The Coastal Post - May 2000

Air Officials Spinning Marin On Noise

By Jeanette Pontacq

Residents all over Marin, from Novato to Tiburon and Inverness to Bolinas, have been calling Noise Abatement Offices at San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport to complain about the huge increase in presence and noise levels of low-flying aircraft over Marin.

Those complaints, however, mostly result in the resident receiving a white postcard advising them that their complaint "is being looked into." Many people now have stacks and stacks of such white postcards, but no real response and absolutely no action.

Those residents who get a live person with whom to speak quickly find themselves in the Never-Never Land of Airport Spin Control. Residents are told that only the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), not Noise Abatement Offices, has the power to move or adjust flight paths...while the FAA itself tells people they "never move flight paths" and "there has been no increase in traffic over Marin"...the FAA also then usually adds that people should call the Noise Abatement Offices to complain. A round-robin leading nowhere.

This spin control was taken to new heights at the April 13th workshop by the Regional Airport Planning Committee (RAPC) in San Rafael. The stated goal was to finally provide a forum for North Bay residents to both obtain real information on what is going on in the skies over their heads and have complaints registered.

The reality of the workshop was reminiscent of mildly amused Feudal Lords cleaning their nails while carefully ignoring the rabble trying to be heard. Mary Griffin, the Vice-Chair of RAPC, studiously ignored any questions while she began her presentation, quickly herding participants in three break-out sessions.

The break-out sessions solicited lots of questions from residents about why the huge increase in flights over Marin has taken place. But no real answers. Instead, participants were told that complete answers would be forthcoming in the general meeting after the sessions were done.

After the sessions, residents were indeed herded back into the main meeting, where they found that Mary Griffin and William Ward (Vice-Chair and Chair, respectively, of RAPC) and company had unceremoniously departed. Participants were left with the always-smiling, paid facilitator, who then conducted the rest of the "meeting" like some bizarre game show host, as residents "vented" in frustration.

I have been to a lot of government dog-and-pony shows in my life. But this one was the most egregious, the most blatant and the most arrogant examples of government at its worst I have ever experienced. Marin residents were treated with utter disdain and condescendingly ignored.

It was patently obvious that RAPC is controlled by an ol' boy/girl network of San Mateo and Alameda county officials in bed with both the FAA and airport management. This agency has become a rubber stamp for unfettered and unquestioned expansion of the airports. Any semblance that this Holy Trinity cares about the impact their policies are having on residents of Marin, or on the GGNRA and Point Reyes National Seashore, is an illusion.

Tim Haddad, representing the county, officially asked for a log of flights over Marin for the last two years, in order to compare it to previous years. This is an important issue, because the FAA is sticking with the mantra that the number of flights over Marin has not changed in recent years. The FAA stuck with this mantra, by the way, even in the face of close to 150 residents testifying over and over that they were experiencing "a huge increase in flights over Marin during the last 18 months." Someone is lying, folks, and my guess is that it is not the 150 Marin residents.

A subsidiary FAA mantra is that air traffic is only increasing at 1% a year. That may or may not be true over all of the Bay Area, but I can guarantee that over Point Reyes, Inverness and Bolinas, the low-flying air traffic has increased exponentially over the last 18 months.

I believe that both Marin officials and residents need to accept the fact that flights are being dumped on the county from other areas NOW, and will continue to be dumped, until our elected officials have real seats and influence at the decision-making tables with the FAA, RAPC, SFO Roundtable, OAK Noise Abatement Forum, and the airports. Until that time, control is in the hands of Mary Griffin, William Ward and company, via the SFO Roundtable, the Oakland Noise Abatement Forum and RAPC. This is the Unholy Trinity on which Marin has no representation or input. On April 13th, the Trinity acted out the fact that they care not a fig about what we or our elected officials think, or what those policies are doing to our quality of life and environment.

It should be remembered (Coastal Post, April) that flights over Marin were seriously ratcheted up in approximately November of 1998, with steady increases since then. That date corresponds to the creation by the SFO Roundtable of what was called the "Point Reyes Arrivals Subcommittee." This subcommittee, chaired by the ubiquitous Mary Griffin, with members only from the South Bay areas, was charged with recommending noise mitigations for southern San Mateo county cities to the FAA. Is it coincidental that those recommendations were made just months before November of 1998? I believe it is time Marin was provided with copies of the original minutes, both public and private, of that subcommittee for the last two years.

The issue of vastly increased flights over Marin, with the inherent noise and pollution, has both a short-term and long-term definition. It also has both a local and national aspect.

The short-term, local issue of the FAA and friends moving flights paths over Marin and allowing many of those flights to fly low and loud over our communities, is the immediate concern. Only collective pressure on elected officials in Marin to push for aggressive representation of our communities on airport expansion and FAA route decisions can bring relief for residents from the noise and pollution.

Long-term and national issues are very complex and intersect with many other pertinent issues: the monolithic, undemocratic actions of the FAA, the lack of sustainable land transportation throughout the nation, expansion of airports at any environmental cost, and much more.

Seventy percent of our nation's population, 190 million people, lives within 20 miles of a major airport. While Tiburon and Sausalito are barely within those millions, the vast majority of Marin county residents are not. Marinites twice voted down an airport at Hamilton Field to avoid the consequences. Marin, with its magnificent open spaces and state and national parks, has often been an escape for those who could no longer stand the noise and pollution being imposed on them elsewhere in the Bay Area. Now Marin itself is the target of choice for more and more overflights that were previously elsewhere. We are exhorted to "share the pain." We are exhorted to do so with no allowance for our participation in decision-making processes.

With the proposed expansions of SFO, OAK and SJC, it is simply common sense to understand that Marin will take the brunt of added flights. If you are not now bothered by the noise and intrusion of aircraft, you will be at some point downline. It is simply a matter of time as the numbers increase.

Marin is being groomed as San Mateo North. Next time you are near SFO or OAK, take a moment to sit and listen to your possible future.

If you care about Marin and want it to retain its unique character, please take the time now to call, fax, write or email those shown below to demand representation on this issue. It will only take a moment, but it could save Marin from becoming "San Mateo North."

499-7331, fax 499-3645
3501 Civic Center Dr., #329
San Rafael 94903
email: [email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Rep Lynn Woolsey, 507-9554
email: [email protected]
1101 College Avenue,
Santa Rosa 95404
Senator Barbara Boxer, 403-0100
email: [email protected]
112 Hart Senate Bldg
Washington DC 20510

Senator Dianne Feinstein, 536-6868
email: [email protected]
331 Hart Senate Bldg
Washington DC 20510

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