On Thursday, November 17 the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals, a body of elected officials convened by Congressional representatives Anna Eshoo, Sam Farr, and Jackie Speier to address jet noise, voted 8-4 to shift the SERFR arrival flight path from Happy Valley and Los Gatos to a legacy path called BSR (BIGSUR). During earlier meetings a new flight path was proposed (referred to as DAVYJ but using the BSR track) which overflies Santa Cruz, San Lorenzo Valley, Scotts Valley, and Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz County.
The SERFR flight path was implemented last year as part of the FAA’s new, GPS based, Next Generation (NextGen) air traffic control system, which is currently being rolled out nationwide. NextGen design parameters dictate that the SERFR arrival maintain a lower profile than the legacy BIGSUR and an increase in the concentration of airplanes - to about 180 per day.
Prior to Thursdays vote, Santa Cruz City Councilmember Don Lane, Supervisor Bruce McPherson, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, and South San Francisco Mayor Mark Addiego gave a thumbs up to Lane’s well-articulated proposal that the Committee establish definitive noise-limiting criteria which the FAA’s technical experts could then use to design the safest, quietest, most efficient and optimally located flight path, (not necessarily SERFR or DAVYJ). That vote failed and instead those wishing to move the path and shift the noise prevailed.
While the Select Committee was charged to find a ‘regional’ solution to jet noise, it did not. Instead, the final 8-4 vote to move the SERFR path to DAVYJ resulted in a parochial and binary decision – winners and losers - this path or that path – based on the lay opinions of appointed committee members. Now the FAA’s flawed NextGen process that created SERFR and its complaints will be repeated for DAVYJ, and community outcry will begin anew. As it should, because, as the proposal stands, there will be no accurate measurement of noise comparisons to inure residents to unacceptable levels of jet noise, no mechanisms in place to ensure that the FAA will be held to predetermined criteria, and no capacity limits on the new path to SFO, the fastest growing airport in the nation.
A significant opportunity has been lost. A truly regional solution would have been to involve all stakeholders and demand that the FAA actually fix the process by which NextGen created SERFR - a fix that would compel the FAA to actually measure the noise they create by their actions, and a fix that would serve everybody, not just one community over another.
George Wylie is a retired commercial airline pilot and a member of the San Lorenzo Valley school board.