Thursday, February 07, 2013

Lagunans buzzing angry over jet noise

When the clock strikes 7 a.m. every morning, Keri Barriga has her earplugs in, clicks on her Dohm white-noise sound conditioner and wraps her down pillows around her head. This has been her routine since March 2011, when she said jets started flying over her Canyon Acres home.

The flights come as frequently as every couple of minutes between 7 and 8 a.m. but then taper off to every 15 minutes throughout the rest of the day, she said.

"I can almost tell you who is sitting in 6F," she said. "They're that close."

Some Lagunans are saying airplane noise and flying altitudes are different from what they were before – to the point that it's affecting their quality of life. Several spoke at a Laguna Beach City Council meeting Jan. 15, leading the council to organize a committee to address the noise issue.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman, who leads the new committee, said she hopes to get "piles of letters" from those affected.


About 30 residents in Canyon Acres, Arch Beach Heights, Top of the World and South Laguna have complained to the city since April 2011.

The city reported that it has contacted John Wayne Airport and the Federal Aviation Administration, which controls flight paths, and both assert there have been no changes in flight patterns or in the number of aircraft in the area.

Mayor Kelly Boyd and Councilman Bob Whalen both agreed with residents who spoke in protest of the planes.

"We sit out there with our cup of coffee and say, 'Name that airline,'" Boyd said. "We get them over our home all day and night."

Whalen said he sets his watch to 7:04, then "boom, boom, boom" – he hears the planes rush over his Holly Street home.

Residents with flying experience also addressed the council at the January meeting, speaking about the complexity of controlling an aircraft's flight path – which can be dependant on a number of safety factors, including weather and air traffic.

Scott Roberts, a retired pilot who lives in Temple Hills, said he didn't understand all the commotion about airplane noise. He hasn't noticed low-flying planes or an increase in noise.

Wolfram Blume, a Laguna Beach resident, flies a small plane out of John Wayne Airport.

"The issue is simply, 'What altitudes do those planes fly at?'" he said.

If planes are at 10,000 feet, you won't hear them, but at 4,000 feet, they will wake you up in the morning, he said.

The issue is a "real-time" problem, Blume said, meaning that air traffic control gives quick directions once planes take off. Because of the amount of planes that fly out at 7 a.m., right when the curfew is lifted, routes likely are redrawn because of increased air traffic, he said. John Wayne Airport restricts overnight flights from departing or arriving until

7 a.m. (8 a.m. on Sundays).

"I don't know what you can do about this," Blume said.


Around the same time complaints started, the FAA implemented a departure procedure called STREL, which centers the aircraft over the Back Bay in Newport Beach, minimizing fanning and keeping departures on a tight track. STREL affects flights heading east of Las Vegas. Approximately 50 percent of the flights leaving John Wayne use these types of departures.

Laguna Beach asked the FAA to review flights – departures from John Wayne Airport and arrivals at Los Angeles International Airport – on specific dates in 2011 and 2012. The agency reported no significant increase in traffic volume or planes flying at lower altitudes. There also has been no significant increase in arrivals or airplanes flying lower at LAX, the aviation administration reported.

The FAA noted that weather, traffic volume, wind and runway availability can influence the airplane's route to the airport and affect the probability of flying over Laguna.

The FAA says no flight paths have changed. That doesn't mean planes don't fly over Laguna Beach.

"The FAA has not changed any operating procedures for air traffic in this area," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said. "Air traffic controllers all over the county occasionally vector aircraft off standard procedures to keep them safely separated from other aircraft. However, FAA radar data shows flight tracks over Laguna Beach were virtually the same in 2012 as they were in 1999."


Barriga grew up in her Canyon Acres home and now raises her four children there. She bought her parents' house, knowing it's a stone's throw from Laguna Canyon Road, but she wasn't prepared for the barrage of jets. She and her husband considered selling their home in the past 22 months, but they have decided against it.

"You've finally realized your dream – then the FAA moves in," she said with a laugh.

Like Whalen, Carl Klas sets his clock to 7:04a.m. every day. Klas, a retired firefighter who lives in Canyon Acres, acknowledges the noise but said it is the price one pays for living near an airport.

"We lost El Toro, which was a big victory for everybody in Orange County," he said. "I guess everybody in Orange County has to deal with the fact that John Wayne has to be there."

His sister, a pilot, told him that turning planes earlier could be because of cost or time.

In the days following the Jan. 15 council meeting, Barriga said the frequency of planes flying over her home has slowed. She didn't know what to attribute it to, but she remains optimistic.

"I'm appreciative. ... (The city isn't) just saying, 'This is a problem,' but, 'What are we going to do about it,'" she said.

The first meeting regarding airplane noise and flight pattern traffic, led by Iseman, was Tuesday.

For information on future meetings, visit


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