Windows of houses in Holmby Hills have been rattled. Horses near Glendale have been spooked. A recent Beethoven concert at the Hollywood Bowl was all but ruined.
These are among the annoyances that have been caused by noise from helicopters, which was the subject of a community hearing held in Sherman Oaks on Aug. 6.
Organized by Rep. Howard Berman, the hearing was designed to provide a forum for elected officials, representatives of homeowners’ groups and ordinary citizens from neighborhoods all over Los Angeles to urge representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to establish and enforce guidelines to minimize the disturbances caused by loud, low-flying helicopters to local residents.
Berman, who presided over the hearing at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks, sponsored H.R, 2677, which would force the FAA to use its existing legal authority to restrict helicopter flight paths and set minimum altitudes within 12 months of its being signed into law.
“Without sensible regulation,” Berman said on Monday evening, “it is literally the wild west in our skies.”
Berman introduced his bill in late July 2011, just weeks after the weekend closure of the 405 freeway known as “Carmaggeddon.” Throughout that weekend, numerous media helicopters and helicopter tour operators circled and hovered over the closed stretch of freeway.
A second weekend-long closure of the same stretch of freeway is planned for late September.
Berman’s bill, which would allow the FAA to grant exemptions to helicopters associated with law enforcement, emergency responders, and the US military, has not yet advanced beyond the committee. In December Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – CA), together with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D – CA), introduced a companion bill to Berman’s in the Senate.
Monday’s hearing featured one speaker after another offering their first-hand accounts of what they perceived to be an increase in helicopter traffic and a increasing brazenness on the part of helicopter pilots in their disregard for the voluntary guidelines outlined by helicopter trade groups.
Bob Anderson, a member of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association’s board of directors, said any self-imposed industry guidelines were insufficient.
“Our members do not trust voluntary action,” he said, addressing his comments directly to FAA regional administrator Bill Withycombe, who was seated on the stage at the front of the auditorium. “Enough of that. We need enforceable legal restrictions, right now.”
Many in the had affixed yellow stickers on their shirts that featured a helicopter with a red circle and a diagonal line through it.
The evening’s most memorable moment came during remarks from Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. After briefly describing the impact that noise from helicopters has had on his life and the lives of his constituents, Yaroslavsky turned to the most recent “outrage” caused by a low-flying helicopter: interrupting a performance of Beethoven that took place at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 2.
“Anybody who was at that concert will never forget it,” Yaroslavsky said, and then played a short segment from a recording taken at the concert. Over the sound of a violin, the thwap-thwap-thwap of a helicopter could be clearly heard.
Yaroslavsky said the helicopter was much louder the night of the concert. “It was impossible to hear the violinist on stage,” he said.
One defender of helicopters did have a chance to speak at the hearing. Arnold Kleiner, the general manager of KABC, is a constituent in Berman’s district. Unlike the rest of the speakers who addressed their comments toward the two FAA officials seated on the stage, Kleiner faced the audience as he explained that where his company’s helicopter flies isn’t always their own choice, that people depend upon their news coverage on a daily basis and that the KABC helicopter is clearly marked with the number seven in multiple places, including on the underside of the aircraft.
“If you can’t see it’s channel seven,” Kleiner said, “it’s because we’re so high.”
But those in the audience – many of them from Los Angeles County’s toniest neighborhoods, including Holmby Hills, Westwood and Palos Verdes Estates – were as critical of media helicopters as they were of the aircraft that offer tours of Los Angeles from above.
Many who spoke mentioned helicopters buzzing around the houses of celebrities – among them Lindsay Lohan—although some in the audience had clearly been harboring complaints about helicopters for a very long time.
“I know you’ve heard about Lindsay Lohan and Carmaggeddon, but the mother of all helicopter noise occurred in the mid-90s when O.J. Simpson went to court every day,” Donald Keller, vice president of the Brentwood Homeowners Association, said in his testimony.
Among those who attended Monday evening’s hearing were two of the co-sponsors to Berman’s bill: Rep. Adam Schiff (D – Pasadena) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D – Sherman Oaks).
Sherman, who is facing off against Berman in a fierce Democrat v. Democrat race for reelection this November, was the first person to speak from the floor. He thanked Berman (though not by name) for arranging the hearing, and urged the FAA officials to use their legal authority to regulate helicopter traffic over Los Angeles.
Sherman was also the first of the elected officials in attendance to leave the hearing. He announced during his remarks that he was leaving in order to join members of the local Sikh community to honor the victims of Sunday’s deadly shooting in Wisconsin.
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