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.

17 Responses

  1. Jcacquelyn Marie

    I agree and also live in Adams Point which I love. The 4 helicopters circling around my apartment building went on and on into the night and I have to admit I felt a lot of tension (like being in a war zone) and could not sleep. I did not realize that some are news helicopters which should not be in the air for so many hours.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Stew Javy

    Are you from Oakland? If you are your confusion about the state of things perplexes me. If you are not from Oakland then you must realize that the majority of the protesters were not FROM Oakland, thus they are like you. People need to stop coming to Oakland…its a city that cannot really grow (lack of space…no horizontal movement possible). We have problems and many of them are because people come here from where ever and disrupt the culture, protesters and transplants alike. Please take a more objective look at your own words and think about the perspectives of those of us who had no choice of where we are from and have no where to go.

  3. Samantha

    I’m in West Oakland close to dwn twn. The helicopters were awful. Had me on edge for days. Might write a letter to the News stations because it was un necessary and intrusive. Thank you for writing about this – I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  4. Tim

    I don’t know if you’ve heard Stew, but they have invented these new things called elevators. The city can grow up without having to grow out. There is plenty of room.

  5. Tim

    Not sure what that has to do with helicopters though. They’re horrible.

  6. Stacey

    The helicopters are noisy, I agree with that, but I would much rather have helicopters patrolling and reporting than nothing at all when there is potential danger.

    Last night a tree fell in my neighborhood and the city had to bring in 3 trucks and a huge wood chipper to remove the tree. Along your line of thinking, we should just leave the tree in the middle of the road because the noise from the trucks and wood chipper is icky.

    The issue here is not with the helicopters but WHY the helicopters are flying around our neighborhoods. What is scarier to me is when shit goes down and the police don’t come and the media doesn’t report on an incident. As an Oakland native I have seen this happen before and believe me, it’s worse than noisy helicopters. I’m guessing you’re from a place where the infrastructure works, but in Oakland it’s all held together with bandaids and magic. The fact that the police even show up is a plus in any situation around here. They are noisy? At least they showed up.

    I’m happy to hear that Adams Point is making a comeback after being a, well, pretty sketchy neighborhood for decades. However, part of gentrification involves maybe hearing helicopters when an angry mob is smashing in storefront windows and people’s faces.

  7. Starmama

    In deep east Oakland helicopters fly low over us all the time. Also airport traffic. It does suck.

  8. cperez

    If you live in Adams Point, imagine what East or West Oakland goes through on a daily without any Occupy, Oscar Grant or Trayvon Martin news coverage. I have to say too that ambulances and other emergency vehicles causes so much noise pollution/stress, especially in low-income neighborhoods. Stew, you’re absolutely on point about “outsiders” coming into Oakland and f’ing up the city…why can’t these mofos go to Walnut Creek or some other whiter and wealthier cities that they’re coming from and wreak havec there?!

  9. Scott McLean

    Drama junkies.

    It’s way more exiting to be up in the air than it is to be on the ground. They also think perception is that they are working. Reality is different, in my opinion. I think it actually exacerbates the problem. That may be in their best interest, as well. (Job security.) I could be completely wrong, of course. But, that’s just how it seems to me. There used to be beat cops, on the streets. That is the other extreme. They seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

  10. stew javy

    Tim, there are much cheaper cities in the Bay Area in which to rent/buy. Therefore I am left to assume that you moved to Oakland for a other then affordable housing. Thus I conclude that its the allure that Oakland has that brought you here. Then I reason that you do not understand how that allure was created. If you look into the history of Oakland you will see that we are restless city. You write a blog piece about how it makes you feel but you seem to not see how in doing so you alienate the folks that had to GROW UP with it. We now it sucks!!!! In stead of writing a blog about it why dont you go out and DO something about it…like become a teacher in our PUBLIC schools, or run for city council, or meet with community leaders FROM OUTSIDE YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD…like people FROM east and west Oakland. That fact that you want our senators to deal with it shows that you have a middle class mentality which seems to cloud the real issues for you. I am sorry that things are so hard for you but to be honest…you life would be a bit more disheveled if sweeping social change occurred…would you complain about the helicopters then? If it would only take noise to invoke social equality in our country I would more then gladly have the helicopters over head indefinitely…moral of the story…its deeper then you would really ever want to believe get involved or get out of Oakland.

  11. Nadia

    Stewjavyon, you make some valid points here. However, your reply seems to suggest that “writing a blog [post]” about the helicopter presence and “do[ing] something about it” are somehow mutually exclusive. They aren’t. In fact, the blog writer lists several concrete things that can be done; presumably s/he will do those things; presumably s/he is suggesting that others do them as well.

    Likewise, your post suggests that the writer thinks helicopter noise is a more pressing problem than, say, poverty or police brutality or gun violence. I’m guessing that, unless the writer is a complete idiot, that’s not what s/he is suggesting. From what I can tell, s/he’s simply suggesting that the helicopter noise sucks — much, much, much, much less that the really serious problems, of course, but sucks nonetheless.

    Finally, you seem to suggest that helicopter presence doesn’t bother people who have grown up in Oakland. That’s simply not the case. No one likes the helicopter presence. Is it the bane of our existence? No, of course not. But it is an annoyance, whether it is downtown/around the lake or in east/west Oakland. And perhaps I’m wrong, but I believe that’s really all the blog writer trying to suggest. And I don’t understand why that suggestion leads you to assume that the writer is middle class, or not an Oakland public school teacher/community organizer, or uninterested in and uninvolved with social justice — simply because s/he finds the noise irksome. Yes, Adams Point has had a huge influx of yuppies over the past 10 years, but lots of different kinds of people still live here — not just middle-class white people.

    At any rate, the next time you write a response, consider dialing back on the sweeping assumptions and being a little less judgmental. It might strengthen your argument.

  12. Tim

    The “allure” of being born here is what brought me to Oakland. Oakland is a great place and I don’t blame people for wanting to live here. That’s a great thing (imagine if we actually were Detroit). Maybe if we had more than zero new construction, rents wouldn’t be skyrocketing every year.

    In any event, one can be concerned about bigger issues and also be annoyed with the helicopter noise.

  13. chris

    Nadia, speaking of sweeping assumptions, “nobody likes helicopter noise” is a pretty broad one. I love it! I love all things mechanical. Ever watch little boys when a helicopter flies over? I get the distinct impression that they like it too.

    Speaking of noise, what’s up with the freight train horns all night!?

  14. Nadia

    Very good point, Chris! I stand corrected. Different strokes, right? And, see, I love the freight train horns. Go figure.

  15. The D


    Image if we were in Detroit? I don’t get it? I’m not seeing the comparison. Are you insinuating Detroit is not a great place in its own respect? The narrative was about oakland and I’m not sure as to why you pointed that finger?

  16. Tim

    Whether or not Detroit is a great place is not really the question. The unavoidable root cause of their problems is population loss, which is a problem Oakland doesn’t really have. Stew was saying we need to shut the door and not let anyone else move here; I was disagreeing and saying it’s a good thing people want to be here, contrasting our situation with Detroit.

  17. Jonatton Yeah?

    Jesus wept, Stew. Only in Oakland are “middle class values” frowned upon. The echo chamber that promotes this sort of thought is just absurd. What’s next, “I Am Urban Decay” shirts? “Keep Oakland Poor!”

    People used to work to obtain middle class status. Sad to hear some look at such economic mobility with contempt. And saying “sad” is putting it nicely.


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