Peninsula residents can voice their concerns about San Francisco International Airport's noise and altered flight paths at a town-hall style meeting in Pacifica on Jan. 5. (Mike Koozmin/2013 S.F. Examiner)

Residents to air out airport grievances

Altered flight paths around San Francisco International Airport led to a dramatic uptick in noise complaints last year, and Peninsula residents will have opportunities to air their grievances Tuesday at a town-hall style meeting in Pacifica.

A technical working group will also hold public meetings on the topic at SFO on Thursday.

Brisbane Mayor Cliff Lentz chairs the SFO Airport/Community Roundtable, an organization studying the issue and monitoring the airport’s noise abatement efforts. Lentz said there have been “tens of thousands” of new noise complaints throughout the Peninsula and as far away as Santa Cruz. The complaints stem from new flight procedures implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The altered flight paths reflect a shift from relying on ground-based navigation aids, like radio beacons and using GPS, Lentz said. He explained the changes were meant to increase safety and efficiency, and reduce the amount of noise residents experience.

But the “ground truth” in San Mateo County has apparently been a marked increase in noise as aircraft have become commonplace over areas where they weren’t previously seen and heard.

Pacifica Mayor Sue Digre, who also sits on the roundtable, said she’s heard from residents who say they might move to get away from the new influx of flight noise.

“It’s been bad,” Digre said, “We all thought these new flight procedures were going to be a great thing; little did we know.”

Digre said she views the issue as a potential public health matter, because noise can raise people’s stress levels.

If the apparent epidemic of aircraft noise has health implications, Pacifica resident Dan Stegink might be the guy to help. A computer programmer who specializes in medical epidemic tracking software, Stegink created, a website that enables affected residents to instantly report aircraft noise to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA already has a website for submitting noise complaints, Stegink said, but it requires users to fill out several pages worth of online forms.

“That’s kind of a daunting process in the middle of the night,” Stegink noted, adding it’s not unusual to hear airplane noise over his Linda Mar home around 2 a.m.

Stegink crafted to be as simple as possible. After entering an email address, users click a “complain now” button, and the site uses their IP address or mobile device’s location to determine where the noise complaint is coming from.

Digre originally envisioned Stegink’s tool as a boon to beleaguered Pacificans, but the programmer noted because the site relies on Google Maps, it could be used to submit noise complaints from any community in the United States.

And while Stegink’s app is an ad hoc, grassroots effort, he says the FAA is cooperating, allowing his site to send data directly to the organization.

The FAA has also been increasingly collaborative with local elected officials working on the noise concerns, according to Lentz.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Lentz said, “We’ve never had this level of engagement with the FAA before.”


Airport Noise Presentation
7:00 p.m. Tuesday Jan. 5
Pacifica City Council Chambers
2212 Beach Blvd, 2nd floor

SFO Airport/Community Roundtable Technical Working Group meetings
9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Thursday Jan. 7
San Francisco International Airport
Terminal 1

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