OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez (and lots of concerned residents) —
There has been a recent spike in a longstanding concern mid-Coast: noise from the HMB airport. But there is more to the story than noise, and it’s a complex topic. I offer this article as a starting point for discussion and understanding, and suggest some possible solutions and a process for moving forward. Note that communities who have succeeded in reforming local airports have gotten organized, and have gotten lawyers. Nothing will change unless there are residents committed to an effort at reform.
Footnotes: to use, click the bracketed number and then click your browser Back button to return to the text where you were reading.
Images: Click to enlarge for improved readability in a new window.
The airport didn’t used to bother me. I have a longstanding pro-airplane bias, and my Montara location kept me out of the noise for years. But it has gotten louder and more frequent. This past Sunday, I found my hike in Quarry Park repeatedly jolted by aircraft. I do recall some gunfire on occasional weekend mornings hiking there, but never this level of airplane noise. Lets organize this article into four sections, and you can skip to what interests you:
I know some residents have been complaining for years about HMB airport noise. But recent posts on NextDoor and emails and messages I’ve received, indicate a surge in recent years to the level where residents claim: they can’t hold a garden party conversation without being drowned out by plane noise every 5 minutes; they can’t hold business conference calls without interruption; they can’t record music (from a practicing musician) without recordings being corrupted; recovering from surgery, patients cannot sleep; flights are often low over the ‘hospital’ and homes. The noise complaints recently seem to stem from increases in a training practice called “touch and goes” and have resulted in hundreds of comments on NextDoor and creation of an organized subgroup there. The screenshot at above right is a pilot who did seventeen (17!) touch & goes one recent day. However, the number of complaints to me and on NextDoor doesn’t seem to match the data recorded by the County, so as a start, I’m guessing people either aren’t filling out the complaint form, or SMC is suppressing the data.
- There are NO statistics on HMB airport in the County website. I looked at every report posted. Perhaps HMB is combined with San Carlos? It should be segregated and all statistics should be normalized based on population overflown to get a proper idea of the impact. Perhaps not enough of our residents are filling out complaint forms (link here). We need an audit of the complaints filed, and to line that up with what people assert they have filed in order to see what the truth and significance of the issue are.
- All planes are not using transponders. Why not deny use of airport to those planes?
- Why not do a Part 150 Noise Compatibility Study like they did in San Carlos Airport?
- There is also evidence of lead poisoning from recent studies: Children Living Near SJ’s Reid-Hillview Airport Exposed To Dangerous Levels Of Lead“17,000 blood samples from children living near Reid Hillview Airport between 2011 and 2020. It found results comparable to the 2014 Flint Water Crisis.”
Even our County’s own document: Myths & Realities of Leaded Aviation Fuel… Makes it seem pretty basic to stop using lead in Aviation Fuel (AvGas).
“Approximately 50 percent of lead emissions in the United States are from piston-engine aircraft. “
“Unleaded ethanol-free (E0) premium gasoline has been an FAA-approved aviation fuel since the 1980s and can be used in most general aviation engines.”
There is a website for tracking AvGas lead fuel, but for some reason HMB airport is not on it: AvGas Map: Californians Affected by Lead from Aviation Fuel
- Health dangers include small plane crashes: We’ve had 2 planes crash in Moss Beach since 2012, and other crashes nearby….
Plane crash victim identified as Sacramento woman
PLANE CRASHES INTO HOUSE IN MOSS BEACH!!! :(
Plane crashed, found in Moss Beach
Coast Guard rescues 2 from downed plane in Half Moon Bay
And just recently an emergency landing of a plane belonging to the Palo Alto Flying Club that had to land in Woodside on Sunday because the pilot discovered a fuel leak.[9, with video]
So, Who’s In Charge Here? Who is responsible, and who can fix these problems?
Solution 1: The FAA?
When this noise issue has come up previously, I’ve heard MCC members say “it’s the FAA’s responsibility”, and I’ve been told the County has also referred people to the FAA. But there’s more than noise at issue with the HMB airport, and I refer you to a presentation by Darlene Yaplee who co-founded a group Aviation Impacted Communities Alliance (AICA). In her presentation, she makes these points (and more, but I excerpted and condensed):
1. The FAA does not have public health expertise
2. Strategies to reduce noise are underused
3. FAA’s Environmental Review Process is Flawed
4. FAA’s “Significant Impact” Definition is Inadequate
5. FAA’s Narrow Mission Provides Limited Protection for People on the Ground
6. Aviation Emissions Need Attention …
7. FAA’s Current Systems Do Not Reflect 21st Century Aviation Impacts
Certainly the FAA has responsibility for regulation of the skies. And there is an ombudsman at the FAA for our region [image above right]. However, it’s quite clear that the County owns and operates the HMB airport, and establishes policies with typos in them [“AIRPRORT” and “AIPRORT”] [image below right]. I would like to hear more about the FAA’s role, certainly.
The County owns and operates the airport, and makes a buck off it, if I understand the financials – about $1.5 million a year for the combined San Carlos and HMB Airports managed by Gretchen Kelly. Note that the City of Half Moon Bay is not involved . Note that other airports in Palo Alto and San Carlos have done more to address both noise and pollution.
The County has a duty to the surrounding community and a statement of Minimum Standards  which includes many of the issues being contested today. [See the Introduction, page 3, regarding operational considerations. See also, Page 11 regarding commercial activities (like Touch and Go training) and the 8 hours/day 5 days/week restriction for San Carlos.] “Reducing operational impacts whenever possible” is the documented minimum standard – and that does not appear to be complied with. The County has contracts with commercial users. It appears they can deny use to those who break the rules. The HMB airport noise abatement procedures [chart at above right] clearly state to avoid flying over homes “whenever possible”. Yet this has been observed (and heard) with annoying frequency. The map of HMB airport procedures (below left) clearly directs traffic taking off to the north immediately to the water.
The “pattern” on same map has them turning right over Moss Beach and circling mainly over green space, but they often do not do that. Montara is way outside the pattern, yet pilots routinely take off and continue north, meander up the coast over many homes, then turn over Montara over yet more homes. The noise abatement procedures state “No intersection takeoffs”. This means they should taxi to the end of the runway and take off from there. The HMB airport has a full length, very long runway (about double San Carlos). By using the entire runway, planes should be able to attain altitude and avoid neighborhoods on a routine basis (weather and emergency exceptions are to be expected). The procedures also state “pattern work”, presumably including flight schools with touch and goes, should avoid nights and weekend and holiday mornings. Using a phone app called Flight 24, residents have produced a number of cases where planes were performing what appears to be training exercises early in the morning.
Residents report many emails and conversations over the years with: the HAF airport manager, Supr. Horsley, pilots, flight schools, other airports, etc. and that effort hasn’t helped.
I posed a number of questions to Airport Manager Gretchen Kelly and she replied with the email in this footnote . Residents who reviewed the Airport Managers’ reply made following comments on her answers:
1. First, why haven’t we measured the lead? More importantly, why allow it at all? (see points made earlier in this article). Other airports have banned it, why not HMB?
2. Clearly the “comprehensive noise abatement program that discourages touch and goes at night and on weekend and holiday mornings” is not working. It needs to be enforced, but how?
Per a longtime involved resident Leonard Woren:
“What I’ve been suggesting since then [~20 years ago] is that the County adopt the same restrictions on touch and goes for the HMB airport as they did for San Carlos, but they flat out refused to consider it. Those restrictions at SC pushed much of the T&Gs to HMB.”
3. “County/Airport does not have the authority to move flight paths, penalize or fine pilots” Why not? Why allow pilots permission to do excessive touch & goes? Why allow planes without working transponders to land? What laws would have to be changed? — in essence this is another “who’s in charge here issue”.
4. “There is a national pilot shortage”. Why do we care, here? Given the pollution and energy efficiency harms from airplanes, is there really a necessary future in their use, and why should HMB be their playground at the expense of our residents?
5. There is some GOOD news: “Pilot Light Café will be opening soon” However, I can only hope that they clean their grease trap because the prior 3-Zero cafe cost the County as much in sewer/septic cleaning as they collected in rents.
Note that Ms. Kelly cited several benefits, but some are irrelevant to the operation of the airport. I’ll color those items in GREY because they will remain benefits even without use of the facility as an airport (as long as the open space is preserved).
- Half Moon Bay Airport provides training and scholarships for pilots and aircraft mechanics (SFO is the #1 employer in our County)
- There is a national pilot shortage – flight training cannot occur at large airports like SFO, it must take place at general aviation airports like Half Moon Bay and San Carlos Airports
- Half Moon Bay Airport has an active Disaster Airlift Response Team (DART)
Half Moon Bay Airport DART website: http://www.cecportal.org/disaster-airlift-response-team.html
DART held two training exercises in October 2021 along with the County Office of Emergency Services (OES) and Coastside Emergency Action Program (CEAP)
- Half Moon Bay Airport hosts the annual Dream Machines event that supports that Coastside Adult Day Health Center and several other nonprofits
- The Airport is a designated evacuation location for families and/or large animals during fires and storm events
- The Sheriff’s Department uses the Airport for driver’s safety training (FAA approved use)
- MCC office space
Regarding item #1, I don’t see any benefit to residents here – rather to the aviation industry, but maybe a more detailed financial disclosures will show how much those programs contribute to the County General fund. Regarding item #2, that’s burdening residents here with a problem faced by employers who make a profit and should fend for themselves. Regarding item #3, that is a POTENTIAL benefit, but it’s never been used AFAICT and it’s unclear whether just having the open space preserved would provide landing space for helicopters delivering supplies and evacuating wounded – without needing a continuously operational airport. However, this DART program is a Real Thing. There are active training exercises and plans for emergency response to use HMB airport. Revenues from Item #4 are not yet quantified; more broadly she also has made the point that people land planes and support local businesses with tourism. I’d have to see statistics before I’d credit that point with any weight, and even then, how would it be audited and proven on an ongoing basis? For some Coastsiders, the Dream Machines Event is just a Bother; they can’t even get to it on the roads; in fact visitor traffic makes it difficult to get ANYWHERE on the roads those days, so they’re locked into their homes with planes buzzing overhead on Dream Machine days. However, my pro-Aircraft Bias allows me to enjoy seeing the planes. Items 5, 6 and 7 would still be benefits of that space even if it weren’t a functioning airport.
To me, there are two main arguments for keeping the airport, with more research to be done on others.
A. It’s a money maker for the County, and,
B. If we shut it down, someone would want to build a thousand condos on it, further exacerbating our congestion, water security and loss of open space.
Some residents are quite measured in their criticism and requests:
…it’s out of town pilots doing touch and goes and taking short-cuts over some homes where the noise level is loud enough and frequent enough to prevent conversation on sunny days. Not about Dream Machines, emergency or municipal flights, normal arrivals and departures or pilots who respect the noise impact. It’s a very select group causing 90% of the problem. Hope that makes sense. There would still be plenty of airport activity without excessive touch and goes from pilots who have worn out their welcome at other airports!
- Agree on leadership and ownership of this issue. There is a new NextDoor group. Someone needs to lead this effort. There are several willing volunteers, but no one I’ve yet seen willing to be the public leader of an organized effort. And where would the database of Knowledge Capital be housed and who would maintain it? The MCC has an airport web page, http://midcoastcommunitycouncil.org/airport – could the MCC be convinced to log material regarding this issue? I was told that a prior MCC Chair wouldn’t put the HMB airport on the MCC agenda until “20 people” asked for it. Which makes sense in a way, to establish the real priority. [We got over 1,000 signatures on the Medio Bridge and over 600 on the El Granada fire risk.] So, to anticipate that, I’ve listed some supporters who agreed to be named. You can also write the MCC yourself. Having an MCC meeting to hear from: the Airport Manager, Darlene Yaplee of AICA, and concerned residents would seem to be a useful first step [although I know some of you have already escalated this issue to the County].
- Create a list of “Asks” and “To Do’s” on behalf of the Community. These could include:
- No leaded AvGas allowed.
- Create and enforce same Touch & Go policy as San Carlos, then reassess.
- Charge for Touch & Goes as is done in other Counties’ airports. Should reduce frequency and help revenue.
- Obtain list of all noise complaints filed against HMB Airport since 1/1/19 and compare it to those claimed by residents
- County to segregate complaint data on HMB airport in reporting
- County to show # complaints normalized for Population near each Airport.
- Identify and discipline (fine, remove license, etc.) pilots causing excessive noise or violating procedure. Lack of enforcement is a central complaint.
- Airport personnel on watch to deny repeated T & G’s.
- Deny landing to any craft without working transponder / impound aircraft if land
- County to fund Lead Measurement near airport, including food grown in farms adjacent thereto, the soil, and the well water. Remediate with Measure K funds based on findings.
- Redefine metrics for ‘significant impact’ and adhere to them.
- Segregate HMB airport financials from rest of County, to assess value.
- Prepare a slide deck with our concerns to share with other groups to communicate and raise awareness and support
- ID a person who is willing to file a petition on change.org.
- Partner with other groups (San Carlos, Palo Alto, Sonoma, San Jose) that have been fighting similar issues.
- Identify volunteers who can trace the violators and document the complaints both via form (https://www.planenoise.com/sanmateo/tY5Ru4wa/) and offline duplicate logging.
- Periodically compare the residents’ complaints with County statistics to ensure accuracy.
- Contact offenders, airplane owners and flight schools directly. From a resident: “Flight schools are very interested in our problem. They pay enormous insurance money to protect their fleet, teachers and students. Call West Valley Flying Club Palo Alto, (650)631-2927; And/or West Valley flying club in Palo Alto, (650) 856-2030; JATO Aviation, (650) 654-5286. These businesses want to please their stakeholders. When we follow the money the real threat is to Aviation businesses renting out planes, hiring teachers, mechanics and ground staff.”
- Hold MCC meeting(s) on airport noise and safety.
- Have Airport Manager, FAA expert, AICA advocate, and residents speak.
- Write letter as decided following discussion.
Thanks to all of you concerned residents (partial list below) who contributed material and motivation for this article.
Small plane emergency landing at Horse Park in Woodside
Reply received from City of Half Moon Bay. It’s the County, not them.Ownership Question re HMB Airport
– San Carlos and Palo Alto seem to be more descriptive about the flight paths and recommended altitude
– San Carlos and Palo Alto Airports operate Air Traffic Towers – HMB does not
– San Carlos and Palo Alto residents have been fighting for years against the air traffic impacting residential neighborhoods
– Both airports are impacted by SFO
– Both threatened to file suit and both have City Councils that work on behalf of concerned residents
– It is interesting to note that San Carlos and HMB are part of San Mateo County. Our supervisor said that HMB Airport is not his problem and referred to the FAA.
– The HMB Airport runway is twice as long as San Carlos Airport (5000 feet vs 2600 feet)
– I guess that we have only a small number of residents that file complaints in comparison to numbers filed by residents near San Carlos and Palo Alto Airports
Additional detail about San Carlos Airport:
Additional detail about Palo Alto Airport:
These technologies have been tested at HMB airport. I’m not yet aware of a paper proving cost/benefit, estimating throughput of logistics in event of a disaster, or the plans to utilize these capabilities.
Here was a test exercise from Santa Barbara to Eugene, OR:
Images captured by residents using Flight 24 app. Click to enlarge and view the times/dates:
 Use MCC Website as repository?
One of my issues related to the MCC website redesign, that was not prioritized and achieved to date, was to use it for tracking issues and their resolution. However, that site does contain a wealth of information and is the best database of Knowledge Capital I know of for Coastside matters.
My father was a pilot in WWII. I’m only here because he got to Germany with the 8th Air Force late enough in the war that it was relatively safe. My Dad used to take me to Crissy Field to crawl around inside the bombers. I studied his old aircraft identification books, and built plane models for years. I can still tell a P-41 from a Mustang, etc. My good friends Joe Montana and Dwight Clark and I used to have breakfast at San Carlos Airport with our kids [well, not really together, but their families and my kids and I overlapped there a number of times]. My wife and I enjoy the air shows from our boat on the Bay. However, I represent all residents of the Coastside, so I am presenting their concerns in this article, and I share them.
 Concerned Residents
These people have agreed to be named in this article. Note that there are others who wished to remain anonymous but contributed materially to this article. Their individual positions on solutions vary, but they are united in a general concern about noise and/or pollution from HMB airport:
Ginny McShane <email@example.com>
Tim Dubois <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Theresa Valentic <email@example.com>
Bruce Krutel• El Granada <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Steve Gallup <email@example.com>,
Theresa Stern Valentic <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
“Anne B. Wright” <email@example.com>,
Tim Dubois <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Valerie Dubois <email@example.com>,
Gregg Dieguez <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Michelle Dragony <email@example.com>,
eddy kalem <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Cid Young <email@example.com>,
Bill Nowatzke, Moss Beach
Mr. Dieguez is a native San Franciscan, longtime San Mateo County resident, and semi-retired entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy on the Coastside. He is a member of the MCC, but his opinions here are his own, and not those of the Council. In 2003 he co-founded MIT’s Clean Tech Program here in NorCal, which became MIT’s largest alumni speaker program. He lives in Montara. He loves a productive dialog in search of shared understanding.