LONG BEACH — George and Marilyn Schiff's introduction to life in the flight path came in a thunderous rush one morning in 1979.
The Schiffs and their four young children had moved to California Heights the night before after buying a home through a friend (now a former friend) who had failed to mention that an airport was nearby.
"It was 7 o'clock in the morning, and we thought the plane was coming through our bedroom," said George Schiff, a salesman of art supplies.
"I thought it was coming straight down the hallway," remembered Marilyn Schiff, a homemaker and youth soccer coach.
It took six months for her to recover from that eye-opening, ear-popping experience, she said. "I'd duck every time one flew over."
After seven years and flight increases from 3 to 7 to 15 to 18 and now perhaps to 41, Marilyn Schiff still cringes when flights come over, and the Schiffs have joined about 600 other homeowners who have filed airport damage claims totaling $160 million against the city.
They have decided that the City Council needs some encouragement for it to act firmly in the face of federal pressure to increase flights.
"I'm frustrated because the City Council doesn't seem to be able to exert enough power to keep this from happening," said George Schiff. "And I'm angry because it's an intrusion into my life."
The Schiffs live near the junction of Carson Street and Cherry Avenue, dead center in the flight path of the main Long Beach Airport runway and one of the homes closest to it.
Airport noise averages more than 70 decibels at their home, although state law prohibits average aircraft noise in residential areas in excess of 65 decibels. Noise in most Long Beach neighborhoods averages about 50 decibels during the day and less at night, city officials say.
Cursing the Jets
George Schiff and some of his neighbors in California Heights and Bixby Knolls northwest of the airport have taken to cursing the jets as they take off. The response is not much different at the southeastern end of the main runway, where Los Altos residents sit under the path of most arriving flights.
Thousands of homeowners at either end are close enough to the noise that their conversations are interrupted when an airliner goes over, says 8th District Councilman Edd Tuttle. "There's a significant impact on a bare minimum of 5,000 to 6,000 households," he said.
Even with just 18 flights, that impact had meant a "softening" of home prices in those areas before low interest rates heated up the market this year, said several real estate agents. And homeowners have warned that the stability of entire neighborhoods will be jeopardized if more flights are approved.
George Schiff, who blames about 40 broken windows in his house on jet noise, says his family probably won't move from their Gardenia Avenue home, which is shadowed by tall trees and flanked by attractive homes with manicured yards.
Tied to Neighborhood
"This is probably the second or third nicest neighborhood in Long Beach. We get along well with our neighbors, our kids' friends are here, my wife and I coach soccer and all the kids play. So we're tied up here," he said.
"But every time I read about an increase in flights, we say maybe we ought to get out," Schiff said.
Many of the Schiffs' neighbors said they, too, are re-evaluating their futures in light of probable increases in airline flights. They say they don't want to move, but they will if flights increase.
Lauren Henry, 39, a homemaker and part-time instructor at Cerritos College, is already trying to sell her Rose Avenue home.
"The noise isn't so bad at this point," she said, "but we need more room, and we're not going to build on because of the airport expansion. There's no sense sinking money in here if we can't get it out."
Down the street, Paul and Gladys Beddow said they feel trapped. Like many of their neighbors, they moved into their homes not long after they were built in the late 1930s. The Beddows are both 79, and they say they have no place else to go.
"We expect to live here the rest of our lives. We have children here in town and our friends are here," said Gladys Beddow.
A few houses away, a shirtless M.A. Prosser, 65, grubbed weeds in the warm afternoon sun. "It isn't so much the noise," he said as an unusually quiet airliner dropped with a metallic whine for a landing. "But there's going to be more planes and there are going to be some bad accidents in here."
A California Heights resident since 1939, Prosser recalled a citizens' referendum in 1955 that paved the way for construction of the 10,000-foot runway that now accommodates jetliners. "We voted for that so Douglas (Aircraft Co.) could fly its new jets out, but then the airlines took it over," he said.