SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz County supervisors who are usually in sync were clearly divided Tuesday over the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals’ recommendation to shift the flight path generating noise over Capitola, Soquel and the Summit since March 2015 back to the previous path over Santa Cruz and San Lorenzo Valley.
Supervisors Ryan Coonerty and Bruce McPherson, representing 3,000 constituents complaining the noise has shattered their lives, pointed out what they saw as flaws in the Select Committee process and recommended sending a minority report to the three members of Congress who set up the group and identify legal remedies.
“We’re setting ourselves up for a fight instead of working with folks in the minority to address their concerns,” said Coonerty.
Supervisor John Leopold, one of the 12 members of the Select Committee, defended his proposal, which the committee adopted Nov. 17 on an 8-4 vote after 60 hours of meetings that involved thousands of participants.
The noise impacts, he said, are “well below” the threshold set by the Federal Aviation Administration so FAA staff don’t have a way to figure out which flight path is less noisy.
“The way the plane descends makes a big difference,” he added.
The least noisy approach, he said, is to glide down, in pilot jargon “optimized profile descent,” so that was a priority.
But gliding down is not possible with the Soquel-Summit route due to airspace requirements, according to Leopold, who proposed planes fly at higher altitudes on the “Big Sur” route over Santa Cruz and San Lorenzo Valley and minimize use of air brakes, which create noise.
He pointed out one of the recommendations is for a committee to meet three months after the flight path is changed to gauge the results.
“In the event changes need to be made, this sets up a process (for the FAA),” said Leopold. “I truly believe this is better for Santa Cruz than we’ve ever had before.”
Those in the room wearing red broke into applause. They represented Save Our Skies Santa Cruz County, residents seeking relief from airplane noise.
Supervisors listened to more than two hours of public comment from dozens of residents living under one flight path or the other.
“The committee seems to feel changes can be effective but residents are not convinced,” said Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews.
Many speakers, however, praised Leopold for his leadership.
As a compromise, Coonerty proposed that if Santa Cruz and San Lorenzo Valley residents report noise after three months, that the flight path be shifted back over Soquel and the Summit until the problems are fixed.
His motion failed for lack of a second.
“It’s not the place for supervisors to take a stand,” said Supervisor Zach Friend. “It’s way too complex.”
Friend suggested dissenting supervisors send a letter representing their views.
“Do I trust the FAA? No I don’t,” said Supervisor Greg Caput, but he did not second Coonerty’s motion.
“I would prefer the FAA have some options,” said McPherson. “It’s a leap of faith to say they will do the right thing.”
Leopold said he remains “committed to working with my colleagues and that we hold the FAA to task.”