home news links events political tech action

City of Palo Alto's Response

TO: Honorable City Council
FROM: City Manager

This is an informational report, and no Council action is required at this time.


Noise from large aircraft passing over Palo Alto on their approach to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has become an increasingly acute problem for Palo Alto residents as well as those from many neighboring cities to the north. The issues are often technically complicated and seemingly resistant to creative problem solving.

The City of Palo Alto is concerned about aircraft noise and has taken several steps to better understand the issues, communicate the evident concern expressed by residents, and lobby for change that would reduce the negative impacts. The City has expressed its support and interest in joining other surrounding communities to address this issue and work toward practical solutions for impacted communities. The City strongly supports a coordinated effort as a way to develop a common understanding regarding aircraft noise issues and as a means to develop a coalition which, collectively, would be more effective in dealing with representatives of the airport and the Federal Aviation administration (FAA) than an individual community.

The Airport/Community Roundtable is a forum for discussion between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and local government officials from cities in San Mateo County and the City/County of San Francisco. As such, the Roundtable is the only effective existing mechanism for addressing airport-related aircraft noise and safety issues, in a coordinated manner. Palo Alto responded positively to efforts made in March 1997 to broaden membership in the Airport/Community Roundtable, however, the City's request to join was subsequently denied when the expansion of the Roundtable was limited to cities only within San Mateo County. The City has recently reiterated its strong desire to become a voting member of the Airport/Community Roundtable. This was done in September 1997, in the form of a letter from the Mayor to the Chairperson of the Roundtable. In the meantime, City staff continue to attend the Roundtable meetings, workshops, and public information meetings to ensure that Palo Alto stays informed of what is happening and to support, in any way possible, the interests and concerns of the cities in southern San Mateo County, since the City shares the same concerns and objectives, with respect to aircraft noise.

The City has sent letters from the Mayor to State Senators Quentin Kopp and Byron Sher, State Assembly Members Ted Lempert and Lou Papan, and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo expressing concern about aircraft noise issues and soliciting their support to see that the noise variance, which SFO is presently seeking from Caltrans, is not reissued, and that only a temporary extension is approved. Palo Alto has also sent a letter to the FAA expressing concerns and requesting that it establish effective measures for reducing the negative impact caused by aircraft noise.

In summary, Palo Alto's objective is not to disrupt the operations of SFO. The city fully supports the need for a safe, vital and dynamic air traffic system serving the Bay Area. The City's objective is to develop a means of operation that includes consideration of the impact of aircraft noise and sensitivities of the citizens that the airport operations affects. While staff lacks the technical understanding to make specific recommendations, it seems evident that there are reasonable adjustments that can be made to respond to the changing conditions and new issues of concern.

Staff will continue to work with the Mayor in the following manner: (1) pursue efforts for formal membership in the Airport/Community Roundtable, (2) communicate Palo Alto's concerns about aircraft noise to local, state and federal officials, (3) attend Roundtable meetings and other related workshops and informational meetings, (4) share information with citizens who express an interest in aircraft noise issues, and (5) work with and support efforts of cities in southern San Mateo County, who share the same concerns and objectives, with respect to aircraft noise.


Current actions are consistent with the direction of the City's Comprehensive Plan policy to reduce and, if possible, eliminate undesirable noises. These actions are also consistent with Program N-52 contained in the draft Comprehensive Plan, which is now before the Council for review.

Program N-52:
Participate in appropriate public forums to ensure that future activities at large commercial airports in the region do not negatively effect noise levels in Palo Alto.


There is no fiscal impact at the present time.


No environmental analysis is required for the City's current actions

Prepared By: Marvin L. Overway, Chief Transportation Official