City looks to tackle noise issue from news helicopters

It's been a news-heavy few months in Berkeley recently with an unusually high number of media helicopters taking to the skies

The city government will consider taking action on the issue of the noise pollution caused by news helicopters with councilmember Jesse Arreguín (district 4) bringing an item to the consent calendar at Tuesday’s City Council meeting this week.

“This is a quality of life issue and, as community leaders, we should  engage in a dialogue with media organizations to try to find some solutions,” Arreguin said.

Choppers are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and there is therefore a limit to how much Berkeley’s leaders can do to restrict their time in the air.

Because it’s been a news-heavy few months in Berkeley recently — with the Occupy Cal protests, a shooting on campus as well as a series of earthquakes —  media helicopters have been taking to the skies at a particularly high rate, causing angst among local residents.

Berkeleyside has lost count of the number of comments, emails and tweets it has received from readers complaining of the noise disturbance caused by the choppers. When the helicopters are aloft for many hours, sometimes late into the night, people have compared the experience to living in a war zone.

Responding to an interview we conducted about helicopter protocol with KTVU Channel 2′s News Director Ed Chapuis in October, reader Helen wrote that news helicopters were “disturbing the peace, harassment, and threatening”, and Mysolosusan said: “They create a sense of disturbance and oppression — is it fair to neighbors and the thousands of quiet ordinary people living below?”

Arreguín said that, while he respects the First Amendment rights of the media to gather news, many of his constituents have expressed how frustrated and upset they are about helicopters. Possible ways to reduce the noise, at least partly, could include organizations pooling resources to use fewer choppers and voluntary time and altitude restrictions. The FAA recommends, but does not require, that helicopters do not fly below 500 ft. Arreguín is suggesting news helicopters volunteer to not fly below 1,000ft, similar to self-regulations already adopted by some news stations.

Arreguín’s recommendation advises the city to send a letter to local TV news stations asking them to  “strongly consider” the impact news helicopters have on Berkeley residents. The letter also asks the stations to weigh whether air coverage is “absolutely integral” to their stories. Several Berkeleyside readers have questioned the rationale behind launching a helicopter after a relatively minor quake, for instance. Lee Trampleasure wrote in October: “None of these magnitude -4 earthquakes are going to produce any visible damage, so don’t launch the helicopters to ‘go look for it.”

Arreguín is also considering pursuing some changes at the federal level and recommends the city send a communication to 9th District Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

At the moment, the recommendations pertain only to news helicopters. The Berkeley Police Department does not own or have ready access to helicopters for operational use. Those dispatched by Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, UCPD and the California Highway Patrol operate under different regulations, according to Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

About those helicopters: Q&A with KTVU’s news director [10.28.11]

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  • Anonymous

    Berkeleyside needs a helicopter.

  • Gskalx

    I hope they are able to do something. I lived near campus during the tree sit in and it was stressful hearing the helicopters. Live in west Berkeley now. Litter is a problem but at least I can pick it up.

  • Anonymous

    One large enough to deliver a petting zoo on a moment’s notice.

  • Please Read

    (1) A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA; and

  • Living in W. Berkeley, ghetto birds hover in my area all the time, but I don’t consider the noise any more of a nuisance than Union Pacific waking me up with train air horns at 0300. BTW, if you are on the tracks at 0300 and don’t see the light of a freight train bearing down on you, can’t we consider that Darwinism at work and have the train engineers not use the horns at that hour?

    Talking about late night noise, what about the cars with the jacked up bass on the stereo systems? Those DO rattle the windows of my house (helicopters don’t).

    If you want to talk about nuisance “noise” of primary concern for the city, my vote goes to being woken up by gunfire in the neighborhood in the middle of the night. I’ve lost count of the number of times that has happened since I’ve been in this area.

  • Anonymous

    Where, precisely, are all these new malls and mega-stores that you describe? The fact that the old Borders is currently sitting empty directly contradicts your assertion that every business that closes in Emeryville is replaced. The whole public market looks pretty bad right now. The Bay Street mall has vacancies.

    Moreover, it appears that your standard for municipal health is based entirely on retail sales. So, Emeryville has a lot of big-box stores. Would you really want to live there? Median home price in Emeryville declined by 8.5% last year (Berkeley’s declined just over 1%). Median household income in Emeryville is half that of Berkeley. El Cerrito has that big-ass mall, but the West Contra Costa School District is a total disaster. Moreover, the reason there aren’t malls and big-box stores in Berkeley is that the overwhelming majority of the Berkeley population doesn’t want them here, not any imaginary incompetence on the part of the city government.

    I know it’s very fashionable to rail against Berkeley’s city government, but it really seems to always boil down to empty rhetoric. I’ve offered a handful of concrete examples of how our city is thriving despite hard economic times above. It seems fairly clear to me. I’d love to see some actual examples of how local government is inefficient and unresponsive in comparison to our neighboring cities.

  • Anonymous

    We poor saps in West Berkeley are pretty happy with our neighborhood, thank you very much. Before we moved here, my family lived on northside. Interestingly, with the way the sound bounces off the hills, the train whistles don’t seem that much louder down here. I really don’t notice them on a daily basis. But then, we weren’t expecting silence. We do live in a city, after all.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Sharkey, you once posted a comment saying you couldn’t hear the helicopters from where you live, at a time when people who live around downtown were all complaining about the noise. 

    If you lived where you could hear them, you would know that the noise is relentless.  It starts as early as 6AM and continues until after 10PM.   That is not “a few hours.”

  • Charles_Siegel

    A practical note:  The helicopters seem to spend lots of time hovering and waiting for news to happen and relatively little time actually filming.  They could make life much easier for people who live in Berkeley, at no cost to themselves, if they would hover over Gayley Road (where no one lives) while they are waiting, rather than hovering over downtown and residential neighborhoods.

    The city cannot compel them to do anything, but because this change would have no cost, I suspect they might comply voluntarily if we asked them.

  • Aloeiscious

    I believe we have the names and addresses of the managers of the news stations who control when these helicopters are sent aloft and for how long.  Let’s just organize a couple hundred people to camp out in their front lawns with some high quality recordings of helicopters playing at full blast and see how they like it.  They can even send a helicopter out to document the event and their neighbors can see how they like it.

  • Aloeiscious

    “What about the drug houses, abandoned houses, and blighted blocks riddled with trash that dominate West and South Berkeley?”

    I’m quite sure that the people who live in those “drug houses” and “blighted blocks” would also be very happy if the constant noise from news helicopters was diminished.

  • Aloeiscious

    “Talking about late night noise, what about the cars with the jacked up bass on the stereo systems?”

    I believe Berkeley already has enforceable laws on the books to deal with that problem.  Talk to your neighborhood policeman if its a recurring nuisance.

  • “if” there is an ordinance in place, I’d bet it would require getting license plates and filing complaints with BPD. I don’t know if there is an ordinance & what the reporting procedures are, but I know that when you call BPD they want as much info as possible so they can actually do something. Being practical about this, racing out to the street to try and catch plate numbers at all hours of the day and night isn’t feasible. I’m curious though if BPD proactively pulls over the BOOM-BOOM-BOOM bass cars when they come across them and what the fines are?

  • And a pony.

  • Pete K.

    Our elementary and middle schools are improving and that’s great. Berkeley High continues to decline in academic performance against local, county and state averages. This is completely inexcusable given that Berkeley schools have more funding per pupil than nearly any other school district in the state with $20+ million in BSEP money annually, millions in maintenance dollars from Measure H and eventually nearly a billion dollars in bond money for unspecified projects spread out over 50 years. No other district has anywhere near this kind of total spending for 9,000 students, a third of which attend our badly performing high school.

    The high school used to have award winning science and math departments. They have been systematically dismantled over the years and test scores have followed suit. I’d call that crumbling.

  • Tiny Tim

    I think these cop-ters should be banned. Using them to follow protesters moving between neighborhoods is unnecessary. The reporters should be ON THE GROUND. I’ve always thought that these news station cop-ters are also passing on intelligence (with their zoom cameras) to the police. They are enormously disturbing if you happen to live within a mile of a frequent rallying location. Try this–call the offending station’s news tip hotline to protest, and call again everytime the cop-ter circles around. Keep calling and ask them to stop.
    And what about the fuel consumed?

  • Joan

    Well, I don’t have the patience to read through all 67 comments (so probably no one will read mine), but often the offending helicopters are BPD.

  • Joan: We mention in the article that the Berkeley Police Department does not own or have ready access to helicopters.

  • Joan

    The Berkeley Police Department does not own or have ready access to
    helicopters for operational use. Those dispatched by Alameda
    County Sheriff’s Office, UCPD and the California Highway Patrol operate
    under different regulations, according to Berkeley police Sgt. Mary

    Well, I may be wrong. It has seemed to me that police helicopters have been overhead for extended periods of time when nothing was being reported on the media. I wonder what the “different regulations” are, and how often these other agencies deploy helicopters over Berkeley.

  • juice tice

    Best reporting!!!!

    Voters leaning on politicians to ratify their right to do nothing. I don’t agree with assange, but private action is the only means to progress under capitalism. What excess of ‘ordinary’ people allows themselves to be harassed, in the middle of the day?

  • @ Berkeleytard – No. Emeryville doesn’t have a BART station, and as such is less convenient for a daily commuter like me.

  • @tor_berg:disqus  – If you want to talk about empty commercial space, you should take a look at much of West Berkeley. Pfew! What a mess!

    You’re right about Berkeley’s property values, but that has more to do with the University and Berkeley’s position as an East Bay easy commuter city that’s not as violent as Richmond or Oakland than anything the City government is or isn’t doing.

    But hey, most of the noise made blocking new businesses in Berkeley is coming from the anti-development folks who rally around the Berkeley Daily Planet, not the City government. I’m sure Mayor Bates & the City management would love to fill our vacancies. But the dual threat posted by the anti-development crowd and the pro-homeless crowd stymie any attempt at the cleanup necessary to pretty things up enough to entice new businesses.

  • Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting down West Berkeley. I used to live there, and liked it when I did. I’m just pointing out that the trains can frequently be heard honking away at times when most people are trying to sleep, at hours much later than the helicopters are in the air.

  • james

    The city of Berkeley is a sad joke. If they were at all serious about noise pollution, they’d attempt to do something about the incessant train noise (union pacific).