What is your history in the Napa Valley?
I moved to the Napa valley in 1998 from Los Angeles where I lived in the Hollywood Hills across from Universal Studios where I still maintain a home. And this is where the story begins.
What inspired you to author the initiative to stop private heliports?
The noise environment there―and that of my former home near the Cahuenga Pass and Hollywood Bowl―has seen incredible deterioration because helicopters land just about anywhere from hotel roofs to large estates. Several homeowners associations have tried to limit the impacts but it is too late. They now need Congressional help. Diane Feinstein along with Adam Schiff have sponsored a Bill, but even for them, it has turned out to be an uphill battle. The same battles are going on in the Hamptons, Long Island, Torrance. I am afraid Aspen regrets not having acted sooner. Uber helicopter service is jumping in.
In 2003, my neighboring Diamond Mountain Winery in partnership with Wine Country Helicopters sought my cooperation in their attempt to found a business in transporting wealthy tourists from winery to winery by helicopter. Together with some neighbors we fought their application by collecting 3,500 petition signatures because that would have been the end of the Napa Valley rural environment. We won at the Supervisor level with now Senator Dodd and then Supervisor Luce dissenting. But we got the 2004 Ordinance prohibiting helicopter landings at wineries on in the books.
This however, didn’t deter this winery from flying in guests. Because the County lacks any law enforcement infrastructure, it relies on citizens for complaints. But complaints need to be documented (time of incident, helicopter registration number etc) which is almost impossible to do. Our neighborhood instituted a neighborhood alert system to do just that whenever anyone heard helicopter noise. Living in this constant state of alert is quite disquieting! We didn’t get much enforcement help from the County either. And, sadly, as it was, this situation ended when with the winery owner succumbed to illness.
Why do we need to prohibit heliports on private property?
Personal use heliports are still allowed in the County with a use permit. When Palmaz applied for a helipad at their home at the end of Hagen Road, I knew what that community was facing. I offered to help with the expertise I had acquired and followed the application through the entire process.
The application file is several inches thick and so is opposing testimony. The costs in money and time are astronomical for both sides. We have had five hearings so far over two years (Planning Commission, Airport Land Use Commission) and one more is scheduled on appeal. Each time, between 80 and 100 neighbors attended the all-day hearings fighting for the peace and quiet enjoyment of their properties. The number of hearings for this one application has consumed almost 20% of the annual Planning Commission Hearings and over 1,100 hours of staff time. Imagine if they had to deal with 3-4 applications! While the applicant reimburses the County for staff time, it does not for the associated pensions, overhead, facilities maintenance etc. which amount to at least as much.
It is true that the County has approved only one such application in the past 33 years, but it is only until recently that we have had the influx of so many incredibly wealthy people with 10 – 19 million dollar mansions before. Many of them already fly helicopters to their properties without permits and once the floodgates are open—and with the traffic conditions we have―we will see the same patterns develop as in the Hamptons and the Hollywood Hills. AND Uber will move in and pick you up from your own private helipad. This sounds great but what about your neighbors?
How do you respond to helicopter owners’ claim that, if they take measures to effect their neighbors as little as possible, they should be allowed to build heliports on their property?
There is no such thing as “as little as possible,” because any helicopter presence is associated with emergencies creating anxiety in neighborhoods. But there are more considerations.
The State of California recognizes that the proximity of a helipad is a nuisance which must be disclosed upon the sale of one’s home and studies have shown that such proximity reduces the value of a home from between 10 and 27%.
In addition, according to FAA statistics, 37% of all helicopter accidents occur within the first mile from take off. Other studies have shown that helicopter accidents occur more than 40 times more often than those of fixed wing aircraft.
In the U.S. alone from January 2017 to March 11, 2018, we have had 24 fatal civilian helicopter accidents with 40 dead. Some with collateral damage on homes – both fire and structural – on the ground. Substantially more non fatal accidents have occurred with damage on the ground. Why subject an entire neighborhood to such dangers for the convenience of one person? Especially, when we have two public use airports (Napa and Angwin) at both ends of the valley where the wealthy – more power to them – can enjoy their helicopters. These airports are equipped to handle emergencies much better than residential neighborhoods.
If someone wants to volunteer or donate money to promote Measure D, who should they contact? Are monetary donations tax deductible?
All donations are highly appreciated but they are not tax deductible.
You may mail checks to:
Committee in Support of Measure to Stop Helis
2202 Diamond Mountain Road, Calistoga, CA 94515