By Allison Jarrell

Flight path changes to and from John Wayne Airport have become a source of stress for some South Orange County residents who say air traffic has become much noisier and is impacting their quality of life.

On May 2, the San Juan Capistrano City Council addressed those concerns by voting unanimously to draft a letter to the Federal Aviation Association. There was, however, some division among Council members over whether to include allegations that the swallows that migrate to San Juan are being negatively impacted by the new flight paths.

The FAA is currently in the process of implementing its Next Generation Air Transportation System and Southern California Metroplex project, which utilize a GPS and satellite system that have changed flight plans and altitudes of air traffic across the nation.

Assistant City Manager Jacob Green told the Council that the proper procedure for filing a complaint with the FAA would be to send a letter from the Council, which could include residents’ concerns regarding increased noise, changing flight paths and altitudes, and potential impacts to the area’s cliff swallow population.

Green added that the public can also contact the FAA’s aviation noise ombudsman directly by sending an email to 9-awa-noiseombudsman@faa.gov or by calling the FAA’s complaint department at 202.267.3521.

The cities of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach have sued the FAA over the NextGen flight changes, claiming that the FAA’s review of the possible environmental impacts to the surrounding area was insufficient. The County of Orange has also joined a suit against the FAA.

At the May 2 Council meeting, Mayor Kerry Ferguson invited Laguna Niguel resident Ken O’Leary to present data he had collected from John Wayne Airport regarding changing flight patterns over the years. O’Leary, who is a member of Citizens for No Plane Noise, said data shows a significant increase in commercial jets flying at 4,000 to 6,000 feet altitude over land from 2016 to 2017. O’Leary said he hopes to get federal politicians involved like Congressman Darrell Issa and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

“We’ve got to make noise,” O’Leary said.

During public comment, San Juan Capistrano resident, Lisa Hosinski, said she and other residents from San Juan, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point and San Clemente have experienced increased airplane noise over their homes as early as 3:15 a.m. and as late as midnight.

“Most times, the noise is a constant drone of large, low-flying jets and smaller aircraft flying even lower over our homes than they normally did,” Hosinski said.

While the majority of Council members agreed to draft a letter to the FAA, a few voiced concerns about including the part about negative impacts to swallows.

After Ferguson said there are recorded bird strikes and “strikes of swallows,” Councilman Derek Reeve asked if there had been swallow strikes in San Juan. Ferguson replied that she “would need more specific information on that.” Later on, O’Leary clarified that cliff swallows have been hit by planes, but not necessarily in San Juan.

“We’re looking into it,” he said.

Councilman Sergio Farias said he wouldn’t support any letter that includes cliff swallows in it, but does support a letter opposing flight paths over San Juan.

Councilwoman Pam Patterson made the argument that if swallows can fly up to 6,000 feet and the FAA’s environmental review states that there is no impact to wildlife above 3,000 feet, then it’s valid to include concerns about the impact to the birds.

“I think it is important for us to stress the impact on swallows, because that’s what separates us from all the other neighborhoods that are complaining about the noise,” Patterson said.

Reeve said the “swallows angle hasn’t been fully vetted,” and questioned whether the swallows actually fly at 6,000 feet over San Juan Capistrano. No one offered an answer.

“I have no objection to sending a letter; it just doesn’t seem like anyone has the actual information about swallows, so we’re just kind of throwing it in there without actually knowing anything,” Reeve said. Reeve added that he would be comfortable simply stating that the FAA’s environmental review didn’t factor in the impact to wildlife over 3,000 feet.

Councilman Brian Maryott said he had received numerous emails, calls and visits from residents negatively impacted by the noise, and added that he personally experienced the magnitude of the noise from a low-flying private plane over his home.

“I can hear the noise; that part is very real. If the other parts are very real as well, or if they provide us with a legal angle, then that’s helpful,” Maryott said of the swallows issue.

“If we don’t stand up strong as a community, my concern is they’re going to continue to migrate our way, if you will, with these flights,” Maryott said.

Orange County Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Todd Spitzer are hosting a community forum in conjunction with John Wayne Airport and the city of Laguna Niguel on Monday, May 15 from 6-8 p.m. titled, “South Orange County: Under the Flight Path.”

The forum will aim to “address concerns from citizens about commercial aircraft flight paths and associated noise impacting South County cities and residential communities,” according to a press release. Speakers will inform the public on the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System and newly implemented Southern California Metroplex project. A question and answer discussion will be held following the presentations.

The event will take place at Laguna Niguel City Hall, located at 30111 Crown Valley Parkway. For more information on the forum, call James Dinwiddie at 714.834.3550 or james.dinwiddie@ocgov.com. For information on the FAA’s NextGen program, visit www.faa.gov/nextgen.

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