Neighbors Complain About Noise From Livermore Airport

Noise Irks Neighbors of Livermore Airport – Contra Costa Times, CA

LIVERMORE – When the Livermore Municipal Airport was moved to the western edge of town in the early 1960s, it was to escape all that baby boom-era housing development cropping up near the city’s then-existing airfield on Rincon Avenue. “It was obvious we had to move it,” said John Shirley, who served on the City Council at the time. “Houses came right up to the touchdown spot on the Rincon site; planes would come over two-story houses and touch down as fast as they could. That’s where I learned to fly an airplane.”

As for the airport’s new home, southeast of what’s now Interstate 580 and El Charro Road, “(T)here was nothing out there; it was out in the country,” Shirley said. Big efforts have been made over the years to protect the airport from residential encroachment and ensuing neighborhood complaints in west Livermore, northeast Pleasanton and southeast Dublin. And the airport has been more successful than some others in fending off criticism.

Nevertheless, conflicts have intensified as pressures for housing development increased and as airport activity was boosted by Tri-Valley population and employment growth. In 2002, Livermore’s airport was the 10th busiest in California.

It is less than a mile from houses in western Livermore and about 11/2 miles from houses in Pleasanton, leading a county airport commission a decade ago to establish a protection zone to stop further encroachment.

Today, airport neighbors aren’t exactly thrilled with prospects for expanded operations. A draft 20-year Livermore Municipal Airport master plan proposes lighting and lengthening the shorter of two runways from 2,700 to 4,000 feet, adding more hangars and leasing space to aviation support businesses catering to a growing number of corporate jet users.

The plan envisions total annual takeoffs and landings to increase from 257,000 in 2001 to 370,000 in 2020. Though flight training and recreational use would continue to account for most aircraft operations, the share of use by jets — including for chartered service — is expected to jump from less than 1 percent to about 5 percent.

Airport officials say the demand depends more on the economy than on anything they do (flight activity slumped last year to 191,000) and that lengthening the parallel runway is needed mainly to reduce safety hazards and congestion both on the ground and in the air during takeoffs and landings.

“It’s just like seeing more cars on Interstate 580,” said Ralph Cloud, chairman of the Livermore Airport Advisory Commission. “You can allow a smoother flow and a more controlled flow to alleviate congestion and make it safer, but you can’t necessarily stop it.”

Because the extended runway would still be shorter and structurally weaker than the airport’s main 5,255-foot runway, the plan won’t allow for larger, heavier aircraft than it does now, Cloud said. And he noted that scheduled commercial passenger service would continue to be prohibited.

Nevertheless, airport neighbors argue that more airport capacity will simply attract more planes and jets, ultimately doing nothing to alleviate noise and safety hazards.

“We’ve got some great pilots who cut back on their engines, but the jets are just too much, and it seems like there are more and more of them all the time,” said Dan Meyer, who lives about 3 miles east of the airport in Livermore. “Sometimes, they’re a couple (of) hundred feet over my house, and there have been cases where it seemed like a jet would land over my back yard, and that’s ridiculous.” Tom Hagen, who lives a few miles southeast of the airport near downtown Pleasanton, said he has seen increasing numbers of low-flying planes over his home on weekends, even though his neighborhood is not under a standard flight path. “When you want to have a barbecue with friends in the your back yard, you want to be able to hear them talk,” he said. “Some of these people are just tree-top fliers.”

Hagen noted that because of prevailing winds, most takeoffs from the airport — which tend to be noisier than landings — are to the west over Pleasanton.

In October, Pleasanton Mayor Tom Pico submitted written comments on the proposed Livermore general plan’s draft environmental impact report, asking that issues specifically relating to the airport be addressed in greater detail.

Pico said though Pleasanton has respected the 11/2-mile westerly airport protection zone by prohibiting housing there, the zone was created with assumptions that airport operations would not dramatically change.

Airport General Manager Leander Hauri said noise levels over Pleasanton neighborhoods are not expected to increase. He said today’s jets are substantially quieter than the older ones, which are being phased out because they are not fuel efficient or economical to operate.

Livermore’s draft environmental report acknowledges that increased airport operations would slightly expand the area of western Livermore where aircraft noise would be noticeable, but said it would still be within “acceptable” limits. It recommends that, if future studies warrant it, Livermore homes closest to the airport’s eastern edge be provided with air conditioners so residents can keep their windows closed.

Hauri said that under Federal Aviation Administration rules, the public airport cannot legally prohibit nighttime flying. But he said the airport’s request two years ago for a voluntary curfew between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. has eliminated most problems. He added that the airport is not only a big tax generator for Livermore, but also improves the business climate throughout the Tri-Valley region, including Pleasanton’s Hacienda Business Park and Bishop Ranch in San Ramon.

The formal airport master plan review process will include a 30-day public comment period and public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council. It cannot legally begin until after the Livermore City Council adopts the city general plan and environmental impact report, which could occur Monday.