Council member to propose recommendation to reduce helicopter noise

From the recent string of earthquakes to the controversial Occupy movements, the city of Berkeley has received a considerable amount of media attention lately and, according to many residents, some unwelcome noise along with it.

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said he has received more complaints about helicopter noise in the past few weeks than at any other time in the three years he has been on the council.

“People are very frustrated throughout the city about the noise from these helicopters,” Arreguin said. “I’ve heard reports of helicopters flying over Berkeley as late as 11 in the evening.”

Now, Arreguin is planning to present a recommendation to the Berkeley City Council next week that would advise the city to send a letter to local TV news stations asking them to fly their helicopters at least 1,000 feet above the ground, as well as 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.

“We certainly respect their First Amendment rights, but we also would like them to understand that people in Berkeley are concerned about the noise,” he said. “It will make a big difference in terms of people’s quality of life.”

Arreguin suggested news stations could limit the number of helicopters hovering above the city by sharing one helicopter between multiple news organizations when covering the same event.

Airspace above Berkeley is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration, which prohibits low-flying aircraft but allows helicopters to fly below the 1,000-foot level, according to the recommendation.

However, Arreguin said there is a possibility the city will pursue a change in federal policy that would be similar to legislation that recently passed in Los Angeles County and which requires the FAA to regulate the altitude of helicopters in the county.

Helicopters dispatched by UCPD or the California Highway Patrol operate under different regulations, according to Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

The recommendation is set to be voted on at the council’s Dec. 6 meeting.