Helipad plans land with a thud

Mission Bay neighbors are sounding off over helicopter noise that will approach their homes if a planned helipad for a new UCSF hospital — the second hospital landing site in the works for San Francisco — is approved.

Officials for UCSF Medical Center say that the helipad at the new medical center at Mission Bay —slated to be completed in 2014 — is needed and would only be used in the most critical and life-threatening situations.

It is the same argument being made by officials at San Francisco General Hospital, the only Level 1 Trauma Center in California that does not have a helipad, according to the Department of Public Health.

San Francisco does not have a helipad. The nearest hospitals that have the landing sites are Stanford Hospital and Children’s Hospital Oakland.

A report detailing the potential environmental impact of the proposed helicopter landing pad at San Francisco General — which was delayed in part in order to do additional noise studies — is expected to be completed by December, according to The City’s Planning Department.

The Environmental Impact Report for the UCSF helipad is slated for release in March 2008, according to Cindy Lima, the project director overseeing the development of the hospital complex.

In response to neighborhood concerns, UCSF conducted a helicopter test flight Sunday to allow residents to experience noise levels associated with the aircraft. Noise experts hired by the university-affiliated medical center put the expected sound level at about 80 decibels, similar to the noise created by a garbage disposal from about 3 feet away.

Lima said that although neighbors got an earful of hovering helicopters at the test, in a realistic scenario, the aircraft would keep moving and the sound would not be so concentrated.

“It’s loud — like a vacuum cleaner,” said Rebecca Sawyer, a Mission district resident and an organizer with Stop the Helipad, a group opposing both helicopter landing projects due to noise concerns, as well as fears of aircrafts crashes.”They propose to have one in both of these hospitals, even though they’re a mile apart.”

UCSF officials say they’ve developed a flight path that comes in over the Bay and spends minimal time over land to address neighborhood concerns.

The number of flights that would come and go from UCSF is estimated at approximately three — or 1½ transports a day — according to Lima, who said a maximum number of flights per day, had not been established.

beslinger@examiner.com

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