sFrancisco has always sought to reconcile its firm progressive ideals with the region’s need for tangible technological advancement. SFO International Airport, which opened for business in 1959 and has undergone significant expansion and modernization in the years since, is a microcosm of that struggle. On the other hand, the Gulf region would probably not be the commercial, technical and cultural center it is today if not for the connectivity that the airport provides. On the other hand, its installation and operation had very real consequences for the local environment and the inhabitants of the area.
Dr. Eric Porter, Professor of History, Consciousness History, Critical Race, and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, examines how international San Francisco came to be and the challenges it will face in the changing twenty-first century climate. latest business, History of the SFO People: The Making of the Bay Area and the Airport. Porter’s connection to the subject is personal. “My grandfather used to work in the skies there from the 1940s,” Porter wrote. In a recent UC Press blog. “Carrying white people’s baggage and the racial baggage that came with it was shoddy work, but well-paid.”
Adapted from History of the SFO People: The Making of the Bay Area and the Airport By Eric Porter, published by University of California Press
Jet Noise Policy
While black skycaps protested changes to their working conditions during the spring and summer of 1970, a different group of activists, mostly white and employed primarily as homeowners rather than laborers, became involved in their own SFO-focused struggle. The problem was aircraft noise, a long-standing nuisance that became unbearable with the growth of the airport, and was considered by environmentalists and government agencies to be a form of pollution that could have adverse effects on human well-being. That November, after months of unsuccessfully lobbying the airport and government officials to make changes to flight operations at San Francisco International Airport, 32 realtors from South San Francisco, a working-class and largely middle-class suburb Large whites, located northwest of the airport, are suing the San Francisco Airport Commission seeking compensation for disturbances caused by planes taking off over their neighborhoods. The commission denied the allegations, so the following February, South San Franciscans filed a $320,000 lawsuit ($10,000 per plaintiff) against the City and County of San Francisco on the grounds that aircraft noise had been “dampened and detrimental” to the “reasonable use and quiet enjoyment” of Their property.” Subsequently, ten individuals from the suburbs of Woodside and Portola Valley, located southeast of the airport, filed their own lawsuit, claiming compensation per person for aircraft noise on approach to San Francisco International Airport.
These lawsuits, which were eventually settled under the Airport Commission’s promise to establish a $5 million noise mitigation program, were among the many countermeasures taken by angry SFO neighbors after jet aircraft were introduced to the facility in 1959. Their communities grew in a symbiotic relationship with SFO in physical, social, political and economic ways. Jet sounds helped shape its soundscapes, or sound environments, offering its residents references through which they visualized and lived out their urban experiences. The sounds direct the locals skyward, providing an overall sense of being urban, while also defining their relationships with the SFO through the horizontal positioning of homes, workplaces, recreation sites, schools, and other places they inhabit in relation to transport take-offs, landings, and the facility itself.
The way people experienced this relationship to place across jet sounds—whether positive, negative, or dissonant—was influenced by people’s proximity to these sounds, their frequency and duration, their relative audibility in relation to other components of the soundscape, and the social realm. And its political meanings have been adapted over time to hear it. When Bay Area residents heard aircraft sounds as “noise,” it was often simply because they were so loud and annoying. But in other moments, jet noise was a more subjective and socially specific “junk sound.” Partially this identification occurred, as anthropologist Marina Peterson’s work on LAX and its environs helps us understand what these insistent voices symbolize as they stimulate relationships between a growing group of individuals and societal groups; government officials, agencies, and regulations; activists and their organizations. other scientists and researchers; airport and its operations. and a wide range of social, political and economic forces.
Some of the locals were willing to put up with the noise. It was an inconvenience to bear the benefits of living, working or doing business near the airport. The same hype, and impunity, may be evidence of the financial and political interests of airlines, airport officials, and other powerful interests, but these entities offered something (jobs, construction contracts, airport staff spending, comfortable travel, etc.) in return. However, for others, this noisy component of the sound field signified differently the pros and cons of living near an airport as well as the relationships they immersed themselves in. In other words, the jet noise could be heard as a manifestation of the force that defined the regional colonial present, and raised the question of how the locals lived off their associations with them.
Anti-jet activism by individuals, homeowner associations, political figures, environmental groups, and others around SFO usually reflects their relative degrees of privilege and ambition as white beneficiaries of colonial power accumulated in the area. Yet their activism expressed both explicit and implicit criticism of the ways in which the elements of power—economic, legal, bureaucratic, and so forth—that underlie the hype have diminished human prosperity in the region in general. Airport officials, local governments, labor unions, and others who opposed, deviated from, or sought to strategically integrate the goals of these activists also expressed or engaged in multiple forms of social, economic, and bureaucratic power while seeking to enhance or protect their own accumulating power. interests.
Activists have had some successes. San Francisco International Airport and surrounding communities eventually became less noisy due to changes in aircraft technology (particularly engine technology) and also because the FAA, airport operators, civic leaders, and others eventually began to listen to noise control activists and made significant efforts to tone down aircraft. the noise. But the planes continued to make noise in and near SFO, and some people still complain about the problem today. Nevertheless, the history of antibiotic activism around SFO–the version presented in this chapter stretches from the late 1950s to the 1980s–is still worth exploring because it makes some of the complex ways that force-defying and reproducing the mid- and late-20th century audible. The century’s regional colonial present occurred through synergies, conflicts, and missed opportunities for collaboration between white homeowners, environmental movements, and workers largely as they collided with SFO as a manifestation of broader economic transformations and patterns of government infrastructure development and resource management.
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Aircraft noise has been the subject of intermittent complaints in the Bay Area dating back to the early days of aviation. Concern that noisy air planes might drive real estate prices down was among the factors that led to the early closure of San Francisco’s civilian airstrip in the Marina District. Noise was not initially an issue around Mills Field. Airplanes in the 1920s and 1930s weren’t terribly noisy, and there was little residential development nearby. That began to change after World War II with the increase in commercial air operations at what became SFO Airport, aircraft growing in size and sound generating capacity, and residential neighborhoods encroaching on the airport. As was the case elsewhere in the United States, growing domestic concerns about airport noise combined with fears of planes crashing into homes or businesses below, as happened near Newark and Idle Wild airports in late 1951 and early 1952. A problem with developing the aircraft’s engine after takeoff Over South San Francisco increased the level of concern about this community’s proximity to San Francisco Airport in particular. Complaints, coming primarily from five surrounding cities, grew exponentially with the arrival of the jet planes in April 1959. Residents of San Bruno, Daly City, and mostly south San Francisco were primarily affected by planes departing northwest of runway 28, directed to allow the planes to take off. Wind blown through the “gap” between Mount San Bruno and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Southern San Franciscans formed neighborhood aircraft noise committees, but their complaints were often relayed through city councilman and later mayor Leo Ryan and city attorney John Noonan. The two officials began a dialogue with airport representatives, pilots, airlines, and federal officials about the problem of incoming aircraft noise in 1957, assigned an engineer a report on the matter, and stepped up their efforts after the aircraft arrived.
As complaints increased from south of San Francisco, and as advances in technology allowed more take-offs in crosswinds or slight tailwinds, flights were diverted to Cross and Vertical Runway 1 in an effort to redistribute aircraft noise. This made things more difficult for the residents of Millbrae and North East Burlingame and especially for those who lived in Bayside Manor, a Millbrae neighborhood established in 1943, across the Bayshore Highway from the end of the runway. The residents of Bayside Manor were primarily affected by the “jet blast” (i.e., noise, vibration, and fumes) from the planes when they began taking off just seven hundred feet from the edge of the project. The residents were mainly organized by the Bayside Manor Improvement Association, formed in 1948, which had been fighting for several years to place industrial facilities on undeveloped land near its subdivision.
Local residents experienced a variety of dramatic and devastating effects from the sound waves generated by jet engines. According to a woman from Millbrae, “We thought the old planes were bad enough. But the planes are horrible. The house shakes, the light bulbs burn out from the shaking, and we can’t hear the TV shows when the planes take off.” People also complained of frightened and crying children, sleepless nights, distractions in schools, disruption of church services and funerals, interruptions in personal and telephone conversations, jumping phonograph needles, inability to entertain outside, and actual physical damage to their property from sound vibrations. Cracks in walls, plaster, chimneys, fire places, gas lines, windows, as well as broken dishes after falling from shelves. They worried about declining home values and about their physical and mental well-being. Some were exhausted. Others complained of headaches, earache, temporary hearing loss, and other ailments. According to one petition, some southern San Franciscans “were in a constant state of anxiety and had to undergo medical treatment for nervous conditions said to be caused by the noise made by the jet planes and the anxiety caused by the jets passing over their homes.”
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