I read Barry Eberling's report on Christian Palmaz's application for permission to use a helicopter on his property so that since he "lives and breathes aviation" he can satisfy his "incredible passion," to use his own words. His ambition is to set the "gold standard for what it means to have a helipad for private use in Napa County" ("Proposed helipad creates waves in east Napa," Dec. 27)
But there are problems with such a standard, golden or not.
First: The people in Napa County don't want helicopters flying overhead.
They stated so emphatically in 2004 when 3,500 petition signatures were enough for the supervisors to create Ordinance P 04-0198 prohibiting helicopter landings at wineries. I was instrumental in that drive. In the Palmaz case, almost every single immediate neighbor of his - 187 of them - have signed petitions objecting to such a permit as have 377 of the general public just by word of mouth and not in response to any organized effort.
One might ask, for what purpose would one grant the request? is it to satisfy one person's "incredible passion?"
Second: Any assurances regarding flight paths and operation heights, which Palmaz assures the county he will follow, lie outside county's ability let alone jurisdiction to enforce. The county's jurisdiction extends exclusively on land use. Once the helicopter rises even one inch off the ground, the sole enforcing agency becomes the Federal Aviation Administration whose standards involve safety and only safety. For all practical purposes, once Palmaz is allowed to use his property to land a helicopter, he may do as he pleases as long as it is deemed safe.
Third: There are several thousand properties within Napa County that would satisfy FAA safety standards for helipads and thousands who can afford one.
We, as humans, are blessed with the ability to imagine such a future. We had better make use of it.
Fourth: Helicopters are not as safe as they are being portrayed. Just this past month, three non-military crashes occurred: Dec. 2 at Rancho Santa Fe; Dec. 10, McFarland; and Dec. 24 on the island of Fiji. All in all, six people dead. The Eurocopter model Palmaz proposes to fly has had 33 crashes since April 2004, 13 of them in this country. Bell helicopters have an even worse safety record. Attorney James Crouse (helicopterlawyers.com) who follows the industry, has compiled statistics that show that while airplane accident rates are 0.175 per 100,000 hours of flying, those of helicopters are 7.5. That is a staggering 42.85 times higher. One might ask, for what purpose would one grant the request? Is it to satisfy Palmaz's "incredible passion?" Or is it for us to find out what a "gold standard looks like?"
Fifth: Studies have shown that helicopter noise hurts some wild animal species of which there are plenty in that vicinity, though according to residents who have lived there much longer, not as many as before Palmaz Winery spread thousands upon thousands cubic yards of cave tailings over wetlands without prior grading permits for which the Bay Area Water Board leveled its highest ever fine.
In its 1987 survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that helicopter-induced noise "impacts all wildlife - especially waterfowl and colonial nesting species - ranging from minor behavioral responses to severe changes in the use of the area." One might ask, for what purpose would one grant the request? Is it to satisfy someone's "incredible passion?"
Sixth: Many towns have engaged in this experiment. In the Hollywood Hills, the problem has become so intrusive that even performances at the Hollywood Bowl are being disturbed prompting Senators Feinstein and Boxer to introduce Senate Bill 208/470 for appropriate regulation. Other communities such as Torrance and Long Island, New York have introduced complaint hot lines; an administrative nightmare and cause for residents' frustration for which there is almost nothing counties and cities can do once they have permitted landings. Is Napa County willing to go there just to satisfy an individual's passion?
Are there benefits for helicopter flights in this county? Indeed there are.
Wherever emergencies occur, crime, fires, injuries for which no landing permits are required. As far as Palmaz's offer to make his heliport available for emergencies, only a few thousand feet down the road is the Napa Valley Country Club with plenty of sites for emergency landings.
When it comes to the convenience of individuals and their joy rides, there is no one single means of transportation that impacts so many people in so many negative ways as private helicopters. Not one to be dismissed is the fact that residents within the impact radius of airports and heliports, must disclose this potential nuisance to any eventual buyer.