's where the decision-making will be made, and that recommendation will be made to the Congressional representatives."

Though he lauded the FAA for creating the new group, many residents in attendance voiced skepticism. Some complained about the FAA's failure to notify anyone in advance about the committee's creation or to seek input.

Jennifer Landesmann, a Sky Posse member who attended the Monday meeting in Los Altos, said on Tuesday that criticism from communities about NextGen have put pressure on the federal administration to improve its community-outreach practices.

"The FAA has failed miserably with the implementation of NextGen," Landesmann said. "They are on the hot seat for failing to deal with the communities in an appropriate way. The Bay Area is supposedly going to be an example on how to deal with communities. If they fail us, they will once again be on the hot seat."

Other residents offered personal anecdotes about loud flights soaring over their homes at all hours of the day and night. One Crescent Park resident said that just that morning, when she was out her garden, loud planes were passing over head every two to three minutes. Another spoke of the midnight and 1:30 a.m. flights that pass over her house. A third complained about a "real degradation of the quality of life because of the noise."

Resident Mark Shull said the main problem that residents have with NextGen is that planes "fly over the same houses every single time."

"That is new as of March last year," Shull said. "And it's not just one route, which cities around the country are complaining about, it is three converging in one place. And there's almost no place in the country that has as much convergence as we do."

Now, residents hope the new FAA committee and the city's recent actions to address the rising noise levels, will help them address the new problem. Members of Sky Posse have been gathering data about the elevated noise levels for the past year and lobbying the city to take action on the issue. Their work has paid off, with the city recently hiring the consulting group Freytag & Associates to review FAA's work and to conduct an analysis quantifying the increase in air traffic.

Alaee said that the firm will begin doing the data analysis on Palo Alto's flight patterns and noise levels in the coming weeks, as well as providing consulting services to the city on the FAA's plans. Later, the group will also be asked to consider the impacts of the changing flight patterns on local property assessments, classroom disruptions and sleep interference.

Alaee also said the city will try to secure a seat on the new FAA Select Committee, whose members will be selected by Thursday. The city, he noted, has already invested significant staff and financial resources in the issue. In addition to the two council members (Karen Holman and Greg Schmid) who attended the Tuesday update, two others (Mayor Pat Burt and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff) were scheduled to meet FAA officials on Tuesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., where they are attending the annual meeting of the National League of Cities.

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7 people like this
Posted by Ignore them
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2016 at 11:28 am

Palo alto residents are constantly outraged about one thing or another. The residents think that city exists in a vacuum, where their desires take top priority. The weekly helps fan these feelings with articles like this one? Does the weekly actually know how many city residents think that airplane noise is a real problem? I doubt they have really bothered to ask, since it does not fit into a their plan.

39 people like this
Posted by Where in Palo Alto?
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 9, 2016 at 1:08 pm

"Ignore them" must be deaf or lucky to live far away from the corridor being in "another Palo Alto neighborhood". I invite him/her to spend just a few minutes in the Green Acres area to experience the constant airplane traffic noise.

37 people like this
Posted by Gary Ruppel
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2016 at 1:09 pm

I applaud our city and county elected representatives for weighing in on this issue. The noise level and frequency of airplane flights has degraded the quality of my life and others in Palo Alto and am certain the case in surrounding communities. After returning home in January from a ten-month trip it was very evident that increased air traffic noise had occurred.

I am glad that we installed double-pane windows in our home. Otherwise it would seem thst we were outdoors all the time!

17 people like this
Posted by Tired of noise
a resident of another community
on Mar 9, 2016 at 2:38 pm

I hope that some real results come out of this committee, but I am highly skeptical that it will result in any real change. What we need is a meaningful limit on the noise from aircraft that residential neighborhoods are subjected to. The current 65 DNL standard is not sufficient to protect our health. According to the WHO, a single noise event of 45dB will disturb sleep. For continuous noise – and I would consider a flight every minute continuous – the level must be as low as 30dB.

Ever expanding aviation is not sustainable because of both the adverse health effects and the environmental impact, but the profits of the aviation industry are being put ahead of those considerations. If you want the aviation industry to listen the answer is quite simple: boycott. Don’t fly unless you have to and don’t have anything shipped by air.

26 people like this
Posted by Interested observer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 9, 2016 at 4:05 pm

I attended the meeting discussed in the article. The article is mostly factually correct but misses a few key points.

The recent change in air traffic patterns affects many communities on the peninsula but by far, it affects Palo Alto the most. As one speaker at the meeting said (paraphrase), "NextGen relies on concentrating air traffic in sacrificial corridors where all the air traffic noise will be and Palo Alto is now under such a corridor."

The recent formation of the "FAA Select Committee" may turn out well but could also turn out very badly. In this process, Palo Alto's voice has been reduced to "maybe" a one in twelve representative. Also, the kind of substantive traffic pattern changes that are required are unlikely to be considered in the newly announced six week effort.

Finally, the article is a little too congratulatory of Palo Alto city staff. This issue has been apparent for over a year and the reality is that the city staff has been rather slow in responding and is only just now really doing anything substantial -- slowly reactive rather than proactive.

13 people like this
Posted by Caroline V.
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 15, 2016 at 7:27 pm

Caroline V. is a registered user.

Sorry to bring you the facts. As previous readers have indicated this issue has been going on for years and honestly the new proposal is another tactic to procrastinate and act. I got involved with former PV Mayor Steve Toben, who started the advocacy to reduce airplane noise over Portola Valley. Since 2009 I went to the Round Table Meetings with delegates of FAA and the SF Airport. For years I called the complaint center. Our District Representative Congresswoman Eshoo had a signed agreement with the FAA (2008) demanding that they respect certain criteria and one of them was the altitude above sea level.
As usually nothing got accomplished and all I saw was increasing frustration and my phone bill going up. Eventually I had no longer the time to waste on this issue. Please note the FAA violated the promissory note of 2008. FAA was blaming SF Airport and the Airport was blaming the FAA. Then I got involved again with new energy and devotion from PV and Woodside residents Dr Nguygen, Jim Lyons and Vic Schachter. We requested the help of our elected officials, but we were ignored. Eventually The Noise Abatement in the South Bay filed a lawsuit against the FAA. The good thing is that these efforts are expanding accross the whole Bay Area. I applaud everyone who dedicates their time and efforts and I will continue to support these efforts, but remember you are dealing with government and politicians who look for money and who want to be re-elected. The truth is nothing will change. John Martin, President of the SF Airport has made it clear, he wants SF airport to become the largest airport on the West Coast. He has partnered with International Partnering Institute and a zillion government funded programs. Mayor Lee and other politicians need the revenue that is created by SF airport and its networking, so they do not care if SF Airport is allowed to offset its Carbon dioxide, increase flights, pollute our skys and affect the health of constituents. Together they will continue to present very elaborate environmental proposals and wonderful mission statements to create more government programs and non-profit organizations demanding more funding for the common goal - Unfortunately that goal is creed, power and money - not the protection of our health, our safety nor our well being. I will continue to support the initiatives of constituents, but today I wanted to also give a reality check from a PV advocate since 2009.

2 people like this
Posted by also tired of noise
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2016 at 10:32 pm

Carolyn V.

"John Martin, President of the SF Airport has made it clear, he wants SF airport to become the largest airport on the West Coast. He has partnered with International Partnering Institute and a zillion government funded programs."

The "International Partnering Institute" announces The John L. Martin Partnered Project of the Year Awards

Connected to Caltrans

Web Link

"The Format:
We have three esteemed speakers who will share their ideas and best practices in an interactive, facilitated dialogue: Mark Leja, Caltrans Division Chief of Construction; Ivar Satero, SFO International Airport COO and Dan Himick, C.C. Myers, Inc. CEO will each have an opportunity to answer the topic question from their perspective, and then the Webinar/conference call will be an interactive, facilitated dialogue on the topic."

Our tax dollars are funding the noise - as usual, follow the money.

16 people like this
Posted by at least 50 flights a day
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 16, 2016 at 9:40 am

To all those who don't think this is an issue, I've been using to report plane noise. I've had between 40-50 jets a day from SFO (we also get some San Jose traffic and Palo Alto airport). Many days there are 7-10 flights BEFORE 7 am (between 4-7 am to be exact). Since I get woken up 7-8 times a day, I'm not "outraged", I'm tired!

4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 4, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Why is Palo Alto losing the airplane noise complaint race?

Los Gatos had 55,854 October noise complaints from 233 people


Portola Valley had 25,259 complaints from 53 people


Palo Alto had only 16,544 complaints from 204 people?

2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 4, 2016 at 7:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Palo Alto did not even get a seat on the just announced FAA Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals!

6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 4, 2016 at 8:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Select Committee Member
Elected body
Appointed by

Supervisor Joe Simitian Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors by Congresswoman Eshoo Councilmember

Ann Wengert Town of Portola Valley by Congresswoman Eshoo Councilmember

Mary-Lynn Bernald City of Saratoga by Cities Association of Santa Clara County

Mayor Pro Tem Gary Waldeck Town of Los Altos Hills by Cities Association of Santa Clara County

Supervisor Bruce McPherson Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors by Congressman Farr

Supervisor John Leopold Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors by Congressman Farr

Councilmember Don Lane City of Santa Cruz by Congressman Farr

Mayor Ed Bottoroff City of Capitola by Congressman Farr

Supervisor Dave Pine San Mateo County Board of Supervisors by Congresswoman Speier

Mayor Mark Addiego City of South San Francisco by Congresswoman Speier

Councilmember Sam Hindi City of Foster City by Congresswoman Speier

Vice-Mayor Larry Moody City of East Palo Alto by Congresswoman Speier

10 people like this
Posted by complaints matter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2016 at 8:50 am

Peter Carpenter,

Good to see that you also think complaining about intrusive aircraft noise matters.

The SFO October numbers BTW don't reflect the use of the app which picked up after October.

****TO COMPLAIN - use******

Why complain?

The number of jets flying low over Palo Alto are mainly from SFO and it's not because of the economy - it's because planes that used to fly over other areas are now here. While the number of passengers is up at SFO, bigger planes fit more people so the actual number of planes landing at SFO have actually been flat or down in recent years.

The noise from the bigger planes, which are flying lower, and almost non-stop in several cities in the Bay Area area is why the FAA has been looking into it.

The FAA is responding to Complaints.

If you care about quality of life issues, and have experienced the jet noise, use When you log a complaint it gives you information about the airline, flight number, altitude and speed.

It works on a desktop computer, laptop, phone.

For a quick view of how the patterns have changed in Palo Alto, see the videos at Web Link or Web Link.

Our neighbors are also concerned, see the Los Altos Hills and Los Altos websites fro more info Web Link and Web Link.

If you prefer to not use the app, file a complaint directly on the SFO website
Web Link

or send SFO an email at with the date and time of the intrusion.

5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 5, 2016 at 9:44 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Actually there is no correlation between the number of noise complaints by city and the appointments by city to the new FAA Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals.

And it is fascinating to see that fewer than 300 Palo Alto residents are actually filing noise complaints.

For those less than 300 people it is clearly a big issue because they are averaging almost 80 complaints filed each month but for the vast majority of Pal Alto residents it does not seem that they perceive aircraft noise as a high priority problem.

8 people like this
Posted by complaints matter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Peter Carpenter,

What is fascinating is that there are 3 congressional districts, 12 elected officials, one of the largest airports in the country, and the Federal Aviation Administration and the community at large about to deliberate actions about SFO Arrivals.

It clearly is a priority item for all of these levels of government who are also rightly responding to community outrage at the changes without even due notice. If there was a complaint app for objecting to the way this all came about, it would be nice to file a complaint about due process along with each disruptive flight - especially the night carriers who pollute our peace of mind and health every single night.

Complaints have already made a difference for this committee to have been formed, and complaints continue to be a barometer of the problem. If you have not already tried using there is information about what types of planes, altitudes and speeds cause more noise.

The cumulative effect of plane after plane after plane causing disruptions though is probably the biggest factor of disruption.

Kudos to the 300 Palo Altans (probably many more since October) who have already helped make a difference and to the elected leaders and the FAA for taking steps to correct this. If you have not already been made aware that there is a problem, and that you can help address it by filing complaints, please get informed.

****TO COMPLAIN - use******

If you prefer to not use the app, file a complaint directly on the SFO website
Web Link

or send SFO an email at with the date and time of the intrusion.

Like this comment
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 5, 2016 at 2:02 pm

"Actually there is no correlation between the number of noise complaints by city and the appointments by city to the new FAA Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals."

None is expected. Remember: the most important tool for a noise complaint officer is a really big wastebasket.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 15, 2017 at 3:52 pm

We are certainly in the SFO flight path this afternoon!

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