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Sound Barrier Comes to Van Nuys Airport

Noise: Answering neighborhood complaints, the city will soundproof about 1,000 homes next to the airfield.

December 20, 1998|PATRICK MCGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city plans to begin soundproofing as many as 1,000 homes near Van Nuys Airport this summer, countering criticism that millions of dollars have been spent on noise relief around LAX but nothing for neighbors of the smaller airfield.

Residents in the flight path of Van Nuys Airport, the busiest general aviation airport in the country, complain that not a dime has been spent to soundproof their homes, and that proposals to reduce noise by curfews and caps on jet flights have stalled.

That is despite the fact that Mayor Richard Riordan proposed a soundproofing program for Van Nuys three years ago, and a study of noise problems at the airfield has been in the works for 10 years.

In contrast, critics say, the city has spent $12 million in the last two years to soundproof homes near Los Angeles International Airport, where 300 homes have been retrofitted. An additional 8,600 homes are to be soundproofed there.

"All of the attention and resources [for noise reduction] have been focused on LAX," said Ellen Bagelman, president of the Lake Balboa Neighborhood Assn., whose Van Nuys home is inside the high-noise contour around the airport. "Meanwhile, Van Nuys Airport has been allowed to grow at an unbridled rate. The noise has become intolerable."

Gerald Silver, president of Stop the Noise!, said the mayor and Airport Commission need the support of Westchester and Playa del Rey residents to get approval of a proposed major expansion of LAX.

"There has been zero effort at mitigation, much less abatement of noise at Van Nuys Airport," Silver said. "It's extremely unfair."

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, whose district includes residents affected by the airport, said she is frustrated that the city 10 years ago began a study of the problem that is not complete.

"It's ridiculous. It's unconscionable," Miscikowski said, blaming the Airport Commission for inattention to the problem.

Located in the center of the San Fernando Valley, Van Nuys Airport has 1,500 takeoffs and landings daily. As a general aviation facility, it does not have regularly scheduled commercial airliner service, but is home to 758 aircraft, including corporate jets, charter planes, small propeller aircraft and helicopters.

Airport officials acknowledge that it has taken too long to address the noise issue at Van Nuys, but said some of the delays were caused by factors outside their control.

Jack Driscoll, executive director of the Airport Departments, said he is hopeful that efforts to address noise problems at Van Nuys will get back on track, and that soundproofing of Valley homes can begin this summer.

"We are currently mapping the noise impact areas at Van Nuys," Driscoll said. "I would think that some time this summer we should be prepared to let contracts and start work."

Airport officials plan to model the Van Nuys program after the LAX soundproofing effort, which is in its second year. Driscoll said the city will buy a house in Van Nuys to soundproof and will give tours so that residents can be shown what to expect.

With the average home costing $15,000 to soundproof, it may cost more than $15 million to retrofit all eligible homes around Van Nuys Airport, officials said.

To receive federal funding, the city must complete a noise mitigation report that identifies the number of homes affected by high noise levels and projects the number of homes that will be affected by growth in air traffic during the next five years.

According to a preliminary report, 1,032 homes and 2,400 people are subject to high noise levels, generally averaging 65 decibels, and would be eligible for soundproofing.

That number could be reduced based on noise mitigation programs, including a proposed phase-out of older, noisier jets and construction of a "hush house" where jets can be tested without bothering neighbors, officials said.

The noise study that began a decade ago has been plagued by internal and external disagreements over the scope of the problem.

The FAA rejected as unrealistic an early plan estimate that jet traffic would increase 100% between 1992 and 1997, a prediction that turned out to be double the actual growth.

Further delays came after many neighbors rejected mitigation measures because they believed the efforts did not go far enough.

Other delays occurred when community activists objected that they were not sufficiently represented on the steering committee, and a legal challenge was filed claiming the city was not enforcing flight rules.

Then came a shake-up of the Airport Commission by Riordan.

Residents were skeptical of Driscoll's promise to launch a soundproofing program this summer. Others contend that soundproofing alone does not solve the problem.

"You could end up being a prisoner of your home," Bagelman said. "What happens if you want to go outside in the backyard. Soundproofing doesn't help then."

Also needed, neighbors said, are stricter curfews, including a ban on late night and early morning helicopter flights and a phase-out of older jets.

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