By Mary Andersen
A new flight path has Happy Valley and Los Gatos/Saratoga residents angry and eager to move it to the San Lorenzo Valley. Some claim that, since their homes are worth more than ours, the path should be shifted out of their neighborhoods and onto ours.
We already have a flight path. It’s called BIGSUR, or BSR, and it routes over downtown Santa Cruz, Pasatiempo, west Scotts Valley, north through SLV to the Summit Skyline area, to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). This path is still in use today and supports older aircraft not equipped with satellite navigation.
In March 2015 the FAA, as part of their Next Generation Air Transportation program (NextGen), implemented a new path, called SERFR, which travels from the coast at Capitola, over Happy Valley and Los Gatos summit towards SFO. This path was designed to accommodate a wide range of aircraft with satellite navigation capabilities. SERFR is low, loud, and concentrated. The FAA says they can fix that.
Neighborhoods under SERFR lodged thousands of complaints. With the assistance of Congressman Sam Farr they organized Save Our Skies Santa Cruz and were later joined by Quiet Skies NorCal. They created a proposal for a new flight path, called DAVYJ, over the City of Santa Cruz, SLV, and communities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Keep in mind, this new path would be in addition to the BSR flight path we already have. The proposal was endorsed by Farr and 1st District Supervisor John Leopold.
Community groups from the coast to the airport rejected the Quiet Skies NorCal proposal noting that it eliminated noise for those under SERFR by increasing noise and airplane traffic for communities under the proposed new DAVYJ flight path. In addition, DAVYJ was offered up as the only solution, when in fact other proposals submitted by groups closer to the airport were ignored.
In March, Supervisor Leopold wrote that the proposal constituted a “regional solution” that had been “worked on by all community groups throughout the area.” Congressman Farr stated in his newsletter that he hand-delivered the Quiet Skies NorCal proposal to Michael Huerta, Administrator of the FAA, assuring him that it was “the ideal solution.” Both assertions were false – residents under the proposed DAVYJ flight path in Santa Cruz and SLV were neither informed nor invited to provide input.
In April, Congressional Representatives Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, and Sam Farr appointed 12 elected officials (+12 alternates) to a Select Committee on SFO Arrivals. Their charter has been to analyze items labeled “feasible” by the FAA, accept community input, and report to Congress with a set of recommendations.
When the FAA released their study in May, Santa Clara and San Mateo County community groups were frustrated to see that their recommendations were not included. Only suggestions from Quiet Skies NorCal were addressed including the flight path shift to SLV. And the FAA made clear that, while feasible, DAVYJ would be similar to SERFR in its noise impact to SLV. It would be lower, louder, and more concentrated than any flight path we had experienced in the past.
The Select Committee asked why DAVYJ was the only option presented. The FAA said that DAVYJ was the only option offered by Congress. To their credit, the Select Committee is open to other options.
As you might expect, the issue is a political football. In Santa Cruz County SERFR lies primarily in Congressman Farr’s and Supervisor Leopold’s districts. Both SERFR and the proposed DAVYJ are in Supervisor Bruce McPherson’s and Congresswoman Eshoo’s districts. Low flying DAVYJ vectored planes would severely impact Supervisor Ryan Coonerty’s district and the path itself would impact the City of Santa Cruz.
The irony is that the FAA is a $16.4 billion organization with thousands of credentialed aviation experts. Yet, laypeople hoping to remove a flight path from over their homes were allowed to design a new flight path over other communities. That new flight path, DAVYJ, over SLV and Santa Cruz, is currently being vetted by elected officials with limited aviation knowledge, who will then submit recommendations to congressional representatives with even less aviation knowledge, who were misled into believing it was a regional solution when it is not.
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Additional contributors: George Wylie, Nancy Gerdt, Glenn Lyons, Roz Alley, Alastair Fyfe, Jacqui Rice, Beth Carlisle, Terry Hollenbeck, Thomas Andersen, Colleen Miller, Clifford Stow, Jennifer Parks