Laguna Beach and other Orange County coastal cities are taking aim at a familiar icon of the summer beach scene: those low-flying, slow-moving planes that pull banners advertising everything from suntan lotion to Mexican restaurants.
Residents in Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and elsewhere have become increasingly vocal in their complaints about engine noise from the planes, which traverse the coastline in close succession during hot summer weekends.
Officials in those cities said they want to do something but are powerless, because only the Federal Aviation Administration regulates air traffic. So the cities are hoping to join forces in a bid to get the FAA to study the issue and consider whether noise restrictions are possible.
"They have a right to go up and down the coast and advertise," said Newport Beach Councilman Dennis O'Neil. "But when they do it so much, it becomes abusive and intrusive. They step over the line."
The planes have been a fixture along the coast for decades.
Perhaps the most famous banners advertise suntan lotion with the famous slogan: "Tan Don't Burn--Coppertone."
But a growing number of advertisers have flocked to the air in recent years, from Mexican restaurants to beer and soft-drink makers.
This is not the first time that coastal cities have tried to restrict noise from banner planes, and past efforts have met with resistance from both plane operators and federal regulators.
Under FAA rules, banner planes must fly at least 500 feet above the ocean and 1,000 feet above land. But pilots can get waivers to fly lower during windy conditions.
FAA officials said they don't see their role as regulators of how banner plane operators run their businesses.
"The FAA is responsible for ensuring safe operations and safe flights," said Jerry Snyder, an agency spokesman. "We do not control commerce."
Advertisers pay roughly $300 an hour to have their banner pulled across the horizon, and plane companies have vowed to fight any effort to reduce the number of flights.
"Regulating us out of business is the first step in the wrong direction," said Harold Ibele, director of operations for Air Sign. "It takes away from freedom of speech."
His company sends four to eight planes up and down the Southern California coast on summer weekend days.
Ibele said the banner planes are being used as scapegoats and that the noise they generate is minimal.
"Noise levels of airplanes are less than noise levels of highway traffic," he said. "It is a political issue."
Peter Lewis, who lives surfside in Laguna Beach, begs to differ. He said his weekends are often interrupted by the roaring of planes passing overhead.
"I don't mind the banner advertising stuff, but they are noisy," he said. "Like they don't have any mufflers."
Laguna Beach Councilwoman Toni Iseman is one of the biggest critics of aircraft noise.
After bringing up the issue before the council, Iseman said she will ask a coalition of coastal cities to examine ways to reduce air noise at their meeting this week.
"When people go to the beach, they go to hear the sound of the ocean and the sound of children laughing, not some commercial venture," Iseman said.
If the FAA doesn't take action, she said, the coastal cities could appeal to the companies themselves to institute some type of self-regulation of the noise.