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Navy Flight Test Plan Is Opposed : Military: Silver Strand Beach residents urge FAA to block the proposal. They fear the low-flying planes would be noisy and endanger lives.

June 02, 1995|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying it would endanger lives, lower property values and rattle their quiet community, scores of Silver Strand Beach residents Thursday night protested a plan to conduct Navy flight testing less than a mile from shore.

More than 100 residents turned out for a Federal Aviation Administration hearing on the plan at Port Hueneme City Hall, urging the agency to deny the Navy's request for special-use airspace.

The FAA, which will make its final decision in the next few months, would have to approve the Navy's proposal for any testing to occur. Pentagon officials approved the plan last year.

Military officials say the flight simulations would have little effect on adjacent Silver Strand, Hollywood Beach and Hollywood-by-the-Sea, which have about 5,900 residents.

"If I knew nothing about military aircraft and somebody told me they were going to fly military aircraft over my [neighborhood] at 560 m.p.h., I'd be concerned, but there's nothing to be concerned about," said Lt. Col. Jim Mendelson, a Marine F-18 pilot, who spoke about the safety of the proposed tests. "I'd be more concerned with a meteor falling on my head."

But opponents say the proposal--to fly Lear jets and fighter planes toward a laboratory located 100 yards from houses along Silver Strand--was conceived without regard for their eclectic upper middle-class neighborhood.

"I cannot for the life of me figure out why any regulatory agency would allow the testing of equipment, installed in jet aircraft, to be flown directly at a residential area," said Kerry De Matos, a beach resident since 1978. "How could this issue have even gone this far?"

Marcia Marcus, a board member of the Channel Islands Beach Community Services District, which oversees services to the unincorporated area, said earlier that the Navy never asked surrounding residents if they approved of the idea before building the facility in 1985.

"I believe the Navy has done a disservice to the community," she said. "Nobody knew what that building was for when it was built, and then we learned that the only reason for this building was to perform these tests. The Navy has not been helpful at all."

The five-story building, located next to La Janelle Park in Silver Strand, cost more than $100 million to build and furnish with radar equipment and was built with sensors to simulate the hull of a warship.

Under the testing plan, planes would fly toward the 50,000-square-foot building at speeds as high as 350 to 600 m.p.h. and as low as 100 feet from the ocean's surface to practice aerial missile attacks, according to Navy documents.

Navy officials say they would save about $13 million a year by performing the simulations on the laboratory instead of practicing on real warships, the current method of testing.

About 80% of the tests would be performed with Lear jets, which are less noisy than typical warplanes. F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 fighter jets would also be used.

To assure residents that the simulations would have little effect on the beach communities, Navy officials in September, 1993, flew two Lear jets along the proposed flight route. Navy officials said Thursday night that the noise level from the Lear jets would be between 65 and 75 decibels, about the same as a vacuum cleaner.

However, the demonstration took place in midafternoon during a foggy day. Few residents were home at the time. And although the majority of those who returned comment cards about the testing said that the noise was insignificant, critics say the fog prevented people from viewing the planes and probably muffled their sound.

Resident Vickie Finan said she never considered herself an activist. But when she heard that low-flying Navy warplanes would possibly be coming within several hundred yards of her Silver Strand home, she said that she had to tell everyone she knew.

For the last few weeks, the 39-year-old mother has walked the streets of the beach communities like a politician, passing out more than 2,000 flyers and posting 300 signs with a graphic of a plane flying over a house.

"We never thought we would be in a position of danger here," said Finan, who has lived in the beach community for 12 years. "It's a matter of when the crash will happen, not if it will happen. This is a nice neighborhood. . . . It shouldn't happen here."

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