It was standing room only in the Jennings Pavilion at Atherton's Holbrook-Palmer Park on Aug. 16 as about 185 people came to a county-sponsored town hall meeting about the impacts of Surf Air flights in and out of the San Carlos Airport.
San Mateo County got an earful from a standing-room only crowd of about 185 people who packed a meeting room in Atherton Tuesday night to talk about how Surf Air has affected their lives.
Speakers included a doctor who said medical literature shows noise increases heart disease risks, a mother who said she has to run a white noise machine to get her toddler to sleep, and residents who urged civil disobedience as well as others who urged the county to stop worrying about being sued over its actions at the airport.
"This is war," said Phil Wasserstein, a Menlo Park resident and a neurologist. Dr. Wasserstein said he reviewed medical literature and found studies linking noise to increased cardiovascular disease risk.
"I think it's a fundamental problem having a commercial airline flying into the San Carlos Airport," he said. "You represent the people of this county, and you should represent those people rather than making a compromise for fear of a lawsuit," he told Supervisor Don Horsley, who hosted the meeting in Atherton's Holbrook-Palmer Park.
Attendees included representatives of Surf Air, the airline that started using the San Carlos Airport in June 2013 and now schedules up to 45 flights a day for customers who pay a monthly fee for unlimited flights within California and to Reno.
"We understand the elephant in the room," said Surf Air CEO Jim Potter. "That would be us." Mr. Potter said Surf Air understands "the sensitivities, we understand the effects."
But speakers questioned that. "You don't understand," said Rosemary Murphy. "You only hear us, but you don't know what it's like to live under this noise. I'm outside and I'm trying to have a nice dinner party and what do I hear? Planes, planes, planes. Am I angry? I am furious."
Supervisor Horsley said Surf Air's initial move into the San Carlos Airport "really caught us off guard." What was once three round trips a day is now 22, he said.
The county has done a number of things to try to control the noise problems, including forming a working group of local officials and residents, consulting with the Federal Aviation Administration and, most recently, starting a study and hiring consultants to look at possible actions.
He said the county has taken some concrete actions, including bulldozing the building that Surf Air used for its passengers before and after flights and putting restrictions on airport parking. They hired a mediator to try to get the airline to cut flights back to eight round trips a day, but were not successful, he said.
One action which both sides had hoped might cut back noise complaints is a new route the airline may use in good weather, when air traffic allows, that takes the planes over the Bay instead of the Peninsula.
A six-month test of that route was approved by the FAA and began July 5, but foggy weather and air traffic have allowed it to be used less than 65 percent of the time. Residents say early morning flights continue to go over their homes most of the time.
"I still have more flights going over me per day than I did two-and-a-half years ago," said North Fair Oaks resident Joe Stratton. He said he spent two weeks tracking Surf Air flights from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., and not one used the new Bay route.
Supervisor Horsley said the number of flights able to use the Bay route "is not as optimistic as we originally thought."
Airport Manager Gretchen Kelly said that Surf Air flights to the San Carlos Airport affect 140,000 people under their flight path, 137,000 of them in San Mateo County.
Some of the 3,000 people in Santa Clara County who live under the new Bay flight path came to the meeting to express their unhappiness with the new route, which they said has re-routed planes over their homes. Ms. Kelly said Surf Air flights have always flown over Sunnyvale, but now they are flying over a different part of the city.
"A solution to airplane noise should not be to move the noise from one neighborhood to another," said Sunnyvale resident Shannon Morgan.
The county has promised to work with Sunnyvale on the problem.
A resident of Palmer Lane in North Fair Oaks said that the airline's departing flights are also a noise problem. "Why (are they) allowed to do what they're doing at the expense of all of us?" she asked. "Shame on you," she said to Mr. Potter. "I'm so disgusted."
"These planes fly overhead morning, noon and night" said Julie Horvath of Menlo Park. "I can't sit outside and have a conversation."
Marina Rose, who lives near the airport, asked the county "to get control of the airport." "We really need to take some unprecedented action," she said. "We need some radical response soon."
Allied Arts resident John Warrace said he had a suggestion: he might just run out of gas on the road accessing the airport one morning, blocking the access of the Surf Air pilots and passengers. "If there's enough of us, it's going to cause a problem," he said. "Our local government, the people who are supposed to take care of us, are not doing it anymore.
Only one speaker, who said her son wants to be a commercial pilot and needs to work for Surf Air before moving up to a larger airline, was supportive of Surf Air. "We've got a serious pilot shortage," said the Redwood City resident.
Menlo Park resident James Courtney said he wants to make sure any new regulations do not hurt other users of the airport, including him. "My concern is that the frustration and sweeping generalizations ... have the potential to hurt a lot of people" if regulations that affect other airport users are adopted, he said.
Surf Air officials did not hear all the comments directed their way, because at 7:30, about an hour before the public comments ended, Mr. Potter announced they had to leave. "We have travel plans," Mr. Potter said. As they were leaving a voice from the audience shouted out: "See you in court."
Another public meeting on the subject will be held in Redwood City on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fair Oaks Community Center, 2600 Middlefield Road. In October, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hear back from the consultants who have been studying the issue.