Here’s what I love about living and working in Oakland’s Adams Point neighborhood: Whole Foods, Lake Merritt, Sidebar Restaurant, great public transportation and, of course, Lakeside Park and Fairyland. The neighborhood is on the northern shore of Lake Merritt, directly adjacent to Downtown and the Grand Lake district. It’s the densest residential neighborhood in Alameda County, with historic houses and apartment buildings side by side. Its residents are beautifully diverse, with lots of kids and old folks. Maybe you’ve seen our whimsical mosaic-bedecked trash receptacles created by talented volunteers?
Here’s what I don’t love about the neighborhood: the helicopters.
Last week, immediately after the not-guilty verdict was announced in the Trayvon Martin case, demonstrators gathered in downtown Oakland and helicopters gathered above them. On Saturday, there were a total of five copters; two belonged to law-enforcement agencies, and the others were from local TV channels 2, 4 and 7. The last helicopter left at 1 a.m.
It may have to do with the way sound carries across the lake, but in Adams Point, it sounded like a war zone.
My neighbors took to the Adams Point Open Discussion Facebook page to vent their frustration.
“It’s an awful sound and a distressing presence. I’m guessing if they’re police helicopters, ground presence is sufficient. It seems like it’s meant to be more menacing and fear inducing than actually helpful. If they’re news helicopters, that’s completely inexcusable.”
“The frustrating thing was that it wasn’t just Saturday night. It was also Sunday and Monday, starting at about 5 p.m. and continuing. And for what? The same boring shot that they could have got on the ground.”
“It certainly is beyond annoying. It is not helpful to the neighborhood, causes anxiety and sleeplessness and is something I believe we as a neighborhood could well do without. This is for some other entity’s profit, not for our good”
“It’s a sinister sound. Although I know it’s about highway traffic or crowd control going on downtown, I get mild flashbacks of experiences with the U.S. army.”
“It makes me feel as if we are all under siege. The hours upon hours of noise pollution should be prohibited in the case of news stations. In the case of police use, this too should be restricted to situations where the helicopters are providing direct support to ground operations.”
To be fair, there were also comments from people who see bigger problems than this one in our city (understood), and most of us support OPD’s efforts to keep us safe. It’s the media outlets that are the main focus of our frustration. When does their “eye in the sky” trump our ears on the ground?
In 2012, the Port of Oakland’s Noise Report Hotline received 641 helicopter complaints. The Port has no regulating authority; it can hold meetings and convey citizen complaints, but it’s typically the copter pilots who attend the meetings, not the local stations’ news directors who are making the decisions. The port boasts of having the most advanced noise-monitoring equipment in the world, but it doesn’t have the authority to stop the noise.
I know we in the Bay Area have a healthy rivalry with our friends in the southland, but in the case of helicopter noise pollution, they’re way ahead of us. In Los Angeles, residents have grown really tired of helicopters hovering around the Hollywood sign, over the Hollywood Bowl and over Interstate 405. Their protests prompted Senators Feinstein and Boxer to introduce S.208 in February “to require the Federal Aviation Administration to prescribe regulations to reduce helicopter noise pollution in residential areas in Los Angeles County.”
This “Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act of 2013”—which directs the FAA to evaluate helicopter routes, altitude and hovering practices, and suggest solutions to noise complaints—is currently languishing in the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. But the State of California and several municipalities have publicly supported the bill. Public safety, military and medical flights would be exempt, and the FAA would be required to establish more stringent regulations for copters that fly over densely populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.
A resolution sponsored by State Senator Ted W. Lieu of Redondo Beach in support of the proposed federal act passed in the California State Legislature, 26-9, on April 11, and the communities of West Hollywood, Malibu, Manhattan Beach and Lomita, along with the City of Los Angeles, have all passed resolutions in support of the bills before Congress.
But a recent 52-page FAA report concluded that controlling helicopter operations would be best carried out voluntarily instead of with regulations that carry penalties.
So what can we do in Oakland? Would a resolution from our City Council supporting the federal legislation make a difference? “Absolutely,” says Ray Sotero, State Sen. Lieu’s point person on the issue. He says that the passage of the bill would set a precedent, and would allow a broader application of rules governing helicopter activity.
I watched the streaming video on the first night of the Zimmerman demonstration. It’s my opinion that three hours of helicopter camera footage of people milling about feels more like drone surveillance than legitimate news reporting.
It’s time for a serious discussion about the news helicopters that are hovering over our heads and homes.
There is a Noise Forum meeting scheduled for Oct. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Port of Oakland, 530 Water St., 2nd floor, in Jack London Square. These meetings are held regularly, involve six neighboring cities and are designed to address community noise concerns and make recommendations to the Port.
There’s also a Noise Report Hotline staffed by wonderful people. Give them a call if your head is being buzzed (510 563-6463). If no one complains, the assumption will be that helicopters can fly anywhere, at any time, at any altitude and for any reason over Oakland.
For the record, it’s Saturday at 5:15 p.m. and there are two helicopters hovering over Fairyland. I don’t know why.
Consider telling Senators Feinstein and Boxer that you appreciate their efforts to help Los Angelinos, and that you look forward to working with them on a plan that will allow Oaklanders to deal with helicopters that have become, well, hella loud.
Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.