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Guest commentary: ‘Progress’ against commercial jet noise isn’t good news for Point Loma peninsula

An airliner takes off from San Diego International Airport.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

We are writing in response to the guest commentary recently published in the Point Loma-OB Monthly titled “Progress is being made in fight against commercial jet noise” (Sept. 16).

Beginning in 2015, we have been fighting airport noise issues through the various San Diego County Regional Airport Authority-sponsored community committees. Based on this background, we are concerned by several of the representations made in the referenced opinion piece.

The Flight Procedure Analysis and FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] Part 150 citizen advisory committees convened under the control of SDCRAA to further develop mitigation efforts for noise and pollution derived from the recommendations of the Airport Noise Advisory Committee (ANAC). From those studies, Mr. [Anthony] Stiegler references several elements.

First, please note that Quiet Skies San Diego was founded in 2017 by Mr. Stiegler, a retired litigator, and fellow Bird Rock and La Jolla residents. No [Point Loma] peninsula residents are involved members of Quiet Skies. As such, Mr. Stiegler does not always speak for the peninsula’s interests. Therefore, in our view, several of Mr. Stiegler’s points of “good news” referenced in his commentary must be clarified:

  • Vertical takeoff thrust parameters: Noise Abatement Departure Profiles offer different departure rates of climb to provide noise reduction for areas close to the airport runway (Loma Portal, Ocean Beach). Our efforts to NADPs were significantly devalued and delayed by SDCRAA until late in the committee’s term. Then, the Part 150 Study was terminated prematurely by the SDCRAA, before NADP could be adequately vetted. This leaves the responsibility to pursue NADPs with SDCRAA, limiting community oversight to the SDCRAA-controlled and industry-inclusive ANAC, thus completely removing the in-depth community involvement in the process to promote this mitigation.
  • Proposed new waypoint farther offshore for nighttime northbound departures: This alternative referenced was approved and forwarded to the FAA. The benefits from this alternative are limited to La Jolla and Bird Rock, with minimal if any favorable impact on OB/PL (Part 150 Study area). The FAA Part 150 Study area was restricted by the FAA 65-decibel CNEL noise contour (area determined by average aircraft noise over 24 hours), which does not include the communities of Bird Rock, La Jolla or Mission Beach (except its very southerly tip).
  • Mitigation by dispersing and flying planes farther offshore: Mr. Stiegler states that the Quiet Skies dispersion proposals were declined based on “demonstrably inaccurate assumptions and forecasts.” What Mr. Stiegler does not state is that the Quiet Skies alternatives included the shifting of a significant portion of departure routes from their current paths over Robb Field, farther south into Ocean Beach, thereby transferring more noise, which is not allowed by FAA, into OB/PL. As such, by his calculations, the “tens of thousands of other residents” benefited are offset by the tens of thousands of OB/PL residents newly or additionally impacted by the change.

In fact, excluding the Quiet Skies proposal, current SDCRAA projections state that departure increases will cause almost 17,000 additional Point Loma/Ocean Beach residents and 9,000 additional homes to be newly subjected to increased jet noise in excess of the 65-decibel CNEL (key FAA noise measurement) by 2026.

  • Litigation settlement: Upon the dissolution of the Part 150 Study advisory committee, Quiet Skies pursued independent litigation against SDCRAA. The OB/PL committee representatives did not participate in this litigation. As such, we were not a party to the settlement discussions nor are aware of the settlement terms.
  • Part 150 Study results/alignment of interests: The “good news” explanations offered in the opinion piece omit key factors that would heavily weigh on the peninsula communities. Therefore, there is not consistent “alignment” of interests between Ocean Beach/Loma Portal/Point Loma and Quiet Skies of San Diego, nor with SDCRAA/FAA. As a result of this and many other issues, our view, and that of other colleagues involved, is that minimal progress was made by the Part 150 process due to SDCRAA’s process control, obfuscation of facts and purposeful mismanagement and lack of a clear and accountable implementation plan for the recommendations, which resulted in a highly flawed Part 150 Study.
  • Airport development plan: The one benefit from the Quiet Skies litigation was the now-released hurdle imposed on the progress of the $3.4 billion-plus redevelopment of Terminal 1 (up from the originally disclosed $3 billion). While Terminal 1 suffers from deferred improvements and maintenance, the addition of 19 new gates including wide-body plane service capability and a to-be-constructed new office building for SDCRAA is a massive over-improvement and severe expense laid on the wallets of local taxpayers and airport users, as well as further impacts on the well-being of peninsula residents and businesses’.

    This is more problematic when the primary SDCRAA justification was reliant on “improving the customer experience” and using sky-high projections for air traffic growth assuming pre-COVID-19 travel data that exceeds the functional capacity of a one-runway airport (nonstop during non-curfew hours and increase arrivals during overnight curfew) and may never actually come due to post-COVID air travel trends. This is not progress for the peninsula.

  • Quieter Home Program: The much-touted SDCRAA QHP has inherent flaws that have yet to be publicly disclosed or responded to by SDCRAA: The SDCRAA forecast for additional eligible properties by 2026 equates to a 31- to 34-year addition to the current multiyear wait list; the new initiative for non-residential properties as forecast equates to an approximately 22-year wait list; and the minimum combined annual SDCRAA funding obligation for QHP and QNRP, after assuming peak (but not assured) FAA contributions, grows to $5 million to $6 million per year over the next 22 to 31 years.

SDCRAA has not addressed the severely extended wait lists nor the source of funds or the financial viability to cover the costs of the QHP and QNRP programs given the significant increase in costs and uncertainty of federal funding.

In sum, SDCRAA’s termination of the Part 150 Study draws to a close nearly all community oversight and input after six years and thousands of hours of community involvement. Unfortunately, progress in this fight against commercial jet noise and pollution impacts on peninsula communities has been heavily constrained and now stymied by SDCRAA, while many questions remain unanswered and severe airport impacts go unchecked.

As to the Quiet Skies commentary, with the exception of NADP, none of the alternatives mentioned would do anything for the peninsula population other than driving noise further into the heart of OB, only to help communities far outside the boundaries of the Part 150 Study. We have difficulty calling this progress for the peninsula.

Please see facebook.com/groups/plairroute for more detailed discussion.

R. Casey Schnoor, Nancy Palmtag, Mike Tarlton and Bob Herrin are residents of the Point Loma peninsula.


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