Palm Springs council hears military jet noise complaints

PALM SPRINGS – The Palm Springs City Council on Wednesday said it would appeal to federal leaders about the frequency of military jet flyovers after hearing the complaints of residents who live in the flight path of the Palm Springs International Airport, where the fighter pilots train.

The council also recommended the appointment of member Chris Mills and council member-elect Paul Lewin to a subcommittee of the airport commission’s Noise Committee in hopes of getting swift action on the growing problem of military jet noise.

“I truly understand the people,” said Councilwoman Ginny Foat, who then shared a story about the hard time she had coaxing her dog from underneath a bed after a flyover by a fighter jet.

“I think there is a way to mitigate the noise and the subcommittee will be able to come up with ideas for that,” Foat added.

A total of 1,853 military operations have been conducted at the Palm Springs airport so far this year, which is nearly 650 more than the same period last year, officials said.

While residents from Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City and as far as Rancho Mirage and La Quinta have expressed concerns about the increased frequency of the jet flyovers and the associated noise, Palm Springs residents told the council they experience the roar of the jets louder than any other valley residents.

Some shared stories of being deafened and inconvenienced by the loud booms.

Still others worried about possible damage to their hearing, while others were concerned about possible negative financial ramifications for their properties.

Tom Fiegenschuh works from his home off San Rafael Drive as a background investigator and said the jet noise often disrupts his work day.

“We bought in and knew this civilian airport was there but we aren’t ready for the military jets,” Fiegenschuh said. “We spend tens of billions of dollars to build military bases. I don’t understand the need to come into this civilian airport.”

Bill Cook, a Palm Springs Realtor, fears the negative impact jet noise could have on the city’s real estate and tourism markets.

“I feel that the image of Palm Springs is under attack by the military,” Cook said.

Cook and neighbors Scott Connelly, Joanne Herdt and Rick Purnell began circulating a petition last week because they felt city officials weren’t doing enough to address the issue.

Palm Springs resident Reno Fontana was among only three residents to support the military jet activity out of the Palm Springs airport.

“I don’t get this city sometimes and the complaints that I hear at this podium,” Fontana said. “I love those jets. They’re protecting this country.”

Residents repeatedly said they are not anti-military. Rather, they are for a good quality of life.

“We hope to stand with the city of Palm Springs and do anything we can to assist the council and help resolve these matters of mutual concern,” Connelly said.

City officials said they plan to visit military leaders at bases where most flights originate and to reach out to members of Congress as well as officials with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who has said she also noticed the increase in jet noise, told The Desert Sun on Wednesday the congresswoman plans to take resident complaints to the Pentagon.

“While supportive of the military in general, the congresswoman is concerned about how this issue is impacting the city. And she personally has noticed an increase in noise levels in recent months,” Johnson said.

“In the past, the congresswoman has reached out to the FAA for answers, but now she’s going directly to the Department of Defense.”

Johnson said Bono Mack specifically wants to know why there has been an increase in military activity at the local airport and if there are other options available to the military.

Meanwhile, city staff will review U.S. Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration regulations to see if there are other ways to combat the noise issue. The airport is also conducting a noise study as part of the airport’s comprehensive strategic plan, which may help in lobbying federal leaders.

These strategies come after the city’s failed attempts to remedy the problem by posting signs on the runways urging pilots to “fly quietly” and employ “good neighbor flying practices” to issuing a letter to military aviators on the city’s website. Cook called the city’s approach so far has been “very tepid” and is glad the council is finally taking steps toward taking a strong stand on the issue.

“There is no doubt, Mr. Mayor and council members, those aircraft are loud and the operations are up and we should try to do something about that,” said airport Executive Director Tom Nolan.