The densely populated neighborhoods south of the Boulevard have long been sought after for their tranquility. They are quiet enclaves where many of LA’s most successful professionals settle down to raise families and get away from the city—residents like Rita Rubinstein and her husband. They’ve lived on Hollyline Avenue near the private Buckley School in Sherman Oaks for the past five years.
“My husband is a surgeon and peaceful rest is imperative for his function. For this reason we purchased our three-acre lot, which was quiet. We paid top dollar to live here,” explains Rubinstein.
But in recent years, the couple’s idyllic lifestyle has been shattered by the constant stream of airplane traffic. “I think my blood pressure goes up every time. It’s like a small attack,” she says.
Brad Schreiber, who is a writer and works out of his Studio City home, can pinpoint the day everything changed. “Sunshine Hill, where I live, was the most private and quiet place I could find. There was no noise, day or night. Then in September 2017, I woke one morning to seven jets in a row at 7 a.m. flying over my house.” He says the noise has hurt his ability to make a living.
Fellow Studio City resident Benjamin Marsh lives on Canton Drive. He estimates he hears more than 86 flights per day. “My Airnoise account [a subscription service for submitting complaints] confirms that in the 40 days since opening my account, I have personally lodged 3,459 complaints with Burbank Airport. This is a staggering number considering that I am out of the house Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until approximately 9 p.m.”
Marsh, Schreiber and Rubinstein have all joined citizen groups aimed at reducing airplane noise. Now in existence: Studio City for Quiet Skies, Sherman Oaks & Encino for Quiet Skies and UproarLA. The Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association (SOHA) is also taking a stand. The powerful, longtime organization has formed a special committee to address the issues.
While the Rubinsteins believe traffic from the Van Nuys Airport is responsible for their noise, most of the complaints are aimed at the Hollywood Burbank Airport. Representatives from all three citizen groups claim that without getting any kind of approval, the FAA changed flight patterns from traveling straight down the center of the Valley to flying directly over the Santa Monica mountains. They also contend that flights are more frequent, and they’re flying at lower altitudes.
However the FAA is disputing most of the claims, and the argument has gotten contentious. At a community meeting last year, residents began shouting at FAA reps, who they say responded by making a quick beeline for the door. And the net has widened—with the dispute now not only involving the FAA, but also the Airport Authority Commission and the LA City Council.
The FAA says the only change that’s occurred is connected to a program known as Next Generation Air Transportation System or “NexGen.” It is a nationwide effort to modernize the country’s airspace system by moving from “ground-based radar to satellite-based navigation and from voice to digital communication.” The FAA says the new navigation system will lead to greater fuel efficiency, and make departures and arrivals safer. As part of the program, two years ago, some flight paths were altered near Burbank Airport. However according to Ian Gregor, Public Affairs Manager for the FAA’s Pacific Division, “The satellite-based route segments begin well north of the airport, at higher altitudes.” He adds, “Air traffic controllers are handling planes the same way today as they did before we implemented the new routes in 2017.”
The FAA does agree that for some still undetermined reason, flight paths have indeed drifted further south in the past few years. Residents met with the FAA for several workshops in November to try and figure out why. At one of those meetings, a study commissioned by an independent consulting firm was presented.
“There was no noise, day or night. Then in September 2017, I woke one morning to seven jets in a row at 7 a.m.”
The study confirms that since the implementation of NextGen and its departure procedures, the flight path from Hollywood Burbank Airport has shifted, with “an increase in flights over the areas south of the 101 Freeway.” However the report also states that “no direct connection was found between the implementation of NextGen and the change in the number and frequency of flights to and from the airport, the change in noise levels at the airport noise monitors or aircraft departure altitude.” Those, the study suggests, could be attributed to factors including changes in temperature and higher market demand.
Hollywood Burbank Airport Director of Public Affairs and Communication, Lucy Burghdorf, says there has been a small increase in flights and airline business during the past two years, due in part to competitive fares among the airlines and the strong economy. This, however, would not account for the current complaints regarding flight paths and noise.
The most pressing concern for residents is that the FAA is proposing two new GPS-guided “waypoints” that would be located near Carpenter Elementary School, CBS Radford Studios and The Buckley School. According to Gregor of the FAA, “These amendments would tighten up the initial portion of the right turn that aircraft make shortly after departing and reduce the number of aircraft that drift to the south before making their turns.” Community members, however, fear they will result in even more noise and air traffic.
At a recent meeting of the Airport Authority Commission, the commissioners agreed it is critical to figure out why the flight paths have gradually drifted further south, if as the FAA claims, this is not due to any NextGen changes. Patrick Lammerding, the airport’s Deputy Executive Director, Planning & Development, pointed out the airport provides the facilities but “does not manage the airspace.”
Some members of the citizen groups believe three neighboring cities are also to blame for the current situation. The Hollywood Burbank airport is owned by Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, and it is a huge revenue generator. Many residents are quick to point out not as many planes are flying over the east Valley as are flying over the southern portion.
At the Airport Authority meeting, Commissioner Terry Tornek, who is also the mayor of Pasadena, expressed empathy for the Valley residents’ concerns, reminding those present that residents have asked to meet with the airlines and pilots to discuss departure procedures and urging the staff to follow up on that request. “We need to be sensitive to the fact that people are committed on this issue,” Tornek said.
A spokesperson for Paul Krekorian, whose LA City Council district encompasses the area, says the councilman has been working with constituents to help resolve the conflict and give them a greater say regarding any future changes. In addition Krekorian has filed a motion, passed by the City Council, to enable the city to prepare a strategy that ensures the FAA follows applicable laws and incorporates public input into its plans.
This is a big concern for residents. “The FAA is a powerful organization that doesn’t listen to anyone except lobbyists and legislators,” claims a SOHA member who did not want to be named.
In response to our questions, the statement issued from Krekorian’s office also says that protecting the Valley communities from any potential negative impacts resulting from the FAA’s proposed flight changes “is my primary goal.” It added that the councilman has requested an environmental review of the new flight plans.
The FAA says it is currently evaluating all the information it received during a public comment period that ended in November, in hopes that an agreement can be reached with the affected communities before any proposed changes take place. If not, lawsuits could be filed. Krekorian’s statement explains his motion allows for the City Attorney to develop litigation to protect the interests of the city and its residents and “to ensure that the FAA is held accountable, if necessary.”
UproarLA also has plans to hold the FAA accountable. It has retained the services of an attorney—the same lawyer who won a settlement against the FFAA in a similar case in Phoenix, Arizona.