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Grand Jury Critiques SFO Noise Monitoring

San Mateo County Grand Jury report says county officials should revamp roundtable tasked with overseeing airport noise.

The San Mateo County Grand Jury today released a report calling for broader noise monitoring at San Francisco International Airport and better response to county residents concerned with aircraft noise.

The 2010-2011 Grand Jury examined whether the SFO Roundtable, a regional committee tasked with monitoring noise, is “operating effectively to ensure that San Mateo County residents are not unduly impacted by aircraft noise.”

SFO’s carriers have increased air traffic to the chagrin of residents who live under their flight path, the report said.

“For example, changes in departure patterns over Brisbane have generated strong protests from residents who assert that their quality of life is being adversely impacted,” the report said. “Increased night flights over San Bruno, South San Francisco and Daly City are also of major concern to those communities, especially when the flights depart directly over residential areas that did not participate or were not eligible for the noise insulation program.”

Vice-Mayor Marge Colapietro, who represents Millbrae on the roundtable, said Brisbane representatives and residents have brought their concerns to the roundtable and members are planning a meeting in Brisbane.

“We have people from Brisbane come and talk to us about the noise in their community and we don’t take these (concerns) lightly,” Colapietro said.

After San Mateo County designated SFO a noise nuisance in 1971, the city and county created the SFO Roundtable a decade later to work cooperatively on mitigating aircraft noise.

In 2010 SFO served more than 39 million passengers on about 387,000 flights, the report said.

Despite the large task of keeping tabs on SFO’s noise, the jury found sparse public participation and fleeting enthusiasm in the roundtable, which includes 17 elected officials from county cities.

The roundtable meets quarterly at Millbrae City Hall, down from a monthly schedule, and Daly City has withdrawn from the group, the report said. 

Colapietro said she has not seen a decline in interest. “We usually have very good representation from all the cities,” she said.

The group's schedule doesn’t stop the SFO Roundtable from meeting if there’s a reason, Colapietro said, adding that Daly City withdrew from the roundtable due to budget problems.

The Grand Jury recommended that county officials spearhead revitalization of the roundtable, pointing out that SFO, although owned and operated by the city and county of San Francisco, lies wholly within unincorporated San Mateo County.

The report said that airport noise is primarily evaluated using a federal standard that measures average noise over a 24-hour period.

“A community or residence could therefore experience numerous severe noise events in a day, but unless the average noise level over a 24 hour period exceeded the standard, it would not be considered a problem,” the report said.

The jury recommended that the roundtable broaden their focus to cover “single aircraft noise events, particularly night departures, and request that the Noise Abatement Office deploy equipment to measure and monitor both single events and structural vibration.”

Furthermore, the grand jury recommends that several Peninsula cities, including Millbrae, form local Citizens Advisory Committees to work with their elected members of the SFO Roundtable.

Colapietro said Millbrae had a similar committee set up dating back to the ‘80s, but committee members decided to disband about two years ago due to lack of business, including noise complaints.

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