A public opinion survey commissioned as part of a federal anti-noise program at Burbank Airport indicates that only a small percentage of residents of the surrounding area are disturbed by aircraft noise, which has become the subject of increasingly vocal protests by organized homeowners.
Leaders of the movement against airport noise quickly challenged the survey, saying it ignored large areas where noise is a problem and was based on responses from people who have gotten used to extraordinary noise.
The survey, based on telephone interviews conducted in June and July with about 600 people, was made public Monday at a meeting of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.
When people who live within two miles of the airport were asked what they liked about their neighborhoods, 27% said they liked the quiet, the quality they named most often. Asked what they disliked about the area, 16% mentioned aircraft noise, with 12% listing it as their first complaint.
Fewer Noise Complaints
In neighborhoods farther from the airport, from Burbank to Sherman Oaks, the number of residents complaining about noise fell to 2%.
Asked their attitude toward the airport, 66% of all respondents said they regarded it favorably, including almost half of those who had complained about airport noise. However, 57% said they oppose increasing the number of commercial flights at the airport.
The survey has a maximum error margin of 5%, according to those who designed it. It was conducted by Arnold Steinberg and Associates of Sherman Oaks for Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. Airport Consulting Services of San Francisco.
Peat, Marwick was hired by the airport authority to gather data for a noise study under rules set by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The airport authority agreed to the federally guided study as part of a settlement with the City of Los Angeles in return for a pledge by the city not to continue a court challenge to the airport's plans to build a new terminal. The new terminal will be twice as large as the current one.
The survey concentrated on 400 residents living within two miles of the airport. Also questioned were 200 residents of the southern part of the San Fernando Valley, scattered from the San Diego Freeway east through Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Universal City, Toluca Lake and into Burbank.
Those surveyed were not asked directly about aircraft noise unless they raised the issue themselves, Steinberg said in his report. They were asked instead what they liked and disliked about their neighborhoods. Only those who mentioned aircraft noise were asked follow-up questions on the topic.
Complaints Not Tallied
Respondents also were asked a series of questions about Burbank Airport. At that point, several respondents tried to register complaints about aircraft noise, but those complaints were not tallied, Steinberg said.
If the airport questions were asked earlier, "airport noise mentions would have been significantly higher," he said. "Moreover, if respondents were told our objective was to measure airport noise, mentions about airport noise would have been more numerous.
"However, I feel a more realistic and authentic measurement of the problem is to see how many respondents mention noise, after repeated probing, rather than 'planting' the idea or making noise mention a socially acceptable response."
"I have no faith in this study," complained Gerald Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino and a leader of the anti-noise movement. He complained that the survey boundaries were drawn to include an area so noisy that its residents were not typical.
"The noise-sensitive people have been driven out of there. The only ones who stay in that area have substantial hearing loss or they can't afford to move, so they don't complain," he said.
"This is equivalent to going to Skid Row and asking how many people hit the bottle. You'll find a concentration of alcoholics you wouldn't find in the general population."
Don Schultz, president of Ban Airport Noise, whose members protest noise levels at Burbank and Van Nuys airports, said surveyors did not include residents of a large area of the central Valley, such as Van Nuys, that lies under the airport's approach and departure paths.
Richard Close, president of Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., also complained that the survey area did not include residents of many neighborhoods affected by airport noise. Close, who also represents five other homeowners groups in the airport controversy, said 10,000 people signed noise-protest petitions last year.
If so few residents are annoyed by aircraft noise, "where did the 10,000 signatures come from?" he asked.