Loma Portal lawyer wants to oust San Diego's airport

Airplane noise

Airplane about to land
  • Airplane about to land
  • Image by Meyer/Schoepfer

You have just been subjected to aural pollution: the sound of a 707 landing at Lindbergh Field.

According to San Diego International Airport Manager M.A. McDonald, this kind of pollution-air traffic noise-is falling off. Two of the reasons he gives are fewer flights per day and newer, quieter planes.

He said this only a month ago, according to a story in the San Diego Union. So we have nothing to worry about. Right?...Wrong! Says attorney Carlisle Lewis, chairman of the local Airport Re-location Committee, sitting in his office on the sixth floor of the Home Tower downtown. Lewis had come out to the waiting room to shake my hand and usher me into his private office.

READER: How did you happen to get involved in fighting airplane noise?

LEWIS: When I fist came to San Diego, I lived in the Loma Portal area. That was 1959 to 1963. I was a very poor, young attorney then.

We moved away to Clairemont, always with the intention of returning to Point Loma. When I returned in 1969, I was impressed by the tremendous increase in noise. There were simply more jets. There are, I think, over 200 flights a day. I became involved in the Airport Re-location Committee, composed of Point Loma people and citizens east of the airport flight pattern. I’m presently chairman of the Committee.

READER: Are the Committee members all residents?

LEWIS: The majority are. But there are landlords and businessmen, too.

READER: What do you say to the people who claim that you knew there was airplane noise in the area before you moved there and thus you have no reason to complain?

LEWIS: Of course the noise was there, but it increased.

READER: So you’d be satisfied with a return to the previous level?

LEWIS: No, of course not. I just want the technological advances available to be used to cut the noise.

READER: Well, the airport manager McDonald claimed that was happening, that the noise was being cut down with the quieter DC-10’s.

LEWIS: I only know of one DC-10 flight; that’s the American Airlines flight about 8:15 every morning. That is quieter.

READER: How about the747’s LEWIS: It’s also a problem of safety. About a year ago on CBS REPORTS a group of pilots called Lindbergh Field one of the one or two most dangerous commercial air fields in the country. Because of the steep landing incline.

READER: Back to the 747’s..

LEWIS: I don’t know about them. Certainly the DC-10 points out the possibility. But it isn’t any individual airplane. Let’s say the DC-10 is quieter. If you have an increase in traffic to 250 or 300 planes a day, there won't be a total drop in noise. If you equipped the field completely with DC-10’s, you’d see a drop. But that’s unlikely. (Lewis then began flipping through a thick book, a study on ’airplane noise, showing me maps of the areas around Lindbergh Field. He explained how California law had set up 65 decibels as the maximum level for hearing safety. And how there are over 100,000 people in San Diego living in areas with more than 65 decibels, 9,000 people in areas of over 90 decibels.)

READER: What do you see as a solution to the problem?

LEWIS: To move the airport.

READER: But where?

LEWIS: It’s not up to us; the Civil Aeronautics Board and the County should decide that.

READER: Haven’t you offered any suggestions?

LEWIS: The Miramar Field is probably the best.

READER: What about the build-up of residential areas around Miramar?

LEWIS: Well, the Navy has built up a buffer zone around Miramar. The density is less there. They (Navy planes) take off over Torrey Pines Golf Course. That's a low density area. East of Miramar is low density too.

READER: What about this law suit that you’re in?

LEWIS: It was actually a class claim against the Port Authority. It alleged the operation of the airport was a nuisance and a danger. The claim was denied by the Port District. The next step is to file a lawsuit. It has to be filed prior to March first.

READER: Is it going to be filed?

LEWIS: Well, it’s a substantial financial undertaking.

READER: Who pays for it? And how much do you need?

LEWIS: We’re raising money now. But I don’t want the amount published. As I walked out of the office into the elevator lobby on the sixth floor of the Home Tower, I was steeped in thought about the complexities of majority versus minority rights. It didn’t seem like Lewis had a right to demand anything more than a return to the noise level of the area when he bought his house. And yet residents’ rights are certainly violated by a net increase in airplane noise. The point that made me really wonder if airport re-location itself was really the answer is the vision of walking into the same office ten years from now and being told: “Well, we always wanted to move out to a more suburban area, and the schools in the Miramar area are good, but the noise from the new airport...

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