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House bill targets helicopter noise in L.A. County

A San Fernando Valley congressman's measure would require the FAA to establish rules on flight paths and minimum altitudes over residential areas. 'We've been getting lots of complaints,' he said.

July 29, 2011|By Richard Simon and Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times
  • Some homeowners complained about helicopter noise when a section of the 405 Freeway was closed in mid-July.
Some homeowners complained about helicopter noise when a section of the… (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles…)

Angelenos have long complained about the noise of helicopters hovering over Southern California neighborhoods — and one politician is hoping he can finally ensure some peace and quiet.

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village) introduced legislation Thursday targeting noise from low-flying helicopters above Los Angeles County's residential neighborhoods.

Berman's Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act would require the Federal Aviation Administration to establish rules on flight paths and minimum altitudes for helicopter operations in those areas within a year of the bill's being signed into law. Exemptions would be allowed for emergency responders and the military.

"We've been getting lots of complaints," Berman said outside the House chamber.

Chopper traffic has reached the "ridiculous point," he added, citing helicopter charters to view "Carmageddon," the traffic disaster that wasn't from the weekend shutdown of a section of the 405 Freeway.

Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., agreed that the helicopters hovering over the closed freeway were a tipping point in residents' frustration, but said the issue has been building over years.

"It has definitely gotten worse," he said. "There are now more TV media helicopters, and what we've seen is helicopters out when there's a car chase on the freeway or a fender bender or a small fire.… The media loves to use helicopters to bring the action."

But, Close said, it's also a matter of privacy.

"With the helicopter cameras, there is no privacy in one's own backyard," he said. "If a person was in a house or apartment building next door to a person's property looking in, they'd be called peeping Toms. This is a form of peeping Toms with no accountability."

Matt Zuccaro, president of Helicopter Assn. International, a Virginia-based trade group, said his industry has been working with communities to reduce the effect of helicopter operations on neighborhoods.

"We're extremely sensitive as an industry to the impact that we have on communities that we fly over," he said. "I don't think the fix is to come up with a new legislative initiative."

The bill could face difficulty in the House, controlled by regulatory-wary Republicans who rejected an effort by Berman and fellow San Fernando Valley lawmakers earlier this year to give Burbank's Bob Hope Airport and Van Nuys Airport authority to impose nighttime curfews.

But Berman noted that Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) earlier this year won Senate approval for an amendment to an FAA bill requiring the agency to adopt rules to reduce helicopter noise above Long Island.

"Here, there are safety issues as well as noise issues," Berman said, vowing to press the legislation with Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), influential chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Complaints over helicopters crop up frequently in Southern California, often when celebrities are involved. Residents were notably annoyed when helicopters flew over Forest Lawn in 2009 during Michael Jackson's funeral, the Hollywood Hills after Paris Hilton's 2007 arrest and Brentwood after O.J. Simpson was acquitted in 1995.

The FAA declined to comment on Berman's proposal. The agency requires helicopters to operate "without hazard to persons or property'' but does not set minimum altitudes over population areas as it does for planes.

richard.simon@latimes.com

katherine.mather@latimes.com

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