Around Town: air time; thinking small


Tidbits collected by the Weekly staff on people, events and other happenings.

AIR TIME ... Dozens of residents brought stories of fatigue and frustration to Tuesday's public hearing on airplane noise at the City Council's Policy and Services Committee meeting. Some complained about sleeping with earplugs and still being awakened throughout the night and in the early morning hours. Others waxed nostalgic for the quieter days of yore when they tended their gardens or entertained guests in their backyards. "Every day, over 300 jets fly over my house," said Joel Hayflick, a Midtown resident. "Low and loud — every single day." While most were Palo Alto residents, the meeting also attracted a few speakers from Mountain View. They encouraged the committee not to support any solutions that would shift the problem to their community — a proposal that was well received by the committee. "In neighboring cities there is a perception often that Palo Alto is interested in taking our problem and shifting it to other communities," said Councilman and committee chairman Cory Wolbach. "I don't think that's ever been our position." His colleagues agreed and joined him in directing city staff to clarify the city's position on airplane noise and to explore new alliances between Palo Alto and other cities in the region, possibly as part of a new ad hoc committee.

THINKING SMALL ... Should Palo Alto favor startups over tech giants when it comes to downtown development? That's the question that stirred the most debate on Monday night, as the City Council was updating the city's Business Element (a chapter of the Comprehensive Plan). On one side were council members like Greg Tanaka and Mayor Greg Scharff, who argued that large companies should be just as welcome as small ones. Both favored revising an existing policy that specifically recognizes the importance of "small" businesses to downtown's continued vitality. Tanaka and Scharff challenged the plan's emphasis on "small." "I think large companies are great for downtown," Scharff said. But Council members Tom DuBois and Karen Holman suggested that small businesses — whether tech startups or professional services — are better suited for downtown, and the large companies can have a detrimental effect on the area, whether by gobbling up real estate and pushing out smaller businesses or by abruptly departing. "If you have a large tenant and that large tenant leaves downtown, it can be really devastating," Holman said. Ultimately, the council unanimously rallied around a compromise proposed by Councilman Cory Wolbach: "prioritizing" smaller businesses and startups without excluding larger ones.

MCGEE FELLOWSHIP ... The Palo Alto school district's nascent but growing Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) program, the brainchild of Superintendent Max McGee, has been honored by Stanford University's Peace Innovation Lab, which works at the intersection of technology, social behavior and global peace. The curriculum and instruction director of the Peace Innovation Lab surprised McGee and AAR staff and students this week with the tentatively named Superintendent McGee Advanced Authentic Research Award, which will provide funding to AAR graduates who continue to pursue their research as undergraduates in college. The program connects students with mentors to craft and execute on a research proposal, from science, technology, engineering and mathematics to humanities topics. The first "McGee Fellow" is Samuel Vasquez, who attends San Francisco State University and was presented with $5,000 at Tuesday's school board meeting. In a statement, Freedom Cheteni of the Peace Innovation Lab hailed AAR as an "innovative and empowering approach" to advancing student voices and instilling values of collaboration, discovery and agency. AAR's own international, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary academic research journal (dubbed Journal A2I3R) "will increase the ability for high school students and staff at PAUSD to drive discovery in areas vital to our world and especially, our intellectual life," Cheteni said. AAR, which started in 2014 with 11 students, grew to 155 students this year researching topics from the influence of semiconductor companies on the economy to the social-emotional impact of learning at Palo Alto High School.


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10 people like this
Posted by It Never Stops
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 27, 2017 at 9:45 am

Somehow I missed that this meeting was taking place so I will add my voice in this note.

I fully agree with the opinions mentioned in this article. The ongoing airplane noise heard in my backyard and in my home is painfully intrusive. In fact sitting in my office I am listening to one flight after another pass overhead as I write-"low and loud". Weekends seem even worse because our small Palo Alto airport adds small aircraft flight lessons to those larger planes passing over from the larger airports. It seems at the very least we should be able to limit those annoyances originating in our own city.

I beg our City Council members to represent our community with persistence and determination. Without pushing for a solution this sound nuisance will only get worse.

2 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Mountain View
on May 27, 2017 at 10:14 am

I agree with It Never Stops comment... I'm about a quarter mile into Mountain View and three nights ago I had a 21 minute phone conversation with my son. During that time seven flights passed directly over my house by Monta Loma Elementary School, on their way to the Bay between San Antonio and Shoreline exits on 101. So, I think it is important to look at root causes, and there are actually two different flight paths at play: Mountain View and Los Altos experience constant BODEGA WEST and OCEANIC arrivals, in a giant left-turning swoosh that completely covers the two cities and emerges over the Bay as noted above - it's important to note that this flight path's left edge covers South Palo Alto up to about Midtown... it's just the left fringe of a larger clot of pain experienced by southern neighbors, but is plenty noisy for South Palo Altans and in my opinion there is perfect convergence of common-cause between Los Altos, Mountain View and South Palo Altans. The other, completely different flight path is called SRFR, and is most Socal-to-SFO traffic making a perfectly straight line from Santa Cruz to the interchange of Willow Road and 101, before slotting into the landing pattern over the water. This latter flight path is what causes the new-since-2014 downtown Palo Alto pain, and is what was tightened into a narrow pain corridor by the FAA's NextGen "modernizations." In effect, FAA ran a freight train over the same houses, using GPS, over and over again and explains why old Palo Altans are up in arms. My point, though, aside from gently reminding Palo Altans that Mountain View gets the same or more noise as Palo Alto (and always has, no flight paths in place for decades have moved), is to say that our solutions must DIFFERENT for the two flight paths. We need a thoughtful regional dialog, and any clever coded language like "move MENLO waypoint to DUMBA" or "section 2.5.5" or "move it out over the water" or some mythical magigal "blue line" should be seen for what it is: Solve downtown Palo Alto's pain by moving it over Mountain View and Los Altos (and something which will surprise the hell out of South Palo Altans, because that would move SRFR over THEM as well... as the left edge of the new pain SRFR corridor would extend from San Antonio north to at least Mitchell Park!) Kill that bonehead proposal with extreme prejudice... and get on to the region working as a team, starting with a solid factual base and moving onto technical and market-behavioral solutions like SFO charging higher landing fees for louder airplane models, like they successfully do in Europe. And really look skeptically at the incredibly-noisy 9 passenger Surf Air planes now using San Carlos muni... and afflicting us. There ARE tools that solve jet noise FOR ALL, sans provincialism and nimbyism.

9 people like this
Posted by more noise
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 27, 2017 at 10:56 am

Add helicopter lessons flying circles over Palo Alto airport (PAO) the last couple years. As a 20 year resident of Palo Alto I find this relatively new source of noise pollution very annoying. Not only is it a flying outfit based at PAO but another one based in at San Carlos airport who comes down to our airspace also. Ugh!!!!!

9 people like this
Posted by more noise
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 27, 2017 at 11:03 am

and by sheer coincidence just as I posted my first note a helicopter flew over our neighborhood. For those living near 101 between University and Embarcadero enjoy the sounds of a chopper doing circles around PAO for the next hour! So much for a quiet Saturday morning........

3 people like this
Posted by Thoughtful
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 27, 2017 at 11:43 am

As long as jets have to "target" Menlo at low altitudes to stabilize industrial quantities of jets over people, everyone along the way is at risk. The narrow idea to make arrivals from the South jiggle over to the West (kill little Los Altos Hills along the way and make things worse for cities near Menlo) will not fix the problem - only move it.

To help everyone, thoughtful consideration of more and new waypoints to get some jets to stabilize over water, not people

8 people like this
Posted by Guest
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 27, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Here's an idea: if you complain about SFO traffic, you're not allowed to fly out of or into SFO, and unless you moved here *before* PAO was built, don't complain, you knew what you were getting yourself into. If you didn't then it's you're fault.

To the typical response of "but it's getting worse", yes, yes it is, but that's because our population is growing and we live in an urban area. Either move to Coalinga or deal with it.

4 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2017 at 10:27 pm

Well, it could be much worse.

In 1980 I learned to fly at one of the Palo Alto flying schools. One of the standard exercises was to fly a low altitude rectangular path to simulate landing procedures. There was a particular highway configuration in Fremont that aided students to visually track the rectangular path. "All" the instructors took their students to the same spot, and the poor residents had to endure a constant orbit of low altitude flights all day long. Fortunately I only had to fly it a few times, but I always felt bad for the residents.

9 people like this
Posted by more noise
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 28, 2017 at 5:45 pm


yes I knew PAO was there 20 years ago when i bought my house. I guess i wasn't smart enough to figure our someday they would be doing helicopter training there flying circles around our neighborhood. My bad i'm not a visionary like you.

Like this comment
Posted by More nouze
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2017 at 9:32 am

"As a 20 year resident of Palo Alto I find this relatively new source of noise pollution very annoying."

Harleys are not new but they are much more popular and much louder. Outlaw Harleys and only Outlaws will ride them.

Hmmm, no wait.... then those faux Outlaw wannabe Facebook geek dweebs will all want them even more.

7 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 30, 2017 at 10:54 am

The planes are terrible. To those who tell us to leave if we don't like it, they are misinformed. They can reroute the flights so they fly over the bay instead of over our heads; they can have the planes fly at higher levels so they aren't as loud. We had peace in the skies before they rerouted over our city.

As far as McGee's AAR program, it's clearly for prestige. McGee obviously doesn't care about the stress of our students or their mental states or he would work on the issue. Our students are sleep-deprived and depressed. I hope he is fired along with Diorio for ignoring the sexual misconduct complaints on campus. We need a superintendent who cares about our students, not one who pushes them harder until they crack.

5 people like this
Posted by Junket to DC
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 30, 2017 at 11:44 am

Didn't we just spend more money to send Liz Kniss, Adrian Fine and one other CC member to Washington to re the airplane noise? Did they ever bother to report on their meetings and/or progress or was this just another costly boondoggle on their part?

2 people like this
Posted by KarenP
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2017 at 12:48 pm

To Bill from Mountain View: You are either misinformed or deliberately pushing false information. The FAA admitted during recent hearings that since the implementation of NextGen, at least 60% of SFO arriving flights now converge over MENLO waypoint. MENLO waypoint is just west of Willow Road and Hwy 101 – which, last time I checked, is closer to Palo Alto than Mountain View. That represents hundreds of jets, at all hours of the day and night (and doesn’t even include flights to other airports). It is imperative that the FAA move some of these to other waypoints/routes and alleviate the concentration of traffic that has occurred over our skies. Unlike flat-earthers who refuse to look at actual science, a group of us are asking the FAA to use its air traffic system design tools to consider two specific waypoints that, given their locations, could enable planes to fly at much higher altitudes (i.e., at least 7000 feet) over any populated areas, and for much greater distances over the Bay. We are also pushing for reduced night flights and higher altitudes, which would also benefit the entire region. Sure, let’s also try “technical and market-behavioral solutions like higher landing fees” (which the airlines would likely just pass on to passengers). But let’s address root cause. Oh, and I also agree a collaborative, regional solution is preferable, but other cities need to stop dissing Palo Alto for standing up for its rights.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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