SPLAT targets data, outreach as airplane noise continues

Graphic courtesy of Don Gardner
Activists claim that a new SFO flight path leaves a “sound shadow” that impacts Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Sky Posse Los Altos Team – more simply known as SPLAT – seeks to squelch the noise overhead. And they’re not the only ones.

Midpeninsula residents have banded together in the past year to combat the increase in aircraft noise caused by the implementation of NextGen, a Federal Aviation Administration program that converts ground-based radar systems to satellite-based navigation.

According to U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, a unified voice is a strong one. Eshoo told members of the Quiet Skies Summit Jan. 25 that she is scheduling follow-up meetings with FAA leadership, community groups and local elected officials.

“Moving forward, if we’re to be successful, we must create regional solutions,” Eshoo wrote in a letter to the resident groups. “If the final recommendations from the majority of your organizations are clear and do not contradict each other, we can be firm and clear with the FAA about next steps and implementing change sooner.”

NextGen boosts SFO complaints

The FAA last March rolled out its Bay Area implementation of NextGen with the intent to increase capacity, save fuel and reduce net noise. But that meant streamlining and lowering flights over concentrated paths that some residents have dubbed “sacrificial noise corridors.” One new route runs directly above Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

“It’s purely a redistribution to our city from other places,” said Don Gardner, a SPLAT leader and engineer who has spent the past year compiling data to prove Los Altos is at the center of the aircraft-noise problem.

Based on research from the United Kingdom, Gardner found that the “sound shadow” of the new concentrated flight path covers a 2-kilometer distance spanning Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

“We got used to living in such a quiet neighborhood, and this came out of nowhere,” said Los Altos Hills resident Srinivas Reddy. “It’s been so frustrating.”

Many irked residents have begun complaining to San Francisco International Airport, which accepts the planes along the new FAA path. Before NextGen took off at SFO, 95 people from throughout the Bay Area complained 2,209 times in February 2015. According to the most recent report from September 2015, 1,070 residents logged 131,509 complaints. Activists claim that SFO’s four-month-old figures no longer portray the magnitude of the concern.

“There’s definitely still an increasing amount of people complaining about this,” Gardner said.

Computer programmers have devised websites and smartphone apps like, which allow people to log complaints as noise occurs. On Jan. 31, using only the app, 541 Bay Area users issued 9,324 complaints to SFO.

Los Altos Hills resident Charlene Mercadente hopes that elected officials and the FAA hear the outcry and take action.

“If it’s impacting that many people in a negative way, clearly they screwed up,” she said. “Our goal is to pressure Eshoo and other politicians to fix this.”

Governmental actions

Prompted by residents’ concerns, the cities of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills have developed Web pages directing their constituents to resources such as SFO’s complaint form and Eshoo’s official survey. Both cities last year adopted resolutions urging the FAA to mitigate the increased aircraft noise. Los Altos Hills staff is coordinating with Palo Alto on a pending technical study; Los Altos assigned its assistant city manager J. Logan as its point of contact.

“The aircraft noise issue is complex and affects not only cities in Santa Clara County, but also those in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties,” Logan said. “In fact, many metroplexes across the United States are grappling with similar issues.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general Jan. 20 released a report criticizing the FAA’s implementation of NextGen, finding that the “efforts have fallen short of anticipated cost savings and operational efficiencies, as well as in improving the delivery of new technologies and capabilities.”

Gardner noted that the report did not even touch on residents’ concerns mounting throughout the nation.

“We’re still not getting the relief we want,” he said.

Los Altos resident Pilar Parducci, a working group member of SPLAT, believes that the increase in aircraft noise impacts residents’ health, property values and education. She has compiled research data for handouts and brochures to raise awareness.

“It’s so much bigger than the noise,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time before people notice.”

To register noise complaints with the SFO Noise Abatement Office, call 821-4736 or visit Residents can also provide feedback to Eshoo by visiting and searching “Airplane Noise Abatement Survey.”

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