City Attorney Sues FAA. Mayor Garcetti Supports Activists

In 2016, communities from Santa Monica to downtown LA - including Mar Vista, Culver City, and West Adams - began to notice an increase in overhead flights. At that time flights over West Adams were suddenly at approximate altitudes of 5,500 feet traveling in a narrow one-lane path.  At its busiest, planes flew every five minutes. Thousands of complaints were filed as people were unable to sleep, outdoor gardens could no longer be enjoyed, and windows were kept shut all summer. Beleaguered residents in Culver City sued and lost.  As communities and activists rallied and political representatives stepped into the fray, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) remained unmoved and in fact continue to decrease altitudes.  

In 2019, flights over West Adams now average 3,500 to 4,250 feet, and at its busiest, every three to four minutes.

In May, 2018, the FAA published a procedure that was supposed to raise the altitude at a specific location east of West Adams to 6,000 feet (still too low to make a significant difference in the noise), but the day after publishing this change they simply ignored their requirements and things got worse.  This opened the door for a potential lawsuit from the City.

In an effort to avoid the lawsuit, the City Attorney entered into months of fruitless negotiations with the FAA and ultimately came to the same conclusion many other cities across America fighting this ill-conceived  nightmare came to...  the FAA won't budge without a lawsuit.

The City Attorney put together a strong team that includes lawyers who represented the City of Phoenix in a successful lawsuit against the FAA. Although the Phoenix lawsuit was somewhat different, the principal arguments are similar. The City is accusing the FAA of not performing an adequate environmental review evidenced by the FAA's statement that new procedures “would not result in significant noise impacts or reportable noise increases.” Thousands and thousands of complaints from suffering residents under the new flight path clearly indicate that this is an incorrect finding. The City Attorney wants the court to deem the new paths invalid and force a proper review.  They are also taking the FAA to task and pushing back on their policy to limit public comments. Comments they are legally obligated to allow but never ever seriously consider or allow to influence their decisions. 

AUG19Garcetti1Quiet Skies LA activists saw a window open with the potential lawsuit and rallied with a protest and a vision forward. This led to a productive meeting with Mayor Garcetti. 

The meeting exceeded expectations, with the Mayor expressing sincere, convincing concern and willingness to work with QSLA and the community, giving them assurances he had been taking actions behind the scenes to move the issue forward. Prior to the meeting he had been presented with an outline of what the group hoped to accomplish at the meeting, and after a thorough and engaged discussion, Mayor Garcetti approved all of the group's suggestions.

The Quiet Skies LA working group members in attendance consisted of West Adams residents Michelle Quach, a working mother and homeowner and Dianne V. Lawrence, editor of The Neighborhood News and community organizer. Also in attendance as private citizens representing their communities were Culver City residents Brian Clark, a member of the LAX Community Noise Roundtable and community leader of his home owners association, and Luciano Nocera,  a member of the LAX Area Advisory Committee. Not in attendance but members of the working group are activists Greg Corbin of West Adams and Barbara Markoe of Culver City.

After initial greetings and expressions of goodwill, the meeting got down to business.

UP Higher and OUT Further

Brian and Dianne had become frustrated with the lack of focus and fight by city officials and the LAX Roundtable to find and offer serious solutions and alternatives to the one lane NextGen flight path.  This path is called the North Downwind Approach (NDA) and refers to planes arriving from the north or the east.  Currently the NDA flights enter at Santa Monica at about 7,500 feet and within four minutes quickly descend over the middle of the city to 3,000 feet as they approach downtown L.A. This quick descent over the middle of Los Angeles is often accompanied by whining breaks heard miles before the plane actually passes overhead.  When they hit downtown, they turn and join the flights coming in from the east to land at LAX.  

Aug19Garcetti3QSLA designed an alternative path based on their study of the online real-time, flight indicator SkyRadar24 and identified a turning point further out at an altitude of 13,000 feet. This would allow the planes to stay up as high as 18,000 feet over Los Angeles, relieving impacted communities from Malibu to downtown L.A. It would also allow for a slow, quieter descent to the turning point.   These high altitudes would ensure that no new communities would be impacted by disruptive noise. It was also determined that  this new suggested path was not impacted by any other flight paths. It is very possible these heights were originally used prior to NextGen.  Residents remember overhead planes prior to NextGen were always much higher, which meant they had to have gone out much further before they turned around. 

The discussion turned to the strong possibility of rejection by the FAA because of the added minutes of flight time. The FAA would argue the added time did not fulfill their mandate for "efficiency"- code for "profits." The group acknowledged the point but argued it was inappropriate for the FAA to protect airline profits over the outrageous disruption to hundreds of thousands of residents subjected to the new  low paths.  It was also noted the 15 minutes was a guesstimate. It could be shorter. But, anticipating this concern, a second path was also included that was not only a faster and more direct path to the 13,000 foot turnaround point, it also used an existing path of flights going into a local airport thousands of feet lower. 

What QSLA wanted was support from the Mayor’s office when they presented these optional flight paths to the LAX Community Noise Roundtable for approval and eventually to the Board of Airport Commissioners, BOAC, who had already taken action to help Van Nuys residents suffering similar trauma from the Van Nuys airport.  When and if the City Attorney’s lawsuit prevails, forcing the FAA to consider and adopt new flight paths, QSLA wanted these alternative flight options to be ready, vetted and approved for inclusion in any considerations. 

The Mayor said he had already arranged for QSLA to do a ten minute preentation at the next Roundtable meeting and would be sending his support for the proposal to the Board. He also agreed to submit a written letter of support. There was also some talk of involving a technical person to evaluate the proposed paths.

The presentation was subsequently presented to the Roundtable by member Brian Clark and community organizer and Editor of this publication, Dianne V. Lawrence, with David Reich, a Roundtable member and the Mayors representative, reading a letter from the Mayor offering full-throated support for the new paths. The Mayor's office also arranged for LAWA (Los Angeles World Airport) to provide a technical expert to vet the plan and agreed to allow members of QSLA to consult with the expert.  The Roundtable Board voted to consider the map proposal at their September meeting, after the vetting by the expert.


The second item on the agenda was an offer by QSLA to come up with some options for what community engagement might look like should the lawsuit prevail.  A big part of the city's lawsuit centered on the lack of serious community input and engagement by the FAA. But neither our City representatives nor the FAA alerted and/or engaged the community in any meaningful way when the FAA first announced its intention to launch its NextGen program in Los Angeles.

QSLA wanted to make certain that if the City prevails in its lawsuit with the FAA, there will be a very clear, effective process in place for genuine community engagement. To that end they volunteered to contribute their services by developing a variety of options for community engagement for the City Attorney/Mayor to consider. QSLA believes that a decision about this process should not just come from the FAA, City Attorney or City officials, but should involve meaningful, not token, input from the community. The Mayor welcomed this opportunity to provide a channel for the community to genuinely contribute to these decisions and added that although he cannot direct the City Attorney’s office to take actions, he would support these suggestions to the City Attorney should the lawsuit prevail. He said QSLA should not expect him to just sign off on whatever was sent him and was enthusiastic when he was  assured that he would be considered an equal member of the process and would receive our drafts for his input.


For our third agenda item we asked that the Mayor explore the possibility of an additional lawsuit by California's Bureau of Environmental Justice either in conjunction with the current suit or to be ready with one if the city lawsuit fails.

The Bureau was set up to confront and sue federal agencies and protect low-income communities when they were being taken advantage of by polluting industries. Half of the residents on the North Downwind arrival path live in low-income communities and experience the jets flying at their lowest altitudes. The Mayor seemed to be genuine and enthusiastic in his willingness to explore this.

Before we went into the meeting we agreed that we would leave the meeting either pretty happy or very frustrated. We left the meeting elated and filled with hope and goodwill.    Will any of these actions result in the outcome we are hoping for? There are many other factors at work that will influence the outcome, but we know that it will take relentless action by residents and officials to confront and demand and maybe one day get change so we can get back to our peaceful neighborhoods and lives. We are sincerely grateful that Mayor Garcetti agrees, has pushed up his sleeves and is partnering with the community to take action.

QSLA has a working group dedicated to following up on all of these agreements. 

Want to stay informed?  Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and say “include me on QSLA outreach list” in the subject line.

Or join the Facebook pages Sky Justice National Network or Culver City for Quiet Skies.


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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