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Residents Make Noise About Jets

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

April 26 -- When a corporate jet flying in from Mexico decided to touch down at Santa Monica airport last week, the roar from its engines rattled homeowners’ windows and prompted 30 residents who border the airfield to call in and complain.

Ringing in at 111 decibels, the noise last Wednesday night far exceeded the levels allowed under the City's airport noise ordinance, and the incident has airport officials talking about fining the Mexican businessman who owns the jet and banning the airplane from Santa Monica’s runway.

But banning one aircraft likely won’t quiet neighbors' calls for increased supervision, as is made clear by the airport's Noise Management Program's Annual Report that shows complaints, as well as jet traffic -- the number one noise offender -- are on the rise.

Overall noise complaints from all aircraft types were up 7 percent in 2004 -- from 302 complaints in 2003 to 323 last year, according to the annual report, which will be discussed at Monday night’s Airport Commission meeting.

The rise comes after a continuous four-year drop since 2000, which saw 540 complaints logged, according to the report.

The annual noise report also shows that jet traffic and noise violations are taking off.

Jet traffic -- which accounts for 83 percent of all violations at the airport in 2004 -- was up 12 percent, while noise violations by the aircraft have climbed 9 percent since 2003, according to the report.

The trend has some residents who live near the single runway alarmed.

"The noise that these jets produce is tremendous," said Zina Josephs, co-chair of Friends of Sunset Park, a neighborhood group that represents hundreds of residents near the airport in the Southeast corner of the city.

And jet traffic, Josephs worries, will continue to increase as Santa Monica and surrounding areas grow.

"I foresee a huge increase in the number of jets that operate here in the future," said Josephs.

The April 20 landing generated 20 emails from residents near the airport, Josephs said.

“We watched in horror as our house shook, and it was so loud we couldn't hear ourselves yell,” one resident wrote. “It stopped everyone in Marine Park dead in their tracks."

"I was laying with my kids in our house on Hill Street, reading them a book, about to fall asleep, when we heard the shocking racket,” wrote another resident. “My kids, who happen to love planes, said, "What was that? That was scary!"

"It was INCREDIBLY loud!" wrote another.

Wednesday’s incident came three days after another jet rattled nerves, prompting several angry emails to the neighborhood group.

"Around 7 p.m., a jet took off so low that it sounded like it would take the roof off our house,” one resident wrote. “In 12 years of living here, nothing has come close to it.

“Our dogs both charged the windows, which has never happened; and my husband jumped up from a sound sleep!"

Airport noise was a top concern among the 350 Sunset Park residents who responded to a recent survey by the neighborhood group earlier this year.

Yet airport officials, who plan to speak at a workshop Monday night after the meeting, tout the airports' record in cracking down on violators over the years and said the airport and the City are doing everything in their power to keep the noise pollution to a dull roar.

"Santa Monica Airport has one of the most aggressive, if not the most aggressive, noise reduction programs in the nation," said Robert Trimborn, the airport’s manager.

Trimborn noted that 99.8 percent of all airport landings and takeoffs register below the acceptable noise level of 95 decibels allowed under the City code.

"Our policies have proven over time to work," said Trimborn. "If there's a noise violation, we talk to the pilots immediately. We measure the noise from the ground, and we have a fine system in place."

Fines escalate from $2,000 for a first offense to $5,000 for a second offense to $10,000 for a third.

On top of the fines, the airport can impose a lifetime ban for severe noise violations, Trimborn said.

"If they exceed it one time, they are banned for life," he said. "They only get one shot at the apple really."

One recurring problem, Trimborn agreed, is keeping certain jet-propelled aircraft -- such as the one that landed and took-off April 20 -- quiet.

"Stage II aircraft of that type have a hard time keeping the noise under the 95 decibels allowed," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can overrule the airport and City when it comes to the kinds of aircraft that can land and take off, Trimborn said.

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