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Neighbors Vent Frustrations Over Jet Noise at SM Airport

By Teresa Rochester

What was once a barley field has - 83 years later - become the bane of many residents' existence.

More than 100 people who live under the flight paths of Santa Monica Airport packed into the Richland Avenue Elementary School auditorium Tuesday night to demand that something be done to quell the roar of jet planes that are flying with increasing frequency over their neighborhoods.

Elected officials - including Los Angeles City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski and Los Angeles City Attorney James Hahn - joined a half dozen representatives of officials from the federal, state and local levels who heard from the audience of mostly West Los Angeles residents.

The angry residents charged that little is being done to curb increased jet traffic that rattles windows and shakes homes, leaves black soot on windows and fumes in the air and heightens the potential for accidents.

"I can see from my bedroom window the jets taking off," said Elsa Baronage. "We have a big backyard and we can't go outside. There is soot all over our windows. The apples on our tree are not edible."

"One of the biggest problems we have is we don't know what is coming out of the aircraft," said Bill Piazza, the environmental assessment coordinator for the Los Angles Unified School District.

Piazza conducted a health study of the area surrounding the airport, which is 75 percent residential, and found that pollution from a mix of jets and smaller aircraft is reaching unacceptable levels.

While residents called for the banning of jets and imposing stiffer penalties for noise violations, airport officials said that they too were frustrated by what the airport has become. But they added that in many cases their hands are tied by the Federal Aviation Authority, which sets the times planes can depart and arrive.

"Like I said earlier, this is not the airport we bargained for either," said Airport Director Jeff Mathieu, who is the City's Resource Manager.

In 1979 the courts ordered the city not to ban jets from the airfield. Since that time the roar of aircraft and the din of angry residents have steadily increased.

In June 2000, there were 1,042 jet operations at Santa Monica Airport, up from 703 last June, , according to information supplied by the North Westdale Neighborhood Association, which sponsored the meeting.

Mathieu encouraged residents to join the Airport Working Group, which will make recommendations to update the Airport Master plan, an agreement signed by the City and the FAA in 1984. Among other provisions, the agreement sets allowable noise levels for aircraft.

Mathieu pointed out that 62 percent of noise violations are first time violators and up to 82 percent of those who violate noise levels are either first or second time offenders.

He promised to continue working with neighbors as did the elected officials who attended the meeting.

"This is not a simple problem," said Los Angeles Councilwoman Miscikowski, whose district also includes the Van Nuys airport, which came under fire from residents. "Airport noise plagues every resident and neighborhood near airports… I'm pledging to you to continue working with the city of Santa Monica."

"We had the same issues when we went after the Van Nuys airport," said Los Angeles City Attorney Hahn, who is a mayoral candidate. "You knew you were moving next to an airport not a jetport. Things have changed and they've changed for the worse. I'm very pleased Congressman [Henry] Waxman has gotten involved here."

Waxman, who represents California's 29th District in the House of Representatives, recently sent a letter to the FAA seeking help. Waxman asked the FAA to look into the possibility of designating 1,000 feet of the existing 4,000 foot runway as a safety area in an effort to set stricter safety guidelines for the type of aircraft that can be used at the airport.

Waxman also suggested in his letter that the noise limit should be dropped to 80 decibels on all arriving flights during curfew hours from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekends.

The FAA responded that shortening the runway would restrict the type of aircraft that could land at the airport and that changing the nighttime acceptable noise limit would violate the 1984 agreement between the city and the FAA.

Representatives from the offices of United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Julian Dixon, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke also were present.

The sometimes raucous audience decried the fact that missing from the meeting were elected Santa Monica officials. But while the audience heckled airport officials, members of the Santa Monica City Council unanimously voted to place on the November ballot an initiative that would, among other things, increase civil fines levied on jets violating the noise restrictions.

The fine is currently set at $500, a limit imposed in 1907 when a dollar was worth 20 times more than it is today.

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