The worst noise comes from the [L.A. Sheriff's Department] choppers when they circle over a problem near my home. I know it is necessary, but the vibrations do cause damage, both to my nerves and things that fall from shelves and walls. I know they are capable of hovering, but their policy is to circle at very low altitudes. - A Compton resident*
Richard Root once counted 50 helicopters flying overhead in one day.
That was a record high, said Root, a Torrance resident who founded HelicopterNoise.com, but the average is still around 30 a day with a decibel reading between 65 and 70.
Unlike many others who have tried, Root has had some success in getting helicopter noise regulations implemented. It took a couple years for him to convince the Coast Guard to move its normal flight path a few miles west over the Pacific Ocean, but they finally complied. And the Torrance City Council agreed that helicopters should fly above 1,500 feet instead of 600, which was the previous altitude limit.
Root is not alone in his desire to curb the chopper noise. A survey of 60 Los Angeles residents in May found that 60 percent believed new regulations should apply to police helicopters. Nearly 90 percent said new rules should apply to the media. (To see the full survey, click here).
The survey also found that 95 percent of the noise disturbance from helicopters was caused by hovering or circling. Half of the respondents said they lose sleep because of helicopter noise and 57 percent worry when they hear a helicopter.
Fewer than half said helicopter noise was an annoyance that could be tolerated, while 57 percent said it was a real problem that should be addressed.
Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said they hear a helicopter at least once a day.
How often do you notice helicopter noise?
Dozens of groups across the United States and abroad are fighting for a little more peace and quiet right now. But rare is the story that has a happy ending for residents or even a compromise that looks to be working (aside from Root's case, this reporter could not find a single one).
Residents complain and compile data. Meetings are held. Studies are done. Sometimes voluntary guidelines are proposed. Then the process starts over again.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer's victory over helicopter noise last year was short lived. The senator trumpeted that the FAA agreed mandatory regulations were necessary to finally fix the helicopter noise problems experienced by Long Island residents. But a year went by and nothing was done.
It took an act of Congress in February to move ahead on the issue, as Schumer added an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill providing a deadline for the FAA to implement helicopter flight regulations within 12 months. The bill is now stalled.
As for Root, even his case cannot be called a complete victory - at least not yet. The FAA still has to weigh in, and they won't do that until they have completed a pair of studies - one looking into sound, the other, safety.
This series on helicopter noise is brought to you by Spot.Us, with contributing support from the California Endowment and KCET. Eddie North-Hager runs a news & social network for a number of L.A. neighborhoods, including Leimert Park.
*Starred comment was taken from a survey taken in May 2011, distributed to members of LeimertParkBeat.com, EchoParkOnline.com and SanPedroNewsPilot.com. It was also sent out on Twitter specifically through @Venice311, @CoCoSouthLA and @HubCityLivin. At the time the story was written 57 surveys were completed. To see the survey, click here.
To take a survey about helicopter noise, click here.